Rene Michalak is now collecting tanks

From garages to greens

Materials are being gathered to test drive the idea of converting ordinary garages into environmentally friendly food factories.

Materials are being gathered to test drive the idea of converting ordinary garages into environmentally friendly food factories.

Rene Michalak, managing director of ReThink Red Deer, has been providing space in his family’s former home on Oxbow Street for the non-profit society’s ongoing efforts.

So far, he and his group have erected a greenhouse, replaced a pair of mature spruce trees with a yard full of berry bushes and set up systems to collect rainwater from rooftops.

They raise boxes of earthworms in the dining room and most of the living room has been converted to a pepper plantation.

There’s room for a guest in the spare bedroom while the master bedroom has been converted to an office with space for two desks.

The separate units mesh together in an urban gardening project designed as a demonstration site for people interested in growing a lot of food in a small space without creating negative impacts on the environment.

Until now, the garage has been left out of the equation, serving as a storage unit for vehicles and supplies.

Scratch that.

Michalak and another member of the society are now putting together ReThink Red Deer’s version of the MEGGA-watt garage. The acronym comes from Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly, which converts a heated garage to generate power and grow food.

With a gas-fired heater for backup, the ReThink Red Deer garage is being refitted with solar panels that will be used to support fish tanks and aquaculture during the winter while provided heat generation and storage for the greenhouse during the warmer months.

Once complete, the system will be able to produce food throughout the year, including production of fish species such as tilapia, which grow well within a limited environment and produce excellent plant fertilizer, says Michalak.

Rainwater will be processed and balanced for the fish and then filtered and recycled through an aquaponics system being set up to grow sprouts.

Coupled with the garage will be a geodesic dome greenhouse that will capture sunlight to generate the heat and electricity needed to operate the system.

The geodesic shape was chosen because it captures the maximum possible sunlight, says Michalak.

Probably the most costly element in the plan is the light system set up for the sprouts, which he estimates will run to $30,000.

Ultimately, many of the costs can be reduced by scavenging an scrounging the materials, including food-grade water and fish tanks as well as the building materials required for the greenhouse.

The beauty of it is, with a two-car heated garage, there will still be room for a car and a small workshop, says Michalak.

He and his partners hope to raise some of the funds they will need through a contest being held by The Carbon Farmer, an environmental project based at Manning, Alta. Winning communities will receive $2,551 to help fund their eco-friendly facelifts.

Michalak encourages people to investigate the idea and then vote for it as often as possible by visiting www.thecarbonfarmer.ca and then clicking the Face Your Footprint link.

Primarily web based, ReThink Red Deer is organized to gather and share information on environmental sustainability, says Michalak.

It takes no ownership of its work or its findings, preferring that people use its resources to learn and to share their own findings, he says.

Some of its funds are raised through the sale of worm farms and food produced at Michalak’s former home in Oriole Park.

Visit ReThink Red Deer online at www.rethinkreddeer.ca or call 403-986-7981 to learn more.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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