Improved cookstove design
Because so much time is spent in the cook-house, stove designs are a leverage point we can focus on improving to create multiple benefits:
- Better air quality means better health
- Faster cook times
- Less fuel required
- More time to spend on other activities
By controlling only two factors - airflow and thermal mass - we can improve stove design to optimize heat efficiency and transfer.
How a Rocket Stove works:
A rocket stove achieves efficient combustion of the fuel at a high temperature by ensuring a good air draft into the fire, controlled use of fuel, complete combustion of volatiles, and efficient use of the resultant heat.
As the fuel burns within the combustion chamber, convection draws new air into the combustion chamber from below, ensuring that any smoke from smoldering wood near the fire is also drawn into the fire and up the chimney. The chimney can be insulated to maximize the temperature and improve combustion; according to studies this will increase efficiency by up to two percent more.
For cooking purposes, the design keeps the cooking vessel in contact with the fire over the largest possible surface area. A pot skirt can be used to create a narrow channel that forces hot air and gas to flow along the bottom and sides of the cooking vessel.
Optional baffles guide hot air and flame up the sides of the pot. For space heating purposes, the heat is transferred to a heat store which can, in some cases, be part of the structure of the house itself. The exhaust gasses then pass out of the building via the chimney.
The design of the rocket stove allows it to operate on about half as much fuel as a traditional open fire and can use smaller diameter wood. If the stove is insulated and raised from the floor, the danger of children burning themselves is reduced. Some more recently designed rocket stoves are self-feeding, using gravity to add fuel to the fire as required.
- Wikipedia, 09/04/12 -
Existing stoves observed in all 3 communities look like this:
Photos: Typical cookstove in Vanuatu, built on the ground with little or no insulation or airflow control, resulting in a smokey fire (indicating an incomplete & inefficient burn); Soot on the ceiling of cookhouse indicates how much particulate matter is released into the air with an inefficient burn
Our favorite Village Crazyman had already come up with improvements to his stove design:
Photo: Sawi’s improved stove design.A class brainstorm was conducted to explore ways we could improve Sawi’s design:
Photo: Class brainstorm on improved stove design.Not surprisingly, Sawi had created another improved stove design: Photo: Although this design focused primarily on improving the thermal mass, it still halved the typical cooking time for a suckling pig to just an hour; it was left to the class to further improve the design by harnessing airflow.Here are some other variations on rocket stove from our friends at Permies.com:
Traditional Food Culture in Vanuatu
Sawi treated us to a Sunday feast of traditional foods called laplap, which are wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in the traditional umu earthen oven (similar to the Maori hangi or Hawaiian imu):
Photo: The women prepare laplap dishes for our feast.
Photo: Chicken slaughtered yesterday.
Photo: Grated yam & coconut milk, tastes like a fluffy kulolo.
Photo: Fresh fish in coconut milk.
Photo: Nalalas, pig tripe & coconut milk.
I think we ate enough in one sitting to last us two days!
Shifting Food Cultures
Modern cultural pressures are acting upon even remote communities, shifting values away from traditional values of natural resource stewardship and living from the land. Imported goods are replacing traditional foods & materials, creating new challenges ranging from how to properly dispose of plastics, scrap metals and batteries.
Photo: Inorganic waste is buried at Dixson’s Reef on Malekula Island.
Dixson’s Reef community currently separates & buries their inorganic waste, while on Araki & Ifira Islands piles of leaf litter & other organic matter mixed with plastic & other inorganic wastes are regularly burnt.The diversity of island cultures throughout Vanuatu is perhaps most apparent in the diversity of languages spoken here, where even neighboring villages will often have their own distinct dialect. Languages hold information & nuances that are very specific to people & place - even down to neighboring valleys. On Araki Island, only 4 speakers of their native language remain.Imported & processed foods which are cheaply & abundantly available (especially white rice & packaged noodles), present a seductive option to cook & prepare because there is much less time & physical effort expended to purchase from the store & cook a meal with these items - especially compared to the time & physical effort required to grow, harvest, clean, prepare
and cook traditional root crops & vegetables. Photo: White rice is even featured on the signature Flying Fox dish at the L’Houstalet, a high-end French restaurant in Port Villa.
