We are also seeing the use of flies for composting and animal production. The maggots decompose and convert organic vegetable matter or flesh from slaughterhouse scraps into the amino acids and proteins needed by fish and chickens for their diet. In this case, something considered garbage becomes an animal resource, which then can be converted into protein desired by a significant portion of the human population. There might be an attendant yuck factor involved with breeding flies for the food chain, but remember, free-range chickens love insects, and as for fish . . . ask any fly fisherman.
And it is surely less yucky than feeding chickens arsenic to plump them, as many poultry farms currently do.
How to Make Anything a Battery… an Ever-Resourceful Battery
First, let’s look at battery-design optimization in terms of how to hold charges longer. For this earth battery, the emphasis needs to be on how to design agriculture to increase sustainability and growth with optimized interventions. That’s where permaculture, the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be long term, comes into play.
One of our favorite permaculture experiments, which started in 2002, involved a 10-acre stretch near the Dead Sea in Jordan. This particularly arid stretch of land, with its salted soil baked up to 122° Fahrenheit in August, had frustrated farmers for millennia. In modern times, either they grew their crops under plastic or they drowned the area with pumped-in (and precious) water to push the salt 20 feet down (this ultimately damages the soil for 1,000 years). To encourage what little growth they could get, farmers poured fertilizers and pesticides onto crops. (In Cradle to Cradle, we talked about how cradle-to-grave design often relies on the use of brute force to get the job done. Brute force is not necessarily an effective or efficient or elegant tool to accomplish a task.)
But Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute in New South Wales, Australia, thought the farmers might get better results if they worked more holistically with the elements provided to them. They might create a real oasis.
Lawton’s first step was to use the rainwater to its fullest. He and his team dug curving swales—ditches—to collect the small amount of rain that falls in the region in the winter. The ditches managed to catch about 250,000 gallons of water in the winter and slowly leach the moisture back into the soil. Then Lawton created mounds on either side of these ditches and piled waste from a nearby organic farm a foot and a half high for mulch. In the mounds, the team created micro-irrigation tunnels. Then they began planting, first hardy desert trees to perform multiple tasks such as shading the understory crops, slowing evaporation of water, returning nitrogen to the soil, and providing windbreak. Then they planted a row of fruit trees: figs, pomegranates, guavas, mulberries, and citrus. The result: Within four months, they were harvesting figs from only three-foot-high trees. The crops were flourishing. They asked experts from the local university to come test the soil to determine whether they were successfully growing crops in salty soil, or if somehow the salt content had diminished. Indeed, they found that the soil was becoming less salty. Not only that, but rich topsoil had rapidly accumulated.
Eventually, funding for the experimental project expired, and the site was left to local people to perpetuate. One might assume that the desert would take back this terrain. But amazingly, from last reports, the growth continues, because the system was set up to work within its environment, not to fight it with brute force.
This may sound minor, and it is obviously not at the scale to feed millions, but the principles are very important to what we can imagine for our towns and even cities. If an outdoor stretch of the deadest desert can be made fruitful with only rainwater—and no pesticides—then certainly we can imagine and intend for richer territories to produce abundance in similar fashion. As we will see, even barren rooftops.