A New Use for Earthworms

Earthworms may have a place in the ecological system of the planet, but they are not sought after creatures, safe for a few like composters or fishermen looking for bait. Now they are helping dairy farmers and have one more group seeking the benefits they can give.  The millions of gallons of water used by dairy and beef cows eventually turn to wastewater which carry animal waste, nitrates and other chemicals harmful to all, and which find their way into the groundwater which may even become drinking water. Earthworms offer a solution. They are  heavily mixed  on a bed with wood chips and shavings and as the water filters through a layer of crushed rock they eat the manure and other harmful chemicals.  The water will thus be used and filtered several times before it leaves the farm. It’s a process called vermifiltration  installed by a company called BioFiltro. The earthworms only need water and time.  And studies done by BioFiltro and by the University of Nebraska show how the worm*s can substantially reduce nitrate levels. Other filtration systems are not as energy efficient or are more expensive to use.  The two dairy farms using this process in Washington State are so pleased they hope that dairy farms throughout the US can use it.

Photosynthesis and Food Production

Climate change affects food production, and in a planet where population is growing and food sources are needed, that has become a problem. It means that agricultural methods need to adapt or find new ways to grow more food. Along this line scientists have found how to use photosynthesis to increase soybean production. Photosynthesis is the process through which plants use sunlight, when combined with water and carbon dioxide, they can produce oxygen and energy rich carbohydrates which improves crop performance. It’s still new and still requires adjustments. It’s also  not without its critics who wonder if it is so possible why isn’t nature itself doing it. Regardless it has been successful in yielding more soybeans  and since soybeans are often used to feed livestock instead of humans, the plan is to apply it to other crops such as rice, cow-pea and cassava.

Maybe other methods such as reducing food waste or consuming less meat may ultimately be faster to improving the food crisis, the point is that humankind is at a stage where food production must increase without using more land, and photosynthesis offers such a promise. It is a form of genetic modification, yes and yet it is one which can be so helpful particularly in helping vulnerable populations feed their families.  The process will still need to meet government regulations, but it has been attempted in several settings  with success. Although it is not yet a reality ready to be used on a large scale it still provides an example of  working to create adjustments to the consequences of climate change.

Fighting Food Waste With Apps

931 million tons of food are wasted every year. That’s  what the UN Environment Program  estimates. Of course in view of world hunger that figure may have moral and ethical implications. But it also has environmental ones, because that amount of waste represents about 8 to 10% of global carbon emissions. 800 million people go to bed hungry each night while a third of the world’s food is wasted. Food waste costs the world about a trillion dollar a year, and that’s why several governments are introducing policies to tackle it.  Doing something about food waste is on the agenda of  several countries, of policy makers, organizations, activists. And now as part of these efforts there are smart phones apps which facilitate sharing, and giving food so that it does not go to waste. These apps are meant to help shoppers, food manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants cut their food waste. In the process they can help many.  They exist in several countries, and it seems the US is lagging behind.

Olio is an app began by two young mothers, one brought up on a British farm, the other in Iowa. The app is simple to use. The user posts a picture of what is to be given away, and selects  what geographical areas  it is to be posted in and how it is to be picked up. When someone responds, their profile can help sort out who they are so that the giver can make a choice if necessary. Other apps are Tekeya in Egypt where stores and  manufacturers sell at half price what they would throw away , which benefits both them and the consumer. Too Good To Go is another British app where people buy at great discounts a kind of mystery bag from restaurants and stores and are in for a surprise as to what the bags contain.

How often have I wished for an app like Olio. Maybe you have too.

Wikipedia The Bridge Builder

Some years ago a friend wanted to add information to her mother’s Wikipedia entry. Her mother had been a renowned actress, but before she could do it, she had to pass muster with the editors of the service. It turned out to be a hassle for she not only had to prove the significance and impartiality of her additions, she also had to enter them in a way that met their style.  She was glad when it was over, but nevertheless appreciative of a process that would prevent anyone from just entering whatever they deemed appropriate.  The process behind the scenes is what makes Wikipedia the trusted, reliable,  accessible and widely read information site it has become. In an era where issues are polarized, Wikipedia has managed a neutral tone. The main site on abortion,  for example, since it has many, does not give medical advice, just describes what it is and the several ways it can be done. The neutral  tone, however, comes after much effort, many discussions and is not easily achieved. In fact the head of Wikipedia’s parent company says that the most controversial a subject is, the more they end up being neutral.  As a result it seems that Wikipedia has become a model for how crowdsourced knowledge can function in societies as polarized as we have become, so much so that in 2016 the Harvard Business Review used it as one of its case studies.  A headline in an Axios article “Wikipedia Blazes a Trail in a Divided World” tells us what it has accomplished. Wikipedia is now 10 years old, and there’s every reason to believe that it will continue at least for the next 10 years.