Sunday, June 25, 2006

Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair

Me and my buddy Dan went to the Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living fair hosted by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association in Custer, WI. It was a three day event in which we went to the first two days worth on Friday and Saturday. It has been an annual gathering for the last 16 years and this year there was an expected turn out of between 15,000 and 16,000 people. By the looks of it I’d say they must have been pretty close in their estimations.

People from all over the world attend.
There were over 160 workshops taught by experts in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living. There were more than 200 exhibitor boot
hs filled with business and organizations offering related products and information.

Dan and I headed out early Friday morning and set up a camp site at a camp ground not far from the event. We packed plenty of food and enjoyed a tasty meal over an open camp fire. You might notice there are 4 large burgers starting to cook over the fire. Needless to say we were stuffed that evening.

When we arrived at the fair we saw a multitude of tents which were set up for the workshops and beyond that were some hoop buildings which housed many of the exhibitor booths. There were many more spread out beyond the buildings.

We got there early and had a chance to visit some of the booths before the workshops started. There were tons of various kinds of solar panels on display and everything having to do with the operations of running alternative energy. At the farthest end of the fair they had an area devoted to vehicles powered by alternative fuels. I was particularly impressed with the “veggie oil” powered ones, which I will talk in more detail about in a bit.

I was duly impressed with the number of workshops of which included many topics most of us are interested in. There was so many I couldn’t attend all that I wanted to. There were up to 14 workshops per hour which you could chose from. Some of which were repeated a couple times in the course of the three days which was nice.

I personally attended a dozen workshops. Here are the ones I went through the two days we were there so that you can see the kinds of topics that were covered. I’ll list them in the order which I attended them, starting Friday morning going through Saturday. The Workshops ran from 10 am to 5 pm.

1. Stuff You Can Do With Junk 2. Earth Sheltered Housing & Living Roofs taught by Rob Roy 3. Site Analysis For Wind taught by Mick Sagrillo 4. Solar Air Systems For Space Heat taught by Bill Hurrle 5. Building With Earth Blocks taught by Dan Johnson 6. Connect A Small Renewable Energy System to the Utility taught by John Hippensteal 7. Geothermal Heating and Cooling taught by Leo Udee
That was all on Friday.

Saturdays line up began…..
8.Timber Framing taught by Rob Roy 9. Straw Bale Construction in the Midwest taught by Mark Morgan 10. Processing Veggie oil for Diesel Engines taught by Patrick Klaybor 11. Beginning Beekeeping taught by Kurt Patten 12. Water Powered Pumping taught by Michael Welch

Here are some others to give you an idea of some what other types of things were covered.

Eating Year Round From Your Garden, Wood Heat & Building Technologies, Multi Seasonal Earth Lodge, Electricity Basics for Women, Batteries, Build Your Own Solar Oven, Vegetable Seed Saving, End Of The Oil Era: How And When, Weeds For Food and Medicine, Organic Eating on a Dime, Composting Toilets, Basket Weaving, Intro To Permaculture, 70 MPG Vehicles

There were many more I haven’t listed, some of which were of a New Age bent which I avoid like the plague. But, most of them were right inline with the things I am very much interested in. Sadly, there wasn’t any Christian representation at all. If there was I certainly didn’t see any.
All in all there was tons of excellent information presented by some of the industries most cutting edge experts. A few really stood out to me, Rob Roy/ Earth Sheltered Housing and Living Roofs/ Timber Framing, Leo Udee/ Geothermal Heating, Patrick Klaybor/ Processing Veggie Oil for Diesel Engines and Cooling and Mick Sagrillo/ Site Analysis For Wind. Those guys really new there stuff and were excellent at teaching others at what they know. Also the beginning beekeeping class was good. It was taught by a young fellow named Kurt Patten who was very knowledgeable about the subject of which he has been a hobbyist for over 7 years.

Some severe thunderstorms moved through the area late Saturday afternoon threatening to put an early end to the workshops but, as it went it quickly passed and we were able to finish the day.

I would say the top two technologies that really stood out for both Dan and I were geothermal heating and cooling and diesel engines run on vegetable oil and biodiesel fuels. Both of these seem to have a real promising future and are most definitely economically viable unlike some of the more expensive technologies like solar and wind which have a very slow payback time. These two have a quick payback of the money invested and seem to be very reliable.
I won’t take the time to go into the details about geothermal at this time
but, I do want to mention a little about veggie oil and biodiesel.

There were probably around a dozen or so vehicles which people brought to the fair of which were run on these fuels. Everyone of them that we talked to had great success using these alternatives. In fact most of them told of improved performance and mileage. Not all diesel engines are made the same and they did tell of some that they heard of who have run into problems. But, it seems minor adjustments to engine components and or fuel processing is all there is to working out the kinks.
A veggie powered bus which is traveling cross country.

