All posts by Bob Hamburg

Other Uses for Tires

Tires in Garden

Tire Road

Shipping Container Digesters for Disaster Relief

Disaster Relief Digester Container
We developed a preliminary computer model and gave some thought to a proposal. While many details need attention, the basic plan is for two digesters lying side-by-side along with gas storage within the 40’ container.

Bill Talvitie, the gentleman who helped with computer modeling of the Glenside Elementary greenhouse-digester project, was quite anxious to be of assistance in post-earthquake Haiti. His experience with shipping containers led us to begin developing plans for a container-enclosed, movable, but earthquake and hurricane-resistant, digestion-based sanitation system. I greatly appreciate the irony of using the waste containers from failed material globalization as modules for local community development.

We developed a preliminary computer model and gave some thought to a proposal. While many details need attention, the basic plan is for two digesters lying side-by-side along with gas storage within the 40’ container. Four restroom toilets feed directly into the digesters, while two handicapped restroom toilets will require emptying. A biogas-powered refrigerator/freezer is included for medicines. Solar panels – secured to the roof — are included for small system air and water pumps, a community charging station for cell phones and the like, LED lighting, et al. Except for a couple biogas outlets and electric plugs, all gas piping and electrical wiring is kept secure within the container.

At intestinal temperatures (95-100 degrees F), I anticipate the digesters to serve a minimum of 200 persons with a 30-day retention time. I anticipate not perfectly sterilized but very highly sanitized, liquid and solid fertilizer and soil amendment for application to prolific community gardens and ponds. (Wet and dry season regimens can only be worked out over time and in place. More care will certainly be required with digester residue use during the wet season.) I anticipate more than adequate biogas production for the medicinal refrigerator/freezer and at least 2-4 households. (I believe that an innovative bamboo lattice work with attached corncobs for anaerobic microbial growth holds possibilities for multiplication of digestion services provided.)

So “What will it cost?” I can’t say precisely because the prototype has not been built. Nevertheless, I can suggest some figures. If the actual total system were to cost as much as $30,000 and serve only 200 people (low), it would cost $150 each to begin. Over a 10-year lifetime (very low), that would be $15/person/year – for sanitation services and fertilizer and humus supply only. But the total system also includes biogas supply for several households, the biogas-powered refrigerator/freezer for medicines, and the photovoltaic system for electricity for lighting and electronics charging. All of these benefits are included in the above mentioned cost. The system would likely require the part-time attention of two people for maintenance.

Ideally, this container system would provide one side of a community garden to facilitate use of the fertilizers. Other infrastructure-providing containers, such as a nurse’s station, could form other sides. Given the long years that increasing numbers of refugees are forced to live in camps, these systems would certainly have broad applicability.

As with the greenhouse-digester above, I have developed a series of diagrams which detail many of the spheres of concerns and effects related to these systems. {Here goes some sort of link to the diagrams attached to this section’s email. Please use the same system as you used for the school greenhouse-digester diagrams.}

Container Simple Overview

Container Detailed Overview

Container Human Management

Container Sanitation

Container Soils

Container Water

Container Biogas

Container Electricity

Container Passive Solar Heating

Greenhouse for Glenside Elementary School

A greenhouse for Glenside Elementary with integrated anaerobic digester for kitchen residues and aerobic composting toilets.
A greenhouse for Glenside Elementary with integrated anaerobic digester for kitchen residues and aerobic composting toilets.


I first seized upon the approaching demolition of my old elementary school as a prime opportunity. There was an exceptional south-facing, east-west running hillside into which a greenhouse could have been built using windows and masonry from the old school. A 3-4’ in diameter, rubber tube digester would have been set against the inside back wall of the greenhouse and would have been fed cafeteria scraps — and perhaps other food scraps from some local restaurants. Composting toilets would have been placed in each of the equipment rooms at both ends of the greenhouse. Thus, both pathways for the semi-cycle of return would have been manifested along with all of the possibilities for (re)growth both within the greenhouse and on its roof.

Massive heat storage (now, demolition “wastes”) beneath the greenhouse and anterooms, and photovoltaics along the edge of the roof garden, would have allowed the installation to be energy independent. The project offered significant financial and economic as well as educational and environmental benefits. What with complications like reuse of so many materials and much heavy equipment easily available on site, the envisioned project did not get so far as a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis. Nevertheless, I remain confident that such an analysis would argue for installation. (I figure the digester and related equipment for the project would have come in at no more than $6-7,000 — and possibly much less.)
It seemed to me that the educational value gained by and from children living with such an installation would make it undeniably attractive. Little did I understand the functioning of school board bureaucracies… Even though the system received high praise from functionaries and demolition was not to begin for nearly six months, the greenhouse was judged to be far too late for consideration.
I still have hopes that such a system may be taken up after the new school is completed — or at some other school where local sustainability will be increasingly recognized as important. In hopes of furthering such activity, I have developed a series of 13 diagrams of spheres of concerns and effects related to such a system – a simple overview, a more detailed overview, and separate diagrams for each of the primary areas of concern. I continue to seek the right place.


