Friday 2 April 2010

Who would have thought Barbary Apes would be eating our greens?

Our search for better ways to provide our ever growing populations with nutritious foods by finding new ideas and novel approaches – some seem similar, in ways, to the ancient methods of searching in the hedgerows.

Weeds – as they used to be known – are making a comeback .. the “simplers” searched for, tried and tested the plants we perhaps know as weeds today – nettles, dandelions, burdock, sorrel, wild mustard, watercress and many other herbs or beneficial weeds that have become a part of our daily kitchen and garden lives.
Paignton Zoo - photographic montage

This Garden of England that we live in – the Garden county of Kent in the south east, the Vale of Evesham, along the River Avon in Worcestershire, both originally home to orchards and market gardens supplying a vast range of fruits and vegetables.

I was surprised to learn that in the 1960s they started growing Chinese vegetables, which were relatively uncommon forty years ago; however now the Evesham Vale grows vast amounts of kai choi, pak choi and beansprouts – I’m sure most of us who purchase these ‘new’ vegetables would not have realised they were grown here, especially as the farms were started by Italians!

This is not a Barbary Ape, but is obviously so enjoying her greens - part of the BBC Devon article

People have become more open to new foods as we travel the world, which have changed our tastes and thus the opportunity to try out and cook these for ourselves. It’s all very well for the market gardens to supply our food – but we have a new kid on the block so to speak – Paington Zoo is growing food for their animals, trialling a new method of vertical farming that could well be rolled out to supply our ever insatiable appetite for greens.

We have already got living walls, as I wrote about in this post, which will I am sure take off as more and more of us get easier and cheaper access to these wall units or this different vertical farming method being trialled at Paington Zoo.

The system designed by a Cornish firm uses solar power or wind energy so that it is ‘eco-friendly’, while the water used to grow the plants is recycled. This system could be taken into the cities and towns, grown on small brown field sites, warehouses, on flat-topped rooves – providing a sustainable solution to getting our greens – while at the same time making better use of available land.

In the meantime in 2009 the Zoo together with a commercial partner (Valcent (EU) Ltd) installed the first of a new generation of innovative plant growing systems to support the growing of food for its animals in an energy efficient, local and nutritionally controlled way – so the Rock of Gibraltar, or Barbary, Apes get to act as ‘simplers’.

To begin with the Zoo will grow a whole range of herbs, leaf vegetable, as well as baby tomatoes and strawberries, which will reduce their food bill a little, as the animals scrunch, crunch and munch their way through a total of about £200,000 worth of fodder per year.

The 100 sq metre machine, like the one installed at Paignton Zoo, can grow up to 11,200 plants, which apparently is 20 times more than could be grown conventionally in a field covering the same area. The new rotating system has been installed in the first public vertical hydroponic display house – and so can be seen along with the other zoological and botanical exhibits.

Paignton Zoo was one of the earliest combined zoological and botanical gardens being run as a wildlife conservation trust, with a large emphasis on education and scientific collaboration around the world. So apart from the zoo itself, there is a wonderful themed botanical park through which you can to wander stimulating other senses: Medicinal Garden, Economic Garden, Wildlife Garden and the new venture of the vertical garden in its special display house.

c/o This is a picture from Patrick Blanc's Inhabitat site: Patrick Blanc’s Vertical Garden System can be implemented anywhere: indoors or out and in any climatic environment, as you can see!

The zoo may seem like an unlikely location for a groundbreaking project, but zoo directors understood the benefits of promoting vertical farming technology to the public as well as to growers. As a botanical garden, Paignton Zoo is keen to educate people about all aspects of horticulture, particularly new, environmentally friendly implementations such as this.

The world population is growing, food supply is shrinking, water supplies are becoming more limited, food production is competing for land with housing and the production of fuel crops. We have to make better use of available land.

However the Barbary Apes (the Macaque monkey) kept at the zoo, normally to be found in North Africa and on the Rock of Gibraltar are mostly herbivorous and will relish having the extra home-grown salad greens, as too will the other animals, birds, reptiles and insects be delighted to be sprinkled with salad leaves - as sorrel here.

Those weeds of yesteryear are becoming the seeds of choice today, or were so carefully selected by our ancients, when conditions about 13,000 years ago changed dramatically leading, in the face of starvation, to the cultivation of the best seeds available today.

This first collection of wild grass seeds actually sown on newly cleared land in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, set up a chain reaction of crop cultivation through the rest of history – so we now have the best of both worlds ... forgotten weeds and adaptable seeds .. letting us feed Barbary Apes our greens, while perhaps in due course creating the 21st century’s own Hanging Garden on Babylon.

Dear Mr Postman .. Spring is very slow and it is still fairly cold. My mother seems to be settled, quiet and at peace - which for Good Friday is the best way to be. Happy Easter to all.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


scheng1 said...