On Ifira Island, this has led to a shift of focus towards away from crop cultivation and towards income generation as the primary means to feed oneself.This shift away from traditional food culture is already contributing to an increase in Non-Communicable Diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and is particularly tricky to address since it requires an understanding of the opposite tensions between traditional & modern culture in order to effectively re-frame simple daily choices (such as choosing to eat white rice) in such a way to affect better decision making at a household level.
Photo: Without innovation, traditional culture stagnates & dies. Without respect for traditional culture, traditional culture stagnates & dies. Culture can flourish when the balance between tradition and innovation is maintained.
A facilitated class discussion was held in an attempt to re-connect traditional foods with traditional culture, so that simple acts of growing & eating foods appropriate to place & culture can regain their significance.
What is culture?
- How has your landscape impacted your culture? Your diet?
[Explore cultural foods, mythologies, ceremonies, processing & preservation techniques, and so on]
- How has your culture impacted your landscape?
[Explore cultivation techniques & philosophy, village design, relationship w/ land, and so on]
- How does modern culture impact your landscape? Your diet?
- Why save seeds? Why grow cultural foods?
Photo: ‘Seedsaving = No Thank you Monsanto’, on Oahu, Hawaii (photo credit: Michael Broady Jr.).
Back home in Hawaii and Australia, this conversation begins by exploring the modern food system & agricultural practices (and its impacts upon planet & people), and narrows down to the simple practices of seed saving, water harvesting & stewardship, and gardening.
As a part of this exploration, we can re-frame the political significance of these simple & peaceful acts - while understanding that in the modern consumerist society, harvesting our own water, saving our own seeds, and growing our own food are in many ways among the most radical & revolutionary acts we can do.As one student in Hawaii (whose #1 agricultural export commodity is GMO seed) said:
”It’s like gently, but firmly saying ‘F&^k You to the multinational corporations who seek to control our food and water supply.” - Student in Hawaii -
Here in Vanuatu, the situation in many ways is perhaps not quite so dire (subsistence farming is still widely practiced, and local food production still very much valued), though the conditions are ripening for such cancerous attitudes to fester.
The government building on the main street of Villa boasts a large electronic notice board which flashes monthly reports of agriculture commodity exports by tonnage and dollar amount - not a bad thing in and of itself, though perhaps indicative of a broader shifting of focus away from agriculture as ‘subsistence farming’ and towards ‘export commodity production’.Photo: Breakfast meal served for us on Araki Island, featuring fried doughballs, imported crackers, local cooked sweet banana, and local eggs fried w/ Nalalas (Polyscias fruticosa). We were treated later with something we dubbed ‘Yambu’, a delicious pudding of grated yam & coconut milk stuffed into a bamboo node and cooked in the earthen oven.
How much sense does it make to grow enough food to export & sell, to make enough money, to be able to afford your own food, which has been processed, imported & sold back to you? A pound of harvested, fermented, & dried cacao beans sells for 200-250VT /kg(1); a couple of chocolate bars imported from Australia will cost you 200VT.
We find ourselves in a ‘mitigation’ situation on the ground here, where theIn order to build locally resilient communities, we must instead focus first upon growing enough to feed ourselves, then our community, and then look for opportunities to trade your surplus to in exchange for items outside of our bioregion.
“In Cuba, agriculture means growing food for our people to eat.”
- Roberto Perez, Permaculture Activist featured in ‘The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’ documentary -
Photo: Learning about lactobaccilic ferment by making kimchee.
Plant guilds in Vanuatu
“There is an enormous difference in the way we make a design in permaculture and the way an agriculturist would make it. Really what we are up to is trying to let things function in a natural way.”
- Bill Mollison, Wilton, NH (USA) PDC 1981 -
Companion planting, or planting two or more plants who help each other, with each other, is one tool we can use to increase the resilience of our cropping systems.
For example, planting dill and alliums (onion family) between mounds of potatoes can help attract beneficial insects to the umbrelliferous flowers of the dill, while the allium roots exude antibacterial & antifungal compounds which can protect potato tubers from fungal infection, and give us total yield of three crops from the same space.Photo: Fruit & nut trees occupy the understory of this coconut plantation on Malekula Island, while swamp taro & cattle occupy the ground level.
In permaculture design we refer to this as ‘guilding’. We can use it to mimic the diversity found in natural systems and assemble our planting guilds by selecting plants occupying different niches; for example, selecting deep rooted plants to row next to shallow rooted plants, or identifying understory trees which can be planted under our canopy.
