Sustainability grows each year. While there have been some setbacks, organic food, renewable energy and other areas have grown by leaps and bounds since I entered this field in the late 1990s. After experiencing so much growth in the sustainability field, economic recession forces many of us to re-think and cut back.
What is next?
To answer this question, one can re-think the question of what is sustainability 365 days a year and over a full life. Local organic food may be able to be purchased during the summer in cold climates, but what happens during winter?
It is useful to look across the sea at the integration of the power and food sectors in the Netherlands. Here it is commonplace for natural gas power plants to sell electricity at peak prices during the day, and produce hot water as a by-product of the “waste” heat. Hot water is stored in large tanks and used to heat nearby greenhouses when they need it. Commercial greenhouses can run as large as 50 acres (the size of 38 football fields).
Although not common, there are instances of this type of practice in the United States. In 2008, Soave built the first cogeneration plant to in North America to power a greenhouse using a GE Jenbacher natural gas engine. Fortistar owns a combined natural gas power plant and greenhouse in Niagara County, NY.
Power generation, food, and people can all co-exist. Regarding food, rutabagas in the winter can be good and local tomatoes and lettuce will be delicious in December.
Sustainable food 365 days a year is a good thing.
What about sustainable living during all the years of our life?
Enormous amounts of money will be spent during the coming years to house the baby boomers in nursing homes. Some of this money can be used to create new developments in sustainability – greenhouses, green building, composting, the list is endless. People can go to great lengths to eat local organic food. We all should be able to live this way if we choose during the final years of our lives.
Why not let the generation that invented the modern environmental movement go out with a bang? Growing a portion of the food eaten in nursing homes on-site can be one of the sustainable practices that adds to the vitality and sustainability of these places. Growing food on-site in gardens and greenhouses is something that all generations can enjoy, residents and visitors alike.
By the time I get there, I want the nursing home I live in to be amazing. I’ll be looking forward to the fresh picked greenhouse tomatoes next to my game of bingo.
This post written by Matt de la Houssaye, a waste-recovery and energy consultant with a Master of Science in Environmental Management and Policy from the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University, Sweden. Matt’s current projects include a biomass district heating engineering study in Hudson, New York.