Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sustainable Initiatives

Last Dec. 4th, the usual suspects got together to check out what's being done to improve sustainability locally, and listen to some amazing presentations by very smart people, including Dr. Harold Wanless, University of Miami (Sea level Rise, Changes in Florida’s Coasts), Tom Champeau, Regional Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Habitat & Species on the Front Line of Climate Change), and Dr. Heike Lueger, Chief Scientist, Carbon Solutions America (The Future of Carbon Trading & its Impact in Florida Economy), among others.
The speaker I was most interested in, though, was Roy Beckford, UF/IFAS Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent, who talked about "The Prospects of Jatropha curcas & Sustainable Biodiesel". Years ago, I was working on some projects around a farm I owned at the time, and needed help and information. I wrote to Roy, and he wrote right back, sending along a ton of useful info that I was able to put in practice immediately. I've been a big fan ever since. And after meeting a number of local farmers and gardeners, it seems to me that each and every one of them has something good to say about this helpful and good-natured guy. Oh, and of course I also appreciate the work of Martha Avila, his sidekick at IFAS, so I wouldn't have missed his presentation for anything.
Mr Beckford has been on the forefront of groundbreaking research on Jatropha curcas as a biodiesel feedstock in Florida and other tropical environments for a number of years now, and his work is starting to gain momentum, as data accumulates, and plots planted with Jatropha that he's started on several fields and farms reach maturity.
In fact, I had just been planting some potted young Jatrophas of his just a few days prior, in one of the plots he's monitoring, to replace ground-planted plants that had died. This particular experiment of his, at Ken Ryan's farm in North Fort Myers, I believe has to do with the hardiness of the crop, as the plants there are pretty much left alone, not fertilized, watered or helped in any way.
Roy's presentation was very interesting, he gave a packed auditorium an outlook of current research and some insights about where we're headed with biodiesels in general and Jatropha in particular. This is a man whose work has to be followed closely, as he truly is on the cutting edge of a hugely important area of research that is bringing him continued and increasing national and international attention. We are fortunate to have him here in SW FL, and I encourage readers to support him and his work. A good place to start your research if you want to find more about him and his current projects is his IFAS page here.
Besides Mr Beckford and the other speakers, a number of local green entrepreneurs were there, including of course yours truly, there to promote edible gardens and the GreenMarket. Talking about the GreenMarket, our Salvadoran fair trade coffee guy (who also has a thousand other projects), Billy Sol, was in charge of caffeine trafficking at the meeting, and the local household products division of WOW Green of Jonathan Nemath was represented as well. Last but not least, Bob with B&B Organics was there, promoting his worm castings 100% organic fertilizer, and learning about other alternative garden products.
Dan Moser, longtime Lee Co. Bike and Pedestrian coordinator and Florida Weekly columnist, among other things, was there, chatting with commissioner Ray Judah about the Complete Streets Resolution and other issues.
I met Faye Najar of Recycled Plastic Factory LLC of Englewood, who is as enthusiastic as I am about the future of this industry - producing 100% recycled plastic lumber. Maintenance free, heavy duty, doesn't rot or splinter, and above all, environmentally friendly and finds a second life for plastic, a material that while undoubtedly useful, has become a huge problem as it doesn't degrade and is choking everything from waterways to landfills to the ocean.
Event sponsors also included Carbon Solutions America, Waste Management, Empower, the Florida Bicycle Association and Charlotte County's Green Building Program. I uploaded some pictures of the meeting here, and would like to thank IFAS Extension for keeping the discussion open, and constantly providing venues and forums to get together and search for better, greener, more sustainable ways to do things here in SW FL.