We can take this a step further by designing for maximum functional diversity; in other words, seeking to connect elements in our system so that the needs (or ‘inputs’) of one element are met by the products or behaviors (‘outputs’) of another element in our system.
Photo: Needs / Products / Functions = Functional Analysis.
By using the ‘Functional Analysis’ tool to map the needs, products & characteristics of our species palette, we can begin to make these connections to create gropings of plants which are mutually beneficial when grown together. For example, we can grow vines up a taller crop, select an edible ground cover to ramble in an understory, and intercrop nitrogen-fixing species to provide for our soil fertility needs.
Photo: A guild is a family of plants who work together. At the Department of Agriculture’s demonstration plot on Efate, Piper nigrum (back pepper) grows up nitrogen-fixing ‘Erythrina varigata’ (Indian Coral Tree).
Students were tasked with designing their own localized guilds using these patterns, starting with grouping plant species they are already familiar with in the different niches they occupy, and then looking to re-assemble them by looking for functional relationships between the plants:
Bill Mollison said, “If you do something right, it will do a lot more right itself,” and we experienced this phenomenon with this practical exercise.
Students were asked first to group plants according to niche, and then to create guilds by looking for functional relationships between these plants - and in doing so they also managed to stack crops in space, stack yields in time, and increase diversity & fertility.
“Our job is to put things in the right place and then let them rip.”
- Bill Mollison, Wilton, NH (USA) PDC 1981 -
No Dig Gardenbeds & The Village Crazyman
A social pattern that Rick Coleman has observed in his work overseas is that of the ‘Village Crazyman’:
Everywhere he has worked, Rick has encountered this person - typically slightly overweight (ie well-fed), and the only person in his village who is growing anything with any success - often with raging success, while everyone around has written him off as ‘crazy’; simply because of the lack of social proof:
If that guy was doing things so right, then why isn’t everyone else doing it?
Africa, Peru, Mexico, Palestine, Mongolia; wherever he went, sooner or later he would eventually run into this person, and when he did… it would be time to ask lots of questions & take furious notes… and ironically enough, when Rick returns home to his productive permacultural bio-dome smack-bang in the middle of the declining pastures in Gippsland (considered prime dairy country in that neck of the woods), guess who the neighbors consider to be the crazyman?Photo: Our new friend Sawi is Da Man!
When we first met Sawi during our tour of Ifira Island on Day 1 of this consultancy, it was clear that he was doing some very good things - but it wasn’t until we had conducted our site visits to Araki Island & Dixson’s Reef that it started to become clear that we had found our ‘Crazyman’.
One consequence of the relative material affluence of this small community is a preference for buying cheap, processed & imported foods, and Sawi is one of the few residents of Ifira Island still growing his own food: trained chickens, free-range-non-foraging pigs, cyclone yams (not a typo), fruit & nut trees, hessian-crete walls (hessian bags dipped in concrete and used as a sort of plaster), thermal-efficient roasting oven, handmade fishtraps, compost heaps, nursery operations - he’s got a lot going on.
Check out these no-dig garden beds, made from treestumps, compost, & leaf litter, growing ‘cyclone yams’ (wild yams which can store in the ground for many seasons and can act as a backup food supply in case of cyclones), at least 3 different varieties of Island Cabbage (Abelmoschus manihot, aka Edible Hibiscus), an unidentified shrubby edible, and interplanted with colorful varieties of Coleus to attract beneficial insects:
Photo: No-dig Gardenbeds on Ifira Island in Vanuatu.
Photo: Three different varieties of Island Cabbage (Abelmoschus manihot, aka Edible Hibiscus).
[[posterous-content:pid___2]]Photo: Mushrooms thriving on the decomposing log borders.
Appropriate Design & Knowledge Transfer
Google ‘Appropriate Design’ and the first few results you get are a handful of Green Design Firms Self-Sufficiently Sustaining their Sustainability through ‘appropriate design’.As a kid growing up, the word ‘inappropriate’ was often used to describe my behavior - so what exactly is appropriate design, and who or what exactly are we being ‘appropriate’ to or for?
“Local relevance and local needs are often considered key to appropriateness. A technology or practice is considered “appropriate” if its costs and benefits are appropriate to the locality in which it is used. “ - Appropedia.org wiki -
Traditional Cultures have co-evolved closely with the place a peoples have descended from, shaping both people and place.
