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Gerald Garrison: We Can Feed The World
Posted By Urban Garden Magazine On February 1, 2009 @ 12:00 pm In Extras | No Comments
The graph of the world’s population has come to serve as the classic example of an exponential curve. It’s doesn’t matter how big or small the rate of growth, all exponential functions are conspiratorially similar: a steady rise, then a “corner,” followed by a steep ascendance. With each passing moment our foothold upon this gradient seems to be ever more precarious.
While we can tweak the scales to make things appear better or worse, one fact remains undisputed: human existence relies on our ability to produce food. In short, there are real, physical ceilings to these exponential curves and we are approaching them with ever-increasing speed.
Certainly world population isn’t the only worrying trend we are faced with. Try combining it with climate change! During the last 100 years the surface temperature of our planet has increased by about 1.3 °F (0.7 °C). And the vast majority of scientists concur that this is just the beginning.
Climate model projections indicate that global surface temperature will likely rise a further 2.0 to 11.5 °F (1.1 to 6.4 °C) during the next century. This warming is expected to continue for more than a thousand years even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilized. Glaciers are already retreating, sea levels are rising, deserts are expanding, and our weather is becoming more and more extreme. Many areas of the earth will experience a negative effect on key agricultural crops. So, just at a time when we need to be producing more food than we ever thought possible, it could become increasingly difficult! Extreme weather is bad news for agriculture. Australia’s wheat harvest was halved last year through drought and many crops in the UK and Northern Europe were hit badly by floods.
Still not enough doom and gloom for you? Ok, try factoring in the rising demand for bio-fuel raw materials, such as wheat, soy, maize and palm oil, and the increased competition for cropland as a direct result. These are just some of the factors that have contributed towards the huge increases in the cost of food – perhaps the most clearly visible and appreciable metric for most of us. The rising trend in international food prices continues, and even accelerated last year. In the States, wheat export prices rose from $375 per ton in January to $440 per ton in March, and Thai rice export prices increased from $365 per ton to $562 per ton. This came on top of an incredible 181% increase in global wheat prices over the 36 months leading up to February 2008, and an 83% increase in overall global food prices over the same period.
Well, that’s enough stats to scare most people. But some folks see our predicament more as a challenge. A rare few are even bold enough to propose solutions and brilliant enough to invent the tools to make them happen. One such person is Gerald Garrison. His World Food Plan is a radical approach to meeting the planet’s food needs and combating climate change at the same time.
Garrison explains, “The question of how we will feed the planet is one that’s been debated over and over. We don’t have that time anymore. What we need now is a practical and functional application of existing technology to produce sufficient food.”
His strategic plan is to create thousands (if not millions) of huge indoor gardens to serve communities with fresh, nutritional produce. These highly efficient, local food production factories are capable of growing food indoors using his state-of-the-art and sustainable technologies. Most importantly, these food production centers can generate crops 365 days a year, regardless of how harsh the outdoor environment becomes.
The idea is to take an environmentally controlled room – well insulated from the outside world – and grow food under his digital light delivery systems. The energy required to power the factories will come from wind and solar power generation sites.
Some cynics scoff that taking food production indoors is tantamount to admitting defeat. “Have we really screwed up the climate so much that we have to grow plants indoors now?” is the most common question. And the idea of using solar and wind power to generate artificial sunlight is a difficult concept for many people to accept. However, a growing number of people, especially within the indoor gardening industry, are starting to switch on to his ideas.
Garrison’s food factories are not designed to be supplemented with additional CO2. Greenhouses today are consistently dumping CO2 into the atmosphere at 3 to 5 times the normal levels, daily. This behavior is irresponsible in these times of global warming.
Instead, the factories will serve as CO2 “sequestering” facilities. Plants grown in the food factories will absorb significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere – rather than relying on CO2 enriched environments. Garrison envisages that each food factory will become a tremendous asset in the fight against rising CO2 levels on the planet.
Managing water resources is a fundamental aspect of the Food Production Plan. Garrison intends to make full use of water-efficient technologies such as recovery systems and hydroponics to preserve this most precious resource. This isn’t using classical methods of hydroponics, but new innovative designs in containers, nutrients and nutrient delivery systems, that are proprietary to these food factory systems.
Garrison has invented his own range of grow lamps, called “Sun Pulse,” designed specifically to work in harmony with electronic and digital electronic ballasts. Sun Pulse lamps are the only digital lamps certified for use on e-ballasts in the world. Hobbyist indoor gardeners in North America were the first to switch on to Sun Pulse technology and have been achieving great results ever since. Now European indoor gardeners are catching on too. While most HID lamps were made for the human eye and street lighting, Garrison’s Sun Pulse range is specially formulated for living things, including plants, pets, people and fish.
“The old core and coil lamps won’t work with electronic ballasts.” Garrison says. “You can’t use a 60Hz lamp on a 22,000 or 45,000 Hz electronic ballast; doing so causes premature lamp failure, lamp blackening and component decay. It won’t make a difference if your 60 Hz lamp is a Metal Halide or a High Pressure Sodium (HPS) if you destroy it with your electronic ballast!”
