“I got that hat when I was on a trip to Rome visiting the UNFAO to participate in food security meetings.” ~Douglas
I grew up poor, so I decided to serve in the U.S. Navy (as my father did) as a means to work towards a college education. The plan was to eventually become a fighter pilot and then become a space shuttle pilot. My heart has always been among the stars. I’m a space nerd, loving Star Wars and Star Trek (both for different reasons) and most sci-fi in general. Medical issues derailed my pilot plans, so I got out of the Navy and eventually got my Aerospace Systems Engineering degree, which landed me a job with the Space Shuttle Program in Houston. When that ended we all had to figure out what to be when we grew up, so because of my involvement with social activism and my technical background, I decided to start a Smart Agro-tech company, Cybernated Farm Systems. Now I’m working to get my Masters in International Relations, because global sustainable development involves the political sphere, and I am hoping to become a professional consultant with the UNEP, UNDP, UN or UNFAO for sustainable development projects.
– What do you do and why?
– I am working to leverage my technical background and political interests in making the world a better place. That sounds vague and quite altruistic, but that’s basically it. Currently I’m doing several things at once. First, still working to get the CFS Demo Facility built. Second, getting my Masters in International Relations. And I’m offering my help and services to some other projects, but they’re early stage, so no announcements on that right now.
– I can very much relate to what you said: “I’m tired of talking about the problem”. Still, can I ask you to summarize what is the problem you and your team are trying to give an overall solution to, to give a starting point?
– In short, we’re using operating systems and philosophies that are a few thousand years old to try and operate the 21st century, a completely different age. This is creating some negative feedback loop issues that won’t be solved by “improving the system.” I saw something very interesting today: The light bulb wasn’t created by incremental improvements to candles. A light bulb isn’t a candle. It’s something completely different. So what we’re trying to do is develop that “different system” to help grow food, but also illuminate other sectors that also need new thinking.
– Cybernated Farm Systems. If you say this, sure, most people have no clue where to put this in their heads. So if I say these three words with enthusiasm and a sparkle in my eyes, I meet just wondering faces, empty looks 🙁 Though, some people, who do know that I usually know what I’m talking about; know me as not being a stupid person, makes them curious.
I can’t emphasize it enough, I found this being a breath-takingly brilliant work! After learning about aquaponics, organic farming, permaculture and many other methods, and constantly looking for answers I’m really excited to see a brilliant plan being put together like this, and seem to be way more advanced than all the others.
Is there a way to give a brief introduction to these systems?
– What we’ve developed is a Smart Aquaponic Greenhouse System that makes high use of recycling and reuse protocols for all of its internal operations, and powers itself with clean energy. It’s not really a super high-tech system. Most of it involves simple passive technologies, like sensors to help manage things. What we’ve done is help improve the efficiency and process of vertically stacked aquaponics in a mid-sized greenhouse. The building is its own manager, with software being the brain that communicates to the human operator(s) on what needs to be done day-to-day. It’s not fully automated, that would be too costly, but it’s automated enough to really help make it an easy operation for people to use.
– As I learn more about your project, it reminds me a bit of Michael Reynolds’ work with Earthship Biotecture projects. What is your opinion on Earthship projects and what are the main differences?
– I like them from a design standpoint, but we’re providing different things, and they are more complex in scope and scale than what we’re doing. I’d love to see them get into the developing world and help poor villages upgrade to better modes of operation, but I’ve not seen it happen yet, and that’s likely because of the cost. According to their website, the smallest 2 bedroom home is $495,000. They might be environmentally sustainable, but they definitely aren’t economically feasible for most people. It strikes me as a nice first world project for upper middle-class first world people, but until they get costs down, that’s all it’ll ever be. Conversely, our systems are strictly greenhouses to help smallholder farmers, not homes, with the smallest model projected to cost about $250,000 with the capability to produce, for example, about 700lb of leafy greens and 250lb of Tilapia a week. For a smallholder farmer in the developing world, that’s quite productive on a small footprint. They’d be able to generate a good income, and if networked properly via a project, several farmers could really work together to help their region improve.