Green House Simple Overview

Greenhouse Detailed Overview

Greenhouse Management

Greenhouse Physical Location

Greenhouse Construction Materials

Greenhouse Operations

Greenhouse Operation Materials

Greenhouse Education Opportunities

Greenhouse Economics

Greenhouse Health


Spring Creek Natural Foods

The Spring Creek Soy Dairy was initiated in 1979 as a worker-owned enterprise by a few aficionados living around Spencer, WV.
The Spring Creek Soy Dairy was initiated in 1979 as a worker-owned enterprise by a few aficionados living around Spencer, WV.

The Spring Creek Soy Dairy was initiated in 1979 as a worker-owned enterprise by a few aficionados living around Spencer, WV. I was one of them for a couple years in the mid-80s. By the time I again became interested in the business in ‘96, it had survived innumerable business crises and years of little or no profit; there had been a name change, a move to a larger building in town, the calving of a CSA, upgrading of much equipment, and many multiple changeovers of all but two participants. All soybeans had been provided by Ohio’s premier organic soy grower for more than 10 years and Spring Creek had become a name for quality tofu products throughout the region.

I envisioned moving Spring Creek out of town where it would provide a financial cornerstone and serve as an entry point for large quantities of organic resources, while providing a model of an integrated, biological production system. The tofu production operation would expand within appropriate buildings set into the south-facing aspect of a hillside. Water for the operation would be largely harvested from the land. (Ideally, the land would include the head of a small hollow which could hold a large pond.) All effluent waters from the tofu production area would first flow through a series of biological filters and productive facilities within a series of greenhouses continuing along the contour. Waters would then flow into a series of channels/lagoons, also built with recognition of hillside contours (some terracing would likely have been necessary), for the production of aquatic plants and animals. Finally, the water would irrigate and fertilize organic gardens.

Okara is the pulp remaining after soy milk is separated from ground and cooked soybeans: it includes hulls and insoluble proteins. While okara provides the primary component for Spring Creek’s high-fiber, high-protein soysage patties, there has always been an overabundance. Fresh okara makes an excellent livestock feed, but it sours fairly quickly. The bulk of Spring Creek’s okara is usually distributed to folks raising cattle, pigs, chickens, llamas and other animals. Soured okara can be spread on gardens where it provides an excellent fertilizing soil amendment.

Organic materials recycling at the greater Spring Creek which I was advocating would include direct feeding of okara to livestock on site and then digestion of all livestock bedding and manures. Nutrient rich liquids (supernatant) from digestion would feed into the production lagoons and the solids would have gone to the greenhouse and garden soils.

Through this system, there would have been full liquid and solid/nutrient and organic matter recycling and close to zero water and organic materials wastes. Organic materials incorporated into garden soils would have steadily increased tilth. The biogas produced from livestock residues and profuse, unmarketable aquatic production would have provided some of the operations’ process energy. Transportation energy would still have been necessary for import of Ohio soybeans and other goods required for production as well as for product distribution, but building energy requirements would have been minimized by ecological construction. Given the buildings’ east-west orientation, solar electricity would have been convenient to install. Spring Creek would have been able to offer a broad range of organically produced animal products, aquatic plants and animals, and garden produce to supplement the fine line of tofus and other soy-based products.

In pursuit of all this, in ‘97, I became a 1/3rd “owner” of a once-again-reconfigured Spring Creek. I went so far as to commission work on my ideas by some professionals {The link here is to the Living Tech.pdf file attached to the email with this installment. (I did have an earlier version but the new one is in color.)} dealing with somewhat similar situations. I also made possible the convening of an intensive day-long charette meeting with half a dozen “experts” in various aspects of the plan. Although one other 1/3rd owner did attend the session, I was never able to adequately enthuse the two of them in the over-all endeavor. Unfortunately, over several years, these differing perceptions of Spring Creek’s mission led to continuing business crises and ultimate de legere bankruptcy around 2007. However, I am happy to say that, under new management and operations, Phoenix Organics, LLC., continues to produce the Spring Creek “brand” – the finest tofus and soysage on the market.