Between biodiesel and veggie oil, vegetable oil seemed to be the most straight forward and simple one to use. It takes the least effort to process for use in engines by mostly just being run through a series of skimmers and filters. The down side is that the vehicle has to be equipped with two fuel tanks. It has to start off with pure diesel or biodiesel fuels in order to preheat the veggie oil to the proper temperature. Once that point is reached which doesn’t take that long it can be switched over to straight vegetable oil. Everyone said it switches over flawlessly. Not even a sputter or pop. Patrick Klaybor who taught the workshop said his normally noisy diesel truck engine actually quiets down to were it sounds like a normal automobile. He says it is because of the higher “lubricity of the grease”. Biodiesel, though harder to make can be run in an engine using no modifications whatsoever.

During the workshop he talked about a restaurant owner he knows who is using his used cooking oil in all of his pizza delivery cars. The restaurant owner has his place set up with all the proper filtration system
s which lead to a pump right off the side of the building were his delivery drivers fill up the vehicles. He is fueling 4 vehicles and is saving $8000 dollars a year per car by using up his old cooking oil.
And he even has more left over in which he donates to a few nonprofit organizations which a running it in various vehicles.

Here's Dan checking out a veggie fueled Mercedes

I currently have a gasoline powered truck for my trash route but, I am seriously thinking about getting a diesel so that I can do the same thing. I’d be able to save nearly $8000 a year myself.
Friend Dan is now looking for an old diesel powered Mercedes which he can use as a project car for this exciting new fuel development. It takes a little modification of the engine. Like I already mentioned above it requires two fuel tanks. It requires a means to switch over from the regular diesel. And needs a couple more filters and a way to heat the oil.

There were guys at the fair who had complete systems for sale. You could buy the components and have them install it or you can do it yourself. We talked mostly to the guys who didn’t have anything to sell. They were just simple folks who were mechanically inclined and had their vehicles there just to display the ways they made it work for them. These guys were hobbyists and advocates of this terrific new way to power a diesel auto or truck. Their set ups cost them anywhere between $400-$1000. With the price of fuel these days it won't take them long to get their money back.

Well, here it is way past my bedtime again. So I’d better wrap this up. My mind is still whirling from all the cool stuff I learned over the past two days. It is different from just reading about it. Seeing it first hand and hearing real experts explain it in person has a way of really sinking in. At least for me it does. It is exciting to know there are so many smart folks trying to make a difference in the world.

Until Next Time

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Few Images With New Camera

My daughter got a new digital camera for her birthday and she took these shots from around our place. It's a Konica Minolta and I am totally amazed at all the things it can do. It can even make movies, and with sound. Pictured are some of our kittens that were born this spring. If kittens were worth anything we'd surely be rich because they have a way of reproducing themselves around here. I always joke that we should get some expensive high bred ones to use as barn cats and then we wouldn't have anything to do but, collect all the money. I can really see that happening....... just kidding!

We were very surprised how the camera picked up the depth of these clouds.

The close ups blow me away. It zooms right in with the macro setting.

Guess that's about it for todays post. I probably would have made a bigger post but, for some reason Blogger didn't want to load the pictures. Finally at 10:30 at night I got it to go through. I have an idea with all the traffic on the web my slow speed dial up gets bogged down.

Until Next Time

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Un-Intended Absence

My mind has been mush for at least the past couple months. I think it’s been from the longer days and being outside more and just being plain tired when I settle down in the evenings. Plus we restructured our trash route and I’ve been getting used to the new routine. I don’t do well with change.

So suffice it to say it has been difficult to translate my thoughts to this computer key board via my two fingers. Yes I confess, I am a two fingered typer. I’m not saying I have just two fingers, mind you. I still have all the ten digits that I came into the world with. But, every word you see here on this blog came to be by using just one finger on each hand. Back in Junior High I learned how to type the right way but, that skill has long been forgotten. Every now and then I will try to type on the key board using all my fingers like you are supposed to but, I only wind up slowing down and making alot more mistakes. I actually surprise myself at how fast I can type with two fingers.

As usual life isn’t going necessarily as expected or wanted this season. As I go about each day just taking care of everything and running our little trash business, I’ve been in deep thought about the tension between the ever encroaching modern civilization and trying to live a more simple life. The modern influence is spreading the globe like a wild fire so it seems. As hard as we try to separate and insulate ourselves from it all it is near to impossible to come away from it entirely. The world is getting smaller and smaller through the advent of global and instantaneous communication. Globalism is the mantra of our present day. Idea’s and trends be they good or bad in today’s world can travel the globe like in no other time in history.