I think it's the other way round, that we are eating up their food. Because of our quest for more food sources, we are destroying their homes and their food sources.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Scheng - certainly we are altering habitats. This post was really to highlight another way of farming, that for the time being is being tested in the zoo - and I just rather liked the 'title' I selected ..

Will we see it in towns and cities? - who knows - Patrick Blanc's work is around Paris; Anthropologie stores are utilising the system in an ecological way; so we could see lots of small sites like this springing up - giving us all extra greens.

Good to see you though & have a good Easter weekend .. Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Sometimes human beings forget that lettuce has infinite uses for infinite beings. Thanks for all the entertaining and informative insight. Hoppy Easter. Share rabbit foot. Ruffage is great!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. lettuce sure does have wonder properties for all beings - that wish to partake!

I'm not sure Blue Bunny will appreciate us eating too much of his lettuce - but his landlady is pretty generous .. so I expect there'll be loads to go round.

Absolutely ruffage is great - quite like to have one of those walls in my home ..

Enjoy Easter and the break .. Hilary

Davina said...

Hi Hilary.
It is encouraging to read about new ways of farming such as you've highlighted here. More community gardens are springing up around the city these days too. A new one was just built last year on the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Vancouver.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. thanks glad you enjoyed it. There certainly are more community gardens here too .. and spaces, such as roundabouts being given a clean up and some encouragement as far as plants loved by birds and insects are concerned.

We have our allotment system .. which the National Trust and other organisations with 'spare land' have teamed up with - to provide space for gardeners to have their own little veggie patch.

So as you say .. lots of changes for the good occurring .. Have a lovely day on Sunday? Enjoy yourself - sounds like life is sorting itself out .. go well - & have a great Easter - Hilary

Joanne said...

Kudos to the Paignton Zoo for their innovative step. I have a little garden in the yard every year, growing mostly tomatoes, with some eggplant, zucchini, and lettuce. There is just nothing like the flavor of very fresh-picked veggies, so those animals in the zoo will be in for a delectable treat :)

Happy Easter, Hilary!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joanne .. how right you are .. and wouldn't it be fun to have a little wall full of fresh salad greens to complement your little veggie plot? I agree - having grown up with a large garden full of fresh fruit and veg - it's always been important in my life. But the zoo is lucky - I must visit one day.

Have a good Easter too - Hilary

Lori (JaneBeNimble) said...

Hi Hilary,
I love this post (I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE greens and veggies). What a fun story -- all of it! I would love to grow greens on my walls, what a great idea. Then, I could forage all day long without leaving my house. (ha ha ha)

I love what the Paignton Zoo is doing, too, thanks for sharing this.

I'll write to Mr. Postman to request spring to get going, the hum-drum winter really gets me in the dumps. The sun has been out more in San Francisco, though. I'll send some rays your way if I can. Glad your mother is peaceful and resting. I'll be sending my best healing vibes your way. Happy Easter to you, too, Hilary.

Jannie Funster said...

Hilary! I have just sent my hubby out for my birthday meal food -- crab cakes, tartar sauce, champagne GREENS, and pie.

We do love our greens, hubby especially.

I get those little 4-packs of 250 ml bottles, that way I can enjoy 2 if I please, and being the only alcohol imbiber in this abobe, half or so of a regular bottle of champagne would go to waste.

I love how this post ties in with J.D.'s latest one about the adaptable having the advantage! Bravo on the cooincidence in his post, and this.

Here's what I believe, matter being neither created, nor destroyed -- there are enough elements necessary for all to have enough food and water, and forever. In my opinion, we are not running out, we just need to work better with what we have. And all of us to have small kitchen gardens again. Which brings me to...

The brilliance of this vertical gardening plan! This is the first time I've ever heard of it. I just LOVE the idea. And once you mentioned that the "plots" rotate on the high density troughs, I just knew it was a perfect plan!! Very inventive, you Brits! Actually, I now think that the tall wall of plants in Whole Foods must be a sort of vertical farming. Not surprising, as WF is all about sustainability and eating locally. Do you know that Whole Foods started right here in AUSTIN, Texas!? yep!

I'd love to see the manatee zoos growing their own lettuce too. Those critters eat, I think 100 or 200 lbs of it a day. 50-100 kg roughly. Jim and I saw them in Florida.

Beautiful green post, Hilary!! Photos most uplifting.


Blue Bunny said...

hay! ennybuddy growing greens is a frend to me!!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lori - thank you .. me too greens and veggies lots of them. Fresh veg and salads on tap – so to speak. I must say I thought it was an interesting concept – especially having the market display open to the public.