Animal herds are the peoples’ primary energy storage (food supply) which can survive -40C winters; animal dungs provide fuel for fires, and provide fertility for the grasslands in the delicate balance that is life on the steppe. Over the millennia, the Mongolian landscape has co-evolved with the movement of animals & people across its rambling, arid highland plains.The notion that ‘lands belong to people’ is a symptom of disconnect between people and land in modern culture - all traditional cultures that are still intact today have a shared notion of ‘belonging to their land’ - in other words, a universal recognition that their ability to thrive as people is nested within the ability of the landscape around them to thrive:We take care of the land, and the land takes care of us.‘Local relevance’ takes us back to this idea of designing solutions which utilize locally available resources to solve the specific challenges presented by a locale’s landscape, and the culture which has co-evolved within it; in other words, solutions which are appropriate to place and culture.
Gardening techniques & tricks that have been developed for a seasonal agriculture may not be appropriate for a culture that has developed a perennial agricultural system in response to its landscape.At first glance in Vanuatu, it may appear that there are no garden beds (that we may recognize) within the village, a shift in our perception reveals a complex & diverse agroforestry system of edible & useful species planted within the village and extending into the surrounding lands.
The fastest-growing traditional crop here is likely sweet potato, which is ready for first harvest in around 3 months; compare that to the Mongolian growing season of 90 days.
So, when working in foreign lands & cultures, we must work to match our design solutions to place & people.
Photo: Knowledge replicating out into community as one of our student’s next door neighboor is now feeding her banana patches w/ organic matter instead of burning it.
For example, in the shallow topsoils of the tropics much of the nutrient is held in the biomass of the plants growing there. The practice of burning any & all organic matter (in the interests of maintaining tidiness) breaks this cycle, turning valuable nutrients into char & smoke.
Once a foundational understanding of permaculture principles is established (in this case, the principle of ‘cycling energy’), students can begin to relate these into locally appropriate action & practice.
Island Water & Watersheds
Photo: High Island [photo credit: http://tropicalparadise.net].
Photo: Low Island (Ifira Island).
When we understand the importance of water and the watersheds which catch, store, filter & deliver our fresh water to us, we gain a deeper understanding of where we fit in to the ecology of a place.Permaculture Publications managed to record, transcribe, and publish to the public domain a series of lectures from a PDC given by Bill Mollison in 1981 (New Hapshire, USA). The treatise he gives on High Islands & Low Islands are excellent (and highly entertaining, if you can manage to read them in a lazy aussie drawl to fully capture the dry ironic undertone in his delivery).There are both High & Low Islands on Vanuatu, so it is important to understand the way each is formed if we are to understand the differences in managing & protecting their watersheds. Download: ‘Permaculture on Islands’, by Bill Mollison (1981)
For a detailed description of these differences, download the above Mollison transcript (well worth the read), for the cliff notes, see below:
• Air is funneled up the mountains of the windward side.
• Clouds form as condensation occurs at upper levels.
• Most rain is dropped on windward side.
• Rain shadow is created on leeward side.
• Upland forests seeds clouds with transpiration, which increases precipitation.
• Over time, forests can descend from the upper slopes of the leeward side.
• Clouds follow the forest into rain shadow.
• Watersheds filter water through sedimentation, solarization, oxygenation & filtration.
• Trees protect the watershed.Low Islands:
• Bird droppings (phosphates) & sand (calcium) form basis of soil.
• Pioneer plan species must break through ‘platen’ layer of phosphate + calcareous sands.
• Once platen layer is penetrated by pioneers, groundwater table can form.
• Organic matter from vegetation creates humus for succession species.
• Groundwater table only 3-5 feet deep.
• If groundwater is overdrawn, salt water can get in.
• This groundwater is shallow & must be protected!
• Surface water catchment strategies help protect groundwater.
• Low islands must be protected w/ trees or wind & waves will quickly erode.
• Trees protect the island & watershed.
Mapping a Site: Sectors & Zones
Mapping a site is a basic skill that is essential to permaculture design; it is the ‘Point A’ from which the design process starts.
Photo: Students map the homesite in the ground.
Students split up into teams and walked the teaching site (we are being hosted in the home of Talek, one of Ifira’s best rugby players) to pace the boundaries, and gain a hands-on experience of drawing a site map to scale.
After everyone had sketched rough maps in their notebooks, we gathered again as a group and consolidated the information gathered to create a 3-D map on the ground.
