The Crestone Eagle, March 2003:

Creating an eco-industrial/agricultural park
by JoDee Powers

As we look to the future and ponder what tomorrow will bring, I wonder what Crestone/Baca will look like in 10 years. With about 50+ new houses built in 2002, how many will we see this year and next? How many developers will be showing up at the land auction hoping to get a cheap lot? How will we keep our values in tact, preserve our way of life, and our community as we inevitably grow? Can we envision a future economy that is viable, sustainable and environmentally sound?

In the midst of this growth, is it possible for us to create a community where true sustainability and self-reliance are intertwined with a deep reverence for this earth as a way of life? Not just rhetoric, or words and policies on a page, once laid down and then forgotten, but alive enough to each of us that we embrace and live it each day? One way we might be able to create a little stability and sustainability is to look at a new business paradigm that is emerging in Europe, Vermont and other parts of the world. This concept is called an Eco-Park.

What is an Eco-Park?
An Eco-Park is a new economic way of functioning and doing business. It is a self-sustaining, commercial community where there is zero waste, minimal impact on the environment and an atmosphere of businesses working cooperatively to serve the community. This is a model where the waste of one business is the resource for another, where negative environmental impacts are transformed into useful things. The end result is zero emissions. These are businesses that put human and ecological welfare on equal footing with financial success, recognizing that we cannot continue this way of doing business without damaging our environment.

An Eco-Park is about new possibilities, one that fits with our community’s values of preserving our eco-systems, our small, village way of life, selective growth, and encouragement of ecological sustainability. An Eco-Park is a doorway into new possibilities and ways of thinking that could create a sustainable economy for a lifetime while creating jobs and goods that serve the community.

Global economy
The current thought process that much of the world embraces is that only the fastest growing businesses and nations will survive. To survive economically, you must grow. Some of you may be wondering what economics has to do with an Eco-Park. From my perspective, it has everything to do with it. With a world economy pre-occupied with short term results that leave us with long term consequences, and an underlying principal of limitless growth, many economic visionaries are concerned that this “bubble” may burst, leaving the developed world with a system that can no longer function as it has for the last 75 years, perhaps with devastating consequences.

Companies are under constant pressure to increase earnings, which leaves them with little time or concern for the resources they are consuming or the waste they leave in the wake of their industrial process, polluting our skies, water and soils. The Earth is the resource businesses look to as they increase their bottom lines, failing to recognize that we are spewing out garbage faster than the Earth can possibly handle it. As economist Herman Daly asserts, “Under our present economic system, the Earth is a business in liquidation.” How long do we think this liquidation sale can continue before we have to finally close the doors?

Local economy
Let’s examine what we have as an economy within our own community. Although we have a small amount of tourism, most of our economy revolves around the few local businesses and building trades. Some folks are self employed or retired, while others have to travel to either Alamosa or Salida to get gainful employment. I have often heard the comment that there is a lack of “reasonable” work here in the Baca. When I probe further, I discover that this person often wishes for some meaningful work that would pay them enough to be able to stay here in a community that they love. This leads to a logical question, how do we create a local economy? Here are some key points about sound, local economies:

• They focus on meeting basic community needs, ie. food and clothing, by utilizing resources from relatively short distances.
• The community must come first, neighboring communities or markets second.
• They offer the prospects of secure, meaningful, skilled, local work rather than being subject to global whims.
• Key production processes are run with few inputs from the outside world.
• They utilize resources sustainably with few or zero impacts.

Localism is about the renewal of skills, cultures and environments. It’s about using resources, technologies and economic systems accountably while keeping the needs of the community as its focus. That is the niche that an Eco-Park can fill for us.

Creating our own eco-park
Having recently studied about communities creating their own localism, at the Schumacher College for Environment and Ecology, and working with Gunther Pauli, founder of the Zero Emissions Research Institute (ZERI), I have had the opportunity to examine several different models. Included in this article is an idea that could work for us here in Crestone/Baca. In this model, you begin with 2 primary businesses which create wastes that are utilized by other businesses.