Thanks for the rays of sunshine across the miles .. the grey, dark weather has been a bit much this year – but spring is very slowly coming .. still not here! Glad your Easter sounds a little brighter and more cheerful .. thank you for the healing vibes.

Good to see you – have a peaceful time ahead .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. sounds a really good idea .. delicious food – green champers sounds a little strange as St Patrick’s day has gone .. guess the comma was missing in the rush for the crab cakes!! The little bottles are good .. Mum is always suggesting that’s what she’d like .. it’s terrible being nil by mouth .. very difficult for me too at her bedside. Hope you had a thoroughly enjoyable meal – was it keylime pie .. is that right? Greens and salads all the time ..

I haven’t got to JDs post yet .. we certainly need to protect what we have, that is for sure, and look after all our resources much more carefully, than has been done recently in the profligate generation, we seem to have had. I suspect we need to reverse some major engineering schemes of the past .. or make some huge changes – nature seems to know best.

Aren’t these schemes amazing .. I’ve just been across to the American site I posted about back in October .. and they’ve got lots more pictorial information on their web page .. showing what can be done – here’s the link:

The vertical gardens are certainly around in Europe, with the media taking them on board – I just loved the Zoo connection. I’m sure that the tall wall in Whole Foods must be just that – presume you’ll find out on one of your next visits? No – I hadn’t realised WF started in Austin .. that’s interesting .. Funsterland is an area of invention!!!

Manatees – now they’re interesting sea cows .. 50 kg I see they eat .. turtle grass and mangrove leaves as well as other green plants .. they could have hanging gardens of Babylon on an escalator type system .. as one lot is eaten it goes round regenerates at the top and them comes down again – sounds a little far fetched I think!! I think nature will do better there. One day I’ll get to see them.

Hope you had a wonderful dinner en famille .. have a lovely time today .. hope Kelly’s not sick with the eggs?! Glad you enjoyed the greens .. and the photos .. hugs to all - xxoo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny .. hay hello!! Greens are so important to you aren't they .. somewhat surprised you're blue?!

Enjoy your weekend with the family and treat that Jannie very well for her weekend ... not too many demands.

I'm sure she'll find you some karrits too ..

Happy Bunnies to you - and a hug or two .. Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- I think it's great that new ways of farming are being explored and that the zoo is working to be self-sufficient regarding vegies for it's inhabitants.

I loved the picture of the lady wearing the greens. It kind of made me laugh. I can see someday that we'll have vegie clothes and think about how crazy we'll make the animals or how embarrassing it would be if you wore and got chased...don't mind me, I'm in a silly mood:~)

I hope you have wonderful Easter!!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. glad you're having a good time with silly moods .. I don't mind!!

Yes - the lady wearing the greens mad eme laugh too & I had to put her in .. but the Zoo trying out this feeding systems seems eminently sensible.

We've had paper knickers haven't we?! So I guess we'll get rice paper clothes sometime .. are we as soft as maccaroons? or as sweet?

No being chased through the undergrowth or lack of (even worse)- I agree too 'quelle horreur' to think of ..

Easter - peaceful time with Mum .. and decluttering .. just glad you had a wonderful time - sounds as though you are .. - have fun ... Hilary

Mandy Allen said...

I believe that we are all slipping into the realms of using up any resources we can get our hands on now.

It's nice to see the new growth of spring. Just sung Easter services, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Day - lovely music at this time of the year. Happy Easter.

Enjoy the journey.


T. Powell Coltrin said...

What I find exciting is the interest to grow our own food again-even in the middle of cities and on roof tops. Great post!

J.D. Meier said...

I really like the idea of living walls and vertical farming. I feel better when I'm surrounded by green.

I can't fathom 13,000 years ... time is so long and yet so short ... and it's all relative.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mandy .. thanks for visiting – good to meet you. We certainly are profligate with the uses we make of all things – we really need to conserve things, and try and reuse all our resources.

Fantastic that you’ve been singing all those wonderful services – the music is glorious .. it resonates the particular day so well .. as do the actual Services.

You too, hope you’ve had a good Easter and enjoy the warming weather - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. thanks .. wouldn’t it be wonderful if most of our own food was in our back gardens .. and we greened those ghastly concrete blocks that are around .. and the brown field sites around our towns and cities. Glad you enjoyed it .. good to see you – have a good Spring - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD – doesn’t it look wonderful .. and these ideas are certainly spreading with people who don’t have much space. I’m sure we all feel so much better with plants around us and they do us good .. giving us oxygen, colour, softness, something to talk to!! Now all those wonderful new Spring greens are bursting forth.

Nor can I .. but everything seems to come round again .. and every moment now is so important, as is making sure our grandchildren can have a future ..

Thanks for coming by – have a good Spring - Hilary

Lana {Daring Clarity} said...

