Intern Profile: Starin McKeen

I grew up in Colorado and can’t seem to stay away. I first moved to Buffalo, NY to accept a synchronized swimming scholarship at Canisius College, but returned to complete my B.A. in Molecular Cellular Developmental Biology at CU Boulder in 2009. My interests shifted away from neurobiology and towards Food and Nutrition Security throughout college, but really developed into a passion as an intern with PROINPA in Bolivia. My experience working with selective breeding of plants at the Molecular Biology lab in CoChaBamba and working alongside community and agricultural development agents in the community of Toro Toro in the rural Andes convinced me to join the Peace Corps. I just returned from serving as an Environmental Action and Food Security Volunteer in Togo, West Africa and am looking forward to applying my combined food security, science, and community development experience in the context of Aquaponics at Nourish the Planet. In my free time I nerd out over good music, playing in the mountains, the electric cello, and all of the amazingness that being back in the U.S offers, while simultaneously daydreaming of the many adventures left to be had in all the many places still to be discovered. When did you first become interested in sustainability? I remember coming home from an afternoon at the World Water Day celebration on the CU Boulder campus as a 5th grader and declaring that I would never waste a drop of water EVER. I’m a little more realistic these days… My first run-in with conservation has since grown into a more holistic and complex understanding of sustainability, and with it my...

Soil Salinity Effects on Crop Production and Society

History has shown that an increase in soil salinity results in a decrease in crop productivity, and ultimately, the struggles to sustain a community.  One of the earliest and most major occurrences of an increase in salinity happened during 2400-1700 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, now southern Iraq.  Irrigation projects were built for agricultural purposes, but the resulting increase in soil salinity left the fields so salty that they were unable to grow enough food to sustain their communities.  Many of the great cities dwindled down to small villages or were left in ruins.   This same process is occurring in California, specifically the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.  The San Joaquin Valley, which makes up the southern portion of California’s Central Valley, is among the most productive farming areas in the United States. However, salt build-up in the soils and groundwater is threatening its productivity and sustainability.  Another example is with the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea.  Irrigation water comes from the Colorado River and is very high in salt.  The runoff from irrigation water flows to the Salton Sea.  With no outlet, the Salton Sea’s salinity has continuously increased as the water evaporates.  According to California Agriculture Online, three factors contribute to salinization: 1.  All irrigation waters contain dissolved salts, with concentrations varying considerably according to the origin of the water. 2.  Plants extract negligible amounts of salt, so the soil solution becomes concentrated as water is removed by evapotranspiration. 3.  Water quantities in excess of evapotranspiration must be applied to leach salts beyond the root zone to prevent reduced crop yields. In areas where salinity...

Intern Profile: Stephanie Lynn

I grew up in Indiana and moved to Colorado in 2007.  My educational background is in agronomy and pharmaceutics from Purdue, and environmental engineering from Colorado State.  I have always enjoyed science and math and I love to apply those principles to the real world.  I also enjoy spending time outdoors observing the world around me.   When did you first become interested in sustainability? I became interested in sustainability during one of my plant breeding classes at Purdue.  The professor was from Africa and he often gave real examples of how many people around the world struggle just to be able to eat and drink.  These struggles were the result of environmental, educational, economical, and/or cultural factors.  What are the most interesting/important things that you’ve learned since being an intern at Nourish the Planet? I have only been working a couple weeks now, but I have already learned about the dynamic interactions between the plants, aquatic life, and water.  In school I was taught about these interactions, but to be able to actually witness this first-hand is extremely valuable from an educational standpoint.   How do you incorporate sustainability into your life? I have always incorporated the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), but recently, I have been getting into growing my own garden.  I really enjoy learning new things and developing new skills.   What do you want to see change in the world in the next 10 years? I would like to see the world take a little time to observe what is around them – to appreciate what they have, and to learn to use their local resources in...

Limiting Water Loss Through Water Coolant Circulation

The key benefit of aquaponic systems, as contrasted to conventional agriculture, is reduced water usage. Water is only lost from absorption and transpiration by plants, evaporation from fish ponds, and biomass removal. Plant absorption and biomass removal are usually desired; evaporation and plant transpiration however, are water losses which are unproductive – and potentially avoidable. The capstone project for my internship with Nourish The Planet concerns the design of a greenhouse which captures the water lost from evaporation and plant transpiration, and reuses it in the system’s water cycle. In 2003, the European Union commissioned a greenhouse design from Watergy that would do just that. Over the course of three years, two prototypes were tested; the system built in Spain consisted of an airtight greenhouse combined with a secondary solar collector and cooling tower (concept shown in figure below). It was able to recycle evaporation and plant transpiration, desalinate seawater, and passively cool the air during the day and heat the air at night – all by virtue of its design and water coolant circulation. During the daytime, sunlight heats the greenhouse’s moist air, causing it to rise up the outside of the cooling tower. The tower is colored black to absorb as much heat as possible, thus encouraging warm, moist air to gather from the entire lower section of the greenhouse. Cool water is circulated from a reserve tank outside the greenhouse and into a water-to-air exchanger built into the inner tube of the tower. This encourages the moist air near the top of the tower to condense droplets onto the exchanger. These droplets stream down the inside...

Intern Profile: Alex Gan

I’ve recently finished studying in Saudi Arabia, where I completed my M.S. degree in Environmental Science and Engineering. I moved back to Northern Colorado because I consider it my home, and its natural beauty was what motivated me to pursue the environmental sciences – making it the perfect location for me to pause and consider where next to go. I’m grateful to intern with Nourish the Planet because of its relation to engineering sustainable and appropriate technologies; the application of such solutions to needful communities in the Majority World has motivated my scholarly interests, and continues to help guide where next I may live, work, and explore.  When did you first become interested in sustainability? Sustainability has always been defined in my mind as the proper stewarding of our natural environment. The first time I really appreciated nature in its pristine state was my first hike into Rocky Mountain National Park. Western Colorado’s mountainous region contains vistas worthy enough to convince anyone that environmental stewarding is a significant endeavor. What are the most interesting/important things that you’ve learned since being an intern at Nourish the Planet? I have always assumed that agriculture, be it natural or hydroponically-grown, consumes a large amount of water. Maintaining the modular aquaponic systems here at NTP has taught me that crops can be grown with astonishingly efficient water usage. How do you incorporate sustainability into your life? I utilize my purchasing power carefully. The United States, as with much of the world, is a society dominated by consumerism. All products, regardless of production location and efficiency, stress the planet’s resources. Some, like home-grown herb...