When you are creating an eco-park, you must consider the resources you are using and the wastes you are producing. The primary resources used in the start up businesses are sun, water, and grain. The primary wastes produced are grain substrate, whey, waste heat and waste water. If you look at the diagram, you can follow the arrows and see how these wastes are either used by another business or recycled. In the design presented, we start with a brewery, which uses grain, sun and water, produces beer as a product, and creates waste water, heat and grain substrate. The waste heat can be recycled to heat other buildings, and waste water goes to the “Living System” greenhouse for recycling. (See side bar on previous page)

The grain substrate from the brewery is re-used to grow mushrooms. Other grain, or even re-cycled paper is added to create a substrate viable for growing shitake, oyster or portabello mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have been harvested, the spent substrate is re-cycled as either chicken bedding or feed, or can be used to raise earthworms or create compost. If used for chicken bedding or feed, it helps create another business where the product is eggs.

The other building seen in the diagram is a cooperative industrial kitchen that would be utilized by many local entrepreneurs, including the women’s goat cooperative to get their dream of a cheese factory off the ground. Caterers, bakers, producers of medicinal and beauty products, as well as other makers of culinary delights can use the industrial equipment in this kitchen to further their business endeavors. Primary wastes from the kitchen—whey and water—will also be recycled through the living system, with a diversity of products coming from the kitchen.

Once the waste water goes into the living system and is purified, it can be used to raise fresh vegetables and fish, and to water outside gardens. Everything is recycled and the environmental impact is minimized. In the end, the community has products that it can eat—bread and baked goods, eggs, medicinal products, mushrooms, beer, vegetables, fish and more. One important factor is that local money is supporting local business while providing dependable jobs. All these goods would be marketed to nearby towns to help businesses stay viable, and, because these businesses are planned to work cooperatively, they could use one delivery truck, (perhaps running on bio-diesel) that would efficiently get these products to their respective destinations.

Many other businesses can spring from these few components. It is a business model that can flex and evolve as it moves forward with the focus of serving the needs of the community first. It requires us to think out of the box and come together as a community to support a sustainable idea and vision for the future. Many of us have concerns around sustainability, but few of us know where to begin. Perhaps this is a focal point, an idea we can all embrace and derive benefit from. How can we not benefit from a more stable, localized economy that provides a healthy source of food from environmentally sound businesses?

An Eco-Park can help us create an economy on a human scale, allowing us to interact with care and intelligence, while doing business with ethical, social and environmental considerations. We have some distinct advantages that others may not. There are no old designs or buildings to retrofit or tear down, no reason to undo systems that aren’t sustainable or don’t fit into an eco park design. Our biggest advantage is that we can create a sound model from the ground up. It helps us set a tone and a mind-set for sustainability for the rest of the area, while providing a model for others to see and replicate.

There are many ways this Eco-Park can come into being. This is a community model that excludes no one. If you are interested in learning more, come to the next presentation at the POA Hall, March 4, 7pm or call me at 256-4548. In the words of Ghandi, “We must become the change we want to see. To believe in something and not to live it is dishonest.”

What is a living system?

A living system is designed to mimic the water purification process of nature. This system reclaims wastewater in a series of biological cells that can be built into a variety of environments and structures. Living systems can be created in houses, factories, schools, colleges, and resorts. In this eco-park design, the living system would be in a greenhouse environment where the purified water would be used to raise fish, vegetables and herbs.

In simplistic terms, the process looks something like this:
• Wastewater is pretreated.
• Nitrogen is removed by micro-organisms.
• Organic carbon and odors ar removed.
• Water flows through hydroponic reactors, where the surface is covered with tropical plants. On their roots are living organisms that digest the biosolids.
• Once the biosolids are removed, the water is polished and ready for use.

Living systems can enhance quality of life as they provide beautiful as well as productive spaces. An environmental model of this type offers many educational opportunities for local schools, the community and visitors. It is financially viable since it offers the opportunity for growing cut flowers, fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs, etc. Living systems invite nature into our lives, while helping to protect our environment and re-cycling a precious resource—water.