“What’s wrong with HPS lamps?” I ask. Garrison gives me a look that makes me feel like I’ve just blurted out the F-word to a priest at midnight mass. For the purposes of retaining a G-rating for this article, I’ll need to paraphrase: “HPS light is just what everyone is used to using, and what they get from growing with that light is also what they’re used to. I strongly believe that HPS is not the best light for growing plants, yet so many people think it is. Let me put it like this: there was a time when LPs, reel to reel tape, and cassettes were considered to be the best the market had to offer. Were they really the best? Today we know, of course, that it wasn’t the best sound we could get, and trail-blazing innovators moved the audio industry forward and introduced the CD.”
(A nice analogy, especially when I learn that Garrison worked on the components for the first in-car CD-players with Alpine® back in the ’80s, and invented the Solo Baric Sub-woofer from Kicker®!)
Not content with developing his own range of grow lamps from scratch, Garrison has also created his own proprietary “photosynthesis delivery system” (known a little more simply within the industry as “spinning lights”). Instead of hanging his lamps stationary above the plants, he mounts his individual digital lamps and self-contained digital electronic ballasts on rotators (a bit like a ceiling fan, with each blade being a grow lamp!). The idea is that, just like a fan, the constant spinning allows the lamps to cool themselves – creating lower ambient temperatures per watt. As a result, the lamps can be placed much closer to plants, delivering far greater amounts of incident light energy to the plants’ leaves.
“Aren’t the spinning lamps dangerous to work around?” I ask. Garrison gives me another one of his stone-masonry looks. “I’ve designed my spinning lights for plants, not for humans!” he exclaims. “I don’t care whether the lights are ‘convenient’ for people to use or not. That’s not the point! It’s all about the plants. Not you! If you read the operation manual we tell you to turn off the spinning feature before you service the light or the plants; then it’s just like a static light because it stops spinning.”
For those of us still using the old style magnetic core and coil ballasts, Garrison has developed a range of HPMH lamps that can be retro-fitted into existing HPS ballasts, or certain brands of electronic ballasts. He says that they represent “the best of a Metal Halide and a HPS all wrapped up into a single bulb.”
“It can replicate the Sun up to 95% of its quality and clarity (or 90+CRI). Plants have evolved with the light from the Sun – the full spectrum of colors all the time. The HPMH lamp delivers this with new internal components that enable digital light to shine,” he says.
Gerald Garrison, CEO of GAS Technologies, is one of the world’s leading plant and life scientists. His research and development laboratories have produced the most innovative and compelling technologies for the fields of food production and lighting, to name just a few.
He is the inventor of the first electronically ballasted HID lighting system for the indoor gardening industry. He introduced the digital technology, made the digital lamps and sold them together as a matched set.
Think of an electrical and mechanical engineer, a plant scientist, a photo-biologist, a quantum physicist, and one of the top applications specialists all rolled into one. Many of today’s audio speaker designs can be traced back to Garrison, and his clients have ranged from Kicker® to Zapco®. He also ranked as a champion in car audio contests for nearly a decade, and traveled around the country demonstrating his cutting edge sound technology.
His passion for indoor gardening started back in 1973. He was part of a small group of indoor gardeners in the Seattle and Portland area who designed the first indoor gardens as we’ve come to know them today. This group made the first horizontal reflectors, the first four-piece vertical hoods and parabolic reflectors. They were using the first fluorescents, mercury vapors, and HID lamps. They were the original innovators and inventors for today’s modern indoor gardening industry, as well as the greenhouse industry where many of these tools and techniques have been adopted.
Garrison left indoor gardening for car audio in the 1980s, but returned in the late 1990s to find that the industry hadn’t changed all that much. Just think how much computers advanced in the same period! Why was it that much of the same technology that was available in 1975 was still available largely unchanged two decades later? Recognizing the needs of the end-users, Garrison began to reinvent and reverse engineer all the components of an indoor garden.
It’s evident that Garrison’s vision is based on today’s technologies, not tomorrow’s. What’s unique is the interfacing of digital sunlight replication, solar and wind energy, and hydroponics. Another key feature of his plan is its focus on local food production – a movement that has gained significant momentum in recent years in the form of “the 100 mile diet” and the similar rise in popularity of community gardens.
But growing a few veggies is one thing. Can we really feed the whole world? Absolutely! But clearly it’s not just about the technologies. It’s also about taking the lead. We can grow all the food the world needs but, if we remain passive and impotent as human beings, we will stand aside and allow it to be hoarded by oppressive and protectionist regimes. What’s really needed is a radical revolution in the way we view ourselves, each other, and the world around us. Every community needs to take responsibility for its food needs, rather than relying on huge corporations or governments to feed them.
True independence starts with food production. Don’t wait for your ‘ministry of agriculture’ to come up with a food plan for you. Develop your own. Whatever method you choose, whether it’s a high tech rig with a spinning light, a T5 fluorescent in your spare room or some raised vegetable beds in your backyard, make 2009 the year that you start growing more of your own food.
And one final point. Don’t be afraid of growing too much. Right now, there’s no such thing! Why not offer your surplus to your neighbors. They are, after all, part of the world we are talking about. And attitudes like these are contagious!
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