Hi Hilary! I've been just teaching my son about the importance of plants. He is only 3 and didn't quite understand when I tried to explain to him that they give us oxygen so we can breath:) He does know that they are alive just like us and can feel everything.

It's a pleasure to meet you Hilary, you have an awesome blog and thank you for your comments on mine!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lana .. great minds think alike! I hope he liked the pictures .. of the zoo etc? It's great teaching the little ones .. and watching them grow, absorbing all that information so early on. Perhaps he'll have his own green wall?!

Thanks coming by .. and for the complement here - see more of you anon .. have a great Easter week with the family - Hilary

Erin S. said...

I loved this. Always want to grow lettuce, but where I live in Colorado it is difficult. Very dry and arid here, can freeze up until the first of June and we have even had snow on the 4th of July. It seems either too hot or too cold. I am intrigued with this zoo system. Thanks.

Patricia said...

Great post Hilary, I read it twice to capture everything you wrote. In the Fall on biking architect dot com I wrote about all the net-zero housing in UK and Germany - I think you folks are way ahead of us in many ways - we still feel the wide open spaces - now often dominated by wide mouth rejectionists.

And Davina might be surprised to know that Vancouver BC has the most roof gardens in the world right now - vast majority of the BC chefs grow their own herbs on top of their cafes.

Thank you for this good research. Would you like to do a guest post for bikingarchitect? we have a small audience but loyal group of architects and engineers?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Erin .. thanks very much .. yes I've been in the Rockies further north and had snow on July 4th .. tried to get to Jasper - did, but turned round and came straight back down .. didn't want to get stuck in the blizzard .. did see bear though - so Mum and I had a good day ..

I too .. loved the zoo system .. must get there sometime on my way to Cornwall - when I get to go ..

Good to see you .. many thanks for calling in .. did you get a chance to look at the Passion Flower one .. (Spring Cleaning & ...) - explaining why the Passion Flower is called just that ..

Amazing what we learn about history, names and now feeding down at the zoo?!

Have a good week - all the best Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. – thank you .. that would be great .. I’d love to do something for your other blog – you know my blog & its eclectic style (and life’s that way at the moment in more ways than one) .. but I’ll dream something up & let you know – then we can schedule it ..

We have so little space and every little nook and cranny counts, every plant counts, every nothing counts .. but we waste too – so it’s good that there are people prepared to do things differently .. like testing their system at the Zoo.

Really Vancouver with the largest number of roof gardens .. ??? They must have been growing lettuce during the Winter Olympics then??!!!! The chefs have their own allotment plots on top of their cafes – that’s interesting ..

This year our BBC/ Great British Chef Competition is focused on chefs purchasing their produce from their local area only – anything that grows in and around their local National Trust property within their region. I’ll do a post on it .. so they’re going to be ‘pushed’ as they won’t know the producers, or until they look to see what produce is available ... should be interesting. The competition in the past has been amazing .. cooking for the Queen & a banquet, cooking for the British Ambassador in Paris for the French “high cuisine” .. more anon ..

Great .. talk to you in a little while about the guest post at biking architect .. sounds up my street! Thanks for the ask .. have a good week .. bye and hope you feel more cheerful with the slightly warmer weather .. Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Hilary this is fascinating! When I worked in engineering, I read about the rooftop projects in US cities like Chicago that were aimed at reducing the greenhouse effect.

This zoo project is phenomenal! I would love to see it in action (perhaps a future manifest for me?!).

Thank you for writing about it, and bringing it to everyone's attention!

Happy Tuesday, and I hope your temps warm up a touch this week.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan .. thanks for this - it is amazing what we read and relate to at some later date .. the rooftop projects are around everywhere now .. well not quite - but more types of grasses, or low ground cover are being used.

Do come over - definitely a future manifest! .. and actually see it working... and we can do a mini tour around the area & further west into Cornwall .. lots to see!

It's good to know about, that all these ideas are out there ..

Thanks - it is warmer at last .. and the flowers and blossoms have just burst out - it's starting to look glorious. Great to see you - Hilary

Paul C said...

You touch upon several vital issues including vital seeds and living walls of hydroponic gardens. There is hope for nutritious, safe food grown locally which could feed everyone. A most interesting article!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul - thanks for coming by - I just highlight things that interest me and therefore others (I hope) .. so I'm pleased to hear you thought so too. I'm sure we can do more for ourselves - it's those collective co-operative and compassionate thoughts that we all hold and we need to tap into .. so we help each other.

Good see you - Hilary

BK said...

I like the idea of growing green in the zoo where the animals can enjoy the freshness. Brilliant idea.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK .. absolutely seeing the system in situ .. and no doubt letting the children feed the animals with the fresh salad greens.

Thanks - Hilary