In this way participants could share & discuss the information each had gathered, and discover each other’s different perceptions of the same site. This interactive group process also serves to engage multiple learning styles and cross language barriers, creating opportunities for teams to start learning from each other instead of relying upon a translator to convey the entire lesson - not everyone can learn effectively in a lecture format in their own language (let alone having to sit through a translated 90-minute lecture).
Photo: Class discussion to map external energies acting upon the site.
Once the class had transferred the information gathered to create the larger-scale map on the ground, we could map the external energies which impacted the site - what we refer to as ‘Sectors’ in permaculture design.As the group discussed prevailing winds, solar aspect, foot traffic, water flow across the site, and hurricane risk, it became apparent that it would just make sense to place certain elements in certain places (for example bananas in the lee of a structure to give it protection from hurricane winds).
Photo: Student map.
Next we explored how use patterns will affect design decisions made for the site - what we refer to as ‘Zones’ in permaculture design. Since the bathroom, kitchen & pigpen are all areas which are visited daily, we can take advantage of these energy flows to place what we need most often along these paths.If we plant fruit trees along these flows, we can monitor them daily on our way to where we need to go anyways. Or back at home in Hawaii, we may choose to site our herb garden outside the kitchen door (or even inside the kitchen if we are especially creative!).
Making Connections: The Story of Design
The Functional Analysis is a tool which is used in permaculture design to map the needs, products and characteristics of resources we have available so that we can start to use them as elements within our system by seeking out functional relationships between each element.Simply put, it is a tool we use to help answer the question: How can we use what we have to create what we need?Students split into small teams and begin by listing the Needs (Inputs) / Characteristics / Products (Outputs/Functions) of an available resource - in this (somewhat infamous) example, a chicken:
Once the functional analysis for this resource is completed, another resource is selected and the functional analysis is conducted again. This is repeated again and again, until students have a list of elements which can be connected to each other to create functional relationships.By asking, ‘How can the needs of one element in our system be met by the products/functions of another element within our system?’, we can begin to tell the story of how these elements can work together to create a functioning system: the story of design.In other words, we are creating the beginning of a fully functional permaculture design.
Photo: Students from Vanuatu 2012 PDC present a simple ‘story of design’ integrating Coconuts, Cattle, Pigs, a Dog, and Taro.
Ethics (on Island Time)
Photo: 9am at the classroom… but where are the students?
Day 1 of the Vanuatu PDC started promptly on island time (2pm vs the scheduled 9am), and we had a beautiful class discussion and exchange of cultural ethics & values to kick things off.Photo: English on the left, Bislama on the right.
English: Earth Care
Hawaiian: Malama A’ina
Bislama: Lukaotem Gud Kraon (‘Look out ‘em good ground’)
Local Example: The traditional practice of slash-n-burn agriculture (where a garden plot is cleared from the forest by a controlled burn) has evolved from a cultural practice of working with what the landscape has to offer. Once food crops were grown & harvested, a family would move on to clear & farm another plot, leaving the old one to fallow so that the jungle could reclaim it and replenish the nutrients taken from the land to grow those crops. Only after the land had a chance to regenerate itself would it be farmed again, a practice which makes sense given the low populations supported by the land.
English: People Care
Bislama: Lukaotem Gud Pipol (‘Look out ‘em good people’)
Local Example: The islands’ communities are interdependent with each other, and rely upon people looking after each other - each producing its own specialty matched to its lands (good fishing, or special varieties of yam, taro, banana, kava, etc) and trading its surplus with neighboring communities. In this way a diverse, resilient network of community has been created which can adapt dynamically and respond creatively to challenges; especially useful in a land of seasonal cyclones and volcanic activity.
English: Resource Share
Bislama: Sherem Ol Samting / Tabu (‘Share ‘em all something / Taboo’)
Local Example: Sharing of resources also means stewarding of the resources entrusted to you; this is done most effectively by setting limits to consumption, population & growth. Tabu is one system used to to limit consumption by forbidding the use of an overtaxed resource to allow it to recover (e.g a reef ecosystem or wild harvest area); the practice of requiring marrying daughters to move to the communities of their spouses was used traditionally as a way to limit population growth within island communities.
Photo: The balance between tradition & innovation / culture & change must be maintained if healthy culture is to keep evolving. Without one or the other, culture (tradition) will become extinct.