All posts by Emily Bulla

Green Garden Cities

How to bring local food to US cities in a sustainable way

Cities are expanding and the population is growing and thus creating a greater need for food and land. We constantly hear about the need to reduce carbon emissions in our atmosphere, and one way to do so is to change the way we grow our food. In America, a large monoculture farm normally defines farming, but it we can reinvent it. Creating farming within the city would do a lot to make a more sustainable, smarter food system within the city. During our time in the Netherlands, we visited many gardens that aimed to bring local food to the city or provide arable space to the community. The farms and gardens’ purpose is to decrease the carbon footprint of the food the locals eat and to develop a community by providing a space for socialization.

Most food travels hundreds of miles before it reaches an inner city supermarket. The New Urban Farm has found an alternative to average farming by growing vegetables and farming fish in a high-rise building in Den Haag. They are then able to provide food with a low carbon footprint to the local community and supermarkets.

The New Urban Farm had converted a rooftop and the top floor of a building to greenhouse and fish farm, respectively. The project was incredible, using smart greenhouse and water technology to recycle 90% of the water between the fish farm and greenhouse. This farm aimed to reduce the carbon footprint of food that is sold to the city by producing in the inner city and selling it to local retailers and having it at markets.

In Rotterdam, we visited the Op Het Dak, a less intensive rooftop garden focused more on community and decreasing the heat island effect in the city, and less on providing food. This garden was focused on social capital. It introduced people to the idea of green roofs and built a desire for more. Our tour guide there said they had many visitors and people either wanting to assist Op Het Dak or create their own rooftop gardens. Focusing on community allowed this garden to raise awareness for what gardening can be, and is a great stepping stone to creating a city of green roofs.

One of many rooftop gardens in Rotterdam, Op Het Dak, is part of a city initiative to reduce the heat island effect by converting an unused rooftop to a space that filters carbon dioxide and cools the area.

We passed many city-owned properties that fostered farming too. There are gardens in empty lots throughout the city and farm animals in the parks. These gardens are not permanent and since the land is owned by the city when development is necessary the city mandate change. However, while the spaces are unused they are suitable for gardens, offering another way to bring produce to the local community. Also, the parks with cows and goats were more for kids’ entertainment but could be taken a step further and used for small dairy production in the inner city.

On market day, urban farmers and community gardeners can sell their produce. This localizes produce and creates a atmosphere for fresher food with a less of a carbon footprint.

There are many different ways to change farming in the cities. Of course, the city would not be self-sufficient but bring some production and fresh food to cities would be a great step to reducing carbon emissions – by decreasing food transportation and cleaning of the city air with more greenery. To see this change happen in the United States I think we would need to start with projects like Op Het Dak to get the community involved in seeing how they could recreate their homes or workplaces. Also, since many cities have adopted the Paris Accords they could create a funded initiative to start inner city farming. A city like New York, with many parks, could transform some or parts of their parks into local community gardens or small dairy producers. The larger scale operations, like New Urban Farm, would need to from entrepreneurs but cities could create grants and subsidies for these projects, as the EU does. Projects like these are a necessary step for United States’ cities to bring a healthy atmosphere to their citizens and reduce their carbon emissions.

-Emily Bulla

Clean Tech Center

The Benefits of Creating an Industry Cluster

On the east side of Berlin, the Clean Tech Business Park and Innovation Center are growing to become the hub of clean technology. The Clean Tech Center is focused on supplying co-working office space and manufacturing space for any startup or business that contributes to sustainability and environment consciences. When we visited, they explained to us the benefits their park and greater Berlin offers to its customers and how the formation of the center forms an innovative cluster.

The logo of the Clean Tech Innovation Center in Berlin.

The property contains office space, production space, and large outdoor testing lot. The Clean Tech Center is forming spaces suitable entrepreneurs by giving them areas to create, test, and produce a product. This all-inclusive area is one of their selling points and something they hope will draw people to the area. Also, they hope will draw more people with the attractiveness of Berlin. As Berlin is being reshaped since reunification it has become the startup hub of Europe and a central city for research universities and economic opportunities. The Clean Tech Center hopes this environment will draw innovators to their campus.

A communal kitchen and eating area for the workers. This area is surrounded by four or five open room offices where different startups are working on their ideas.

