Building a haven to cut emissions

“How many MEGGA-watts are in a car-hole?” was probably not a question in any high school science class, but Rene Michalak hopes the local answer to this question will soon be, “One.”

“How many MEGGA-watts are in a car-hole?” was probably not a question in any high school science class, but Rene Michalak hopes the local answer to this question will soon be, “One.”

Michalak, managing director of ReThink Red Deer, got a boost recently in his project to turn the garage — what he likes to call a “car-hole” — of his family’s former Oxbow Street home into a food-growing and renewable energy-generating haven by winning $1,597 through the “Face Your Footprint” contest.

Michalak’s aim is to create a Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA-watt), which, combined with a geodesic dome greenhouse, will feature an environment where fish are raised, microgreens and wheat grass are grown, and there’s even a wood-fired hot tub.

The contest was organized by The Carbon Farmer, a family-owned farming business based near Manning, 100 km north of Peace River. Brad Rabiey and Rebecca Edwards-Rabiey’s business is selling carbon credits, then planting trees — over 300,000 on their land alone — to offset emissions.

The couple recently appeared on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, where their pitch garnered a $40,000 investment in their business.

Their Face Your Footprint initiative, funded by using $1 from each carbon credit sold, attracted 12 entries from across the country, with the Red Deer entry coming out on top with 2,031 online votes.

“Being in the carbon credit business, a lot of the criticism that we get is that people can still drive their Hummer and just do whatever they want and just offset it. We wanted to make sure we put our money where our mouth is in terms of supporting projects that also decrease people’s carbon footprints so they can keep reducing and they have to offset less,” explained Brad.

The couple said Michalak’s project impressed them with the fact that it brings together food production, energy generation and urban planning. The way Michalak was able to get community support and the existence of a group like ReThink Red Deer also impressed.

Partnering with CBC’s dragons Arlene Dickinson and Bruce Croxon has been a big boost to The Carbon Farmer, with a number of tree-planting opportunities in the works in Canada and abroad.

“We get criticized oftentimes in Alberta for not being progressive on the environmental front, and I think folks need to pay attention to what’s going on on the ground a little bit and not paint the province with that kind of brush,” said Brad.

Michalak said voters liked the uniqueness of the local initiative and its relevancy to anyone who lives in a home.

“We’ve positioned it to align with The Carbon Farmer’s messaging about being carbon positive and actually benefitting the environment by doing our initiative,” he said.

The money won has been used to set up the website www.foodgarage.ca, and on promotion and education.

Michalak’s next task is to raise $15,000 for the creation of a professional business plan and engineering drawings, after which he will try to attract private investment to build the prototype.

Michalak is seeking to raise the funds through crowdfunding, and has 50 days left to do so. To view the campaign, visit www.wethetrees.com; for more information on the project visit www.foodgarage.ca.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com