This summer Jeff and I were invited to speak at the Electric Picnic Festival with Andrew Douglas and Samantha Hunt from Urban Farm, Dublin (UFD). Their group was invited to participate in a series of talks held by the Dublin Science Gallery and they were interested in having us talk about how farming in space relates to urban farming on Earth.
Jeff and Andrew Douglas know each other from Twitter. They started following each other during the ISS lettuce tasting of 2015 and have been tweeting at each other over mutual interests ever since. Andrew was asked to build a crew for sharing urban farming concepts at the Electric Picnic and he asked us if we wanted to come out and participate in the set up. We were both excited about the opportunity to connect with people that had similar vision from across the globe. Plus, the Electric Picnic sounded incredible.
After we met up with Andrew, we proceeded to skirt our way through the nooks and crannies of Dublin, picking up examples from his various projects around town. He took us to Hardwicke Community Gardens where he housed some of his work. These gardens are run by the residents of Harwicke Street and have been operating in the city center of Dublin since 2010.
One notable project he has is the Thank Potato , a method of growing potatoes in a self-watering system using recycled water jugs.
We set up our booth at the Global Green, a camp dedicated to living in a sustainable way. We built an aquaponics demonstration system on site. It was a neat little unit, but unfortunately the plants that went into it suffered a lot of stress during their transplant and had trouble bouncing back for the festival. Always water roots before transplanting, folks!
The next day, Andrew introduced us to the rest of his crew: Neil, Sara, Sam and Haj. We hung out with them that evening and watched Chemical Brothers play and probably stayed up way too late. The next morning we met up at the Science Gallery tent in the Mindfield camp for a well-attended mushroom cultivation workshop through one of Andrew’s UFD project, Urban Oyster. At the workshop we taught kids how to grow oyster mushrooms on used coffee grounds.
Later that afternoon we held our group discussion on indoor farming and farming in space. Jeff and Andrew were disappointed that there wasn’t a huge turnout, but I guess I liked it better that way because it felt more like a discussion than a lecture.
The Irish people seemed pretty skeptical about the merits of investing in space exploration when there are so many infrastructure projects on earth that need energy and funding. We argued that a lot of the technologies used for space colonization can be used to improve farming practices on Earth. For example, if annual crops are grown in hydroponic systems rather than in the soil, fields can be left fallow and will be able to sequester far more carbon than can be captured in traditional agriculture. There were no climate change deniers to contend with in our Irish audience. They were solution oriented about climate change, rather than concerned with placing blame on anyone. We usually need to tip toe around these topics publically in the states, it was an interesting cultural comparison to able to talk so freely about the matter without having to defend or explain the premise.
Andrew’s favorite topic during the discussion was how we used astronaut urine to grow plants for our Hi-SEAS experiments. We was just so tickled about the idea, but nutrient cycling in all forms needs to be explored for space travel as well as for reducing waste run off into nature here on Earth. In our experiments we found that urine is a decent mineral source for plants as long as it is well aerated and colonized by the microbes that convert ammonia into nitrate for plant use. There are major cities that are currently applying similar concepts to harness our waste streams into fertilizer than can be used on site within the city.
On the last day of our visit, Andrew Douglas held another UFD project called Social Hops.
The Perennial Plate filmed the event for their documentary series about socially responsible and adventurous eating. Footage from the event will be available on their website after November 15th. Social Hops is an organization Andrew founded that supplies urban farmers with rhizomes for starting hops production. At the end of the season, the farmers gather to harvest their hops together and discuss farming practices. They contribute a portion of their crop to a community brewing project that they will all partake in tasting this winter.
It was great for us to participate in this event. We got to meet urban farmers and gardeners from Dublin and hear their perspectives on the local foods movement from their region of the world. They were very concerned with the influence of international trade on their local economies. International trade is making their country richer overall, but having subtle and pervasive effects. For example, historically, Ireland has been a major source of dairy production for the British Empire. Dairy in Ireland is now more expensive for Irish people to buy locally then if they were to buy it in England, where it is an import.
Although Ireland is a very different place from Montana in terms of climate and culture, it was very cool to meet similarly minded people from so far away. We have much to learn from other cultures and look forward to continuing to connect with people from different regions and to share strategies that can help us globally.