The Clean Tech Center also offers incentives to increase the area’s desirability. They receive funding from the European Union which allows them to lower rent to a cheap price of €99-129 per month. The area is located near transportation stops, to cheapen the cost of transportation. On campus, they offer networking and collaboration services so innovators can meet with each other, share ideas, or network. Also, younger companies can learn and grow from the older companies. Conjoining an innovation center and a business park also has many benefits. By connecting the two parks people can now stay in one area as their business grows.

The property and facility brochure the Clean Tech Innovation and Business give out. These pamphlets discuss the benefits that come from working in a shared space, and having the ability to share knowledge and infrastructure.
The partners of the Clean Tech Center, notice that universities (local and international), companies, and the local government are all involved in the future of this cluster.

Creating a space for innovation in an environment that will sponsor it is a fantastic idea and needs to start happening in America more. Currently, America has large clusters like Research Triangle Park and, on a larger scale, Silicon Valley. These American clusters lack the shared infrastructure that makes the Clean Tech Center so appealing. The clusters in America are located well, surrounded by research universities and economic markets. But they are less dense and normally involve innovators working in their own building, and staying within their company. These places lack denser shared workspaces, and normally only have the occasional incubator or shared building.

American entrepreneurs should look into creating attractive workplaces with shared space. Having places like the Clean Tech Center could change the culture of working in America, shifting from getting a job in a pre-existing company to creating one’s own job in one of these shared workspaces because the social benefits and creative freedom is so attractive. Also, surrounding one’s self with people with like ideas and a place to collaborate will foster growth and innovation. I think shared spaces will motivate more students and people with ideas to feel their idea can become reality.

-Emily Bulla

The Hills are Alive with Wind Turbines

Facts about German Wind Turbines and the Financing

Today, our group went on a renewable energy tour. We stopped at a wind farm on the edge of the town of Freiamt in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany. The farm has been in the Schneider family for the last 300 years. Originally, the farm hosted cows and timber, but a few years ago the farmers decided change was needed. They found milk production was labor intensive and not worth the minimal monetary return, and timber farming alone was not enough to support their farm. The farmers decided to construct wind turbines on their farm.

A fresh charcuterie tray at a farm in the countryside of Germany. The farm has been around for 300 years and the farmer prepared this delicious array of food all there at farm.

The Schnieders’ farm is situated on top the hills, 700 meters from the valley floor, and is a perfect spot for a wind turbine. The farmers entered into business with a cooperative to help finance the project. The cooperative gathered people interested in investing in wind power and becoming co-owners of wind turbines. The co-op was very successful and collected enough money from the now co-owners to build the wind turbine. The turbine was constructed in 2001 within a week. The project as a whole cost around 2 million euros, and required each co-owner to invest 3,000 to 20,000 euros. Now, the turbine creates 2.7 million kilowatts of electricity per year. The energy is then sold to the grid and supplies 19,000 people with energy for the year. The farmers’ decision paid off financially, they now receive income from renting out their land to the co-op and since they are co-owners as well they receive money from the energy sold to the grid.

One of the four wind turbines we saw today. This turbine’s name is Helga and was constructed in 2001. The turbine cost two million euros and is co-owned by 142 people.

Since the first turbine was such a success, the farm rented out their land and became co-owners of another, larger turbine. The newer wind turbine is only a few years old. The turbine stands 135 meters tall and the blades have a diameter of 82 meters, for comparison, the turbine built in 2001 is 85 meters high with a diameter of 70 meters. The extra height and area of the blades allow the larger turbine to create more energy. The larger turbine did cost more, around 3.7 million euros. The same cooperative also helped finance the turbine with 193 co-owners. The leader of the cooperative said they never had any trouble trying to finance a wind turbine and in this case, they had 40 investors they had to turn down because they had met their monetary goal. He stated the return on investment was around 6%, and although this is low he said it was easy to get investors after the global recession because investors were looking for less risky investments.

Another of the wind turbines we saw today. The tower is 85 meters and the rotor blades have a diameter of 70 meters.

This wind farm was incredible to me. I found it fascinating that one wind turbine could power so many homes, that each turbine was basically silent, and all the farmers and other co-owners were so invested in transitioning to renewable energy. Hearing the farmers’ story and the leader of the cooperative talk about the ease of building and using a wind turbine made me think about how behind America is on changing our ways. American politics and large lobbies have truly held the United States back from allowing independent partnerships help provide renewable energy to citizens. But, the same is seen in Germany with large lobbies and politicians pushing away from renewable energy, however, they have citizens that wanted to make a change and did so. Now, it is the United States’ citizens’ turn to realize the harmful effects of non-renewables and have the initiative to create change just like the Schnieders.

-Emily Bulla