Just last week my family was driving across Wisconsin to accompany a friend to a Christian camp which he is working at this summer and they came across a sight to behold. It was this Amish buggy tied to a lamp post in a Wal-Mart parking lot. They watched from a distance as the couple carried their bags to their trusty mode of transportation and climbed on board for the ride home. Wow! What a culture clash! This photo shows the exact thing that’s been on my mind these past months. I just wish they could have gotten a different angle on the picture to show the Wal-Mart sign in the background. But I’m glad they at least got this shot because it illustrates perfectly what I’m talking about.

The pressures to partake in this present “consumer” ( there’s that word again) culture are enormous. The temptation to buy what you need, easily and at a discounted price regardless of the moral implications is beyond compare. I think of how many local business’ I watched close their doors after “Super” Wal-Mart opened up in Rhinelander. Not to mention all the things that are going on behind the scenes regarding Wal-Mart’s business practices with the way it goes about obtaining their “discounted” merchandise. Once again we see yet another example of the destructive consequences of rampant materialism and greed. In time I believe this type of business practice will degenerate our society, not build it up. We might pay for things cheaply now, but we will pass on the cost to our children later on I’m afraid.

For me I feel this constant tension between how I feel we should live verses how we are actually living. With our have it now society we are not looking to the long term consequences of our lifestyles. Naturally we want to buy cheap and maximize our the buying power of our hard earned dollars. But, at what price? The real costs are hidden.

I suppose this topic is a reoccurring theme on this blog of mine but, it is something that’s on my mind a lot while living here in this place. It seems I am always pondering these things as I try to be totally honest with God and myself in all my endeavors. I always think of the philosophy behind what ever I am doing. I always wonder if what I am doing is a worthy thing to spend my time and energy on during these short days that I am here on this earth. Time is so fleeting. Does my life honor God? Is what I’m doing pleasing to Him? How does all this count from an eternal perspective?

It is very important to me that my life counts for something. I want to live for a higher purpose than simply living for my own personal gratification. This desire runs in stark contrast to the message the world is telling us. The whole agrarian lifestyle runs in stark contrast to the whole worldly way of things. I guess what I struggle with is undoing a life time worth of bad idea’s that have been ingrained into my head just about from birth. I mean really deep down I’m still a city kid trying to live in the country.

It’s not easy to totally change a way of thinking that has been with you your entire life. Whether we like it or not we are a product of the society we grow up in with all it’s unspoken rules and customs. The struggle I find myself in really is in the attempt to deprogram myself from years and years of unbiblical brainwashing that the culture at large has imposed upon me. I say imposed because there was truly a conscious effort on the part of government institutions via the public school system to mold in me in way that would fit in with their economy. I was a part of the whole mass production of suitable workers scheme of which I flat out rejected even as a young child. I was in the “first grade” when I realized that was a boat I did not want to be in. But, unfortunately what choice does a first grader have. I faked sick as much as I possibly could get away with, but I new a few really rebellious kids who actually played hooky. Of course they were labeled as being bad kids and were always in trouble. The fact of the matter was, that as much as the school tried, they just couldn’t get them to fit the mold.

I see this tension and confusion with the system even in families who try to do what’s best for their children and home school them. Just about every family including us that I’ve seen, when they start home schooling they try to have little reproductions of the public school model. Still trying to public school, only at home. Most that I see eventually lighten up and develop a style that fits their own personal needs and circumstances. That to me is the best way to go. After all we hope for something better for our kids. Why adhere to a model that is only designed to make them conform to a system that we disagree with anyway. But, that’s how deep the brainwashing has gone. We don’t know any different. Only what we have been taught.

That is the struggle I see in all of this. From home schooling to homesteading. There is most definitely a tension. A clash of two worlds. There has to be an undoing in our way of thinking that the culture at large, the whole ungodly system has ingrained into each and every one of us.
Whew! Now that I got all that down with the system stuff off my chest I feel a little better. My brain doesn’t feel as mushy as when I sat down at this computer monitor.

Not much new to tell as far as life on the farm. We did lose one of those cute little lambs that I mentioned previously on another post. It was the little whitish colored one. Apparently it had some digestive problems and wasn’t processing the formula. We went back to the breeder to get a replacement and wound up getting another lamb as well. So now we have 3 lambs happily grazing away on all this years lush green grass. This is an excellent grass year here.

We are still in the process of planting our garden. We like the Elliot Coleman “don’t worry be happy” approach to gardening so we tend to keep planting stuff throughout the season.

My Dad and I are doing some more experimenting with slip form stone masonry. We are attempting to finish a project that we started back in 2004. We didn’t touch it at all last year so it feels good to get back at it this year. When I find the time I’ll try to post some pictures of the project. As it is right now I’ve spent too much time on this post and I’d better get going before the day is completely gone.

I hope all is well with all my blogging friends out there.
God bless and may your gardens and vines be abundantly overflowing.

Until Next Time