– As I’ve gone through CFS’ website I found it is run by 9 people. I guess it isn’t just 9 people’s work but a cooperation of many others, at least I hope so. I noticed that other companies are involved too.
– Most of the people on the team are holding position until we get the funding we need to build the Demo Facility. That’s when they’ll really be more involved. The majority of the work has actually been done by two people, me and my aquaponics specialist. That’s the general design phase. As we move forward we’ll get others ramped up. Yes, we’re working with some companies to make the systems even more than just greenhouses, especially LakeSavers, to help our systems not just grow food, but also clean polluted water bodies.
– Sustainability is just not enough – it is just the beginning. I really like your philosophy… So what should our readers know about this first, and where can they learn more?
– I’m not sure where someone could learn more as I kind of just made the idea up because of a lecture I once saw when at a conference in Switzerland, but the idea is pretty simple: Sustainability is a nice start, doing no harm and still being productive for human need, or zero operational impact, but if you can also add bonus capabilities that help people beyond just the function of whatever was designed, that’s even better. That’s what SUS+ is all about, doing the task and trying to add in a few bonus features by smart design.
– As I’ve read about SUS+ philosophy, it also reminded me of what I’ve heard about the Lakotas. It’s been said that “give back something to nature” was one of the most basic principle of their way of living. Not sure if it was for spiritual or mere logical reasons.
– For me it’s about logic and common sense. Do no harm to the only home we’ve got, but if you can improve the area also, then do it!
– In your website it says “It is our hope that SUS+ will become an industry standard, a philosophy adopted, shared and used by all”. How do you see it today, is there any progress in this, that is worth mentioning?
– It’s not really a thing yet. Hopefully CFS gets big and it will be. Or if I get a job with the UNEP, UNDP, UN or UNFAO I can start installing that philosophy.
– Apparently it is an overall phenomenon for activists and all who really make a difference in this world, that they experience a painfully slow progress, they see some moving forward, but it all seems to be much slower than what we’d need. What do you think about this?
– Change is difficult, especially when you’re challenging some very stubborn norms and social programming. But also, I have come to learn that activist groups can become self polarizing. Little groups form internally for their personal pet ideologies or projects, as if what they want should come first, and that fractures movements, slowing things down and sometimes breaking them completely. I blame bad management for this, because leadership doesn’t really mean bossing people around, but making sure proper focus is always maintained to achieve a goal. This includes not letting fringe ideas take over. At some point leadership must say, “No, we’re not doing that right now, no matter how much you complain. We have a particular focus and we’re sticking to that.” Later a group can grow and add goals, that’s also quality leadership, but it must be done smartly.
– What are the most important achievements of this work so far?
– I would say that getting myself into the UNFAO as a delegate member of the Committee on World Food Security Private Sector Mechanism has been a great achievement. Participating in high level meetings to talk about solutions for food security at that level is awesome.
– What is your opinion on veganism, do you agree that shifting to a vegan lifestyle should be a part of the solution?
– Short answer, no. If people can and want to become vegan, more power to them, but the assumption that the entire human species CAN be vegan is itself ridiculous to me. Not everyone can be, nor should they be forced to be. Food is much more than just a biological requirement. It’s a cultural, social and emotional aspect of life. This is why it doesn’t matter what science you shove in someone’s face. Unless you give them an alternative they can agree with, then they won’t care, and telling them to just give up meat isn’t going to work for most people. And being aggressive about it, or asserting your “moral superiority,” will just piss people off. Moreover, I don’t find it necessary. The scientific advancement of synthetic meat production will give meat eaters a viable alternative, virtually eliminate animal farming, and be better for the planet. It’s a win/win. Alternatives matter. We don’t tell people they can’t use electricity anymore because it’s being created by dirty processes. We offer alternative clean energy solutions. We don’t tell people they can only walk where they need to go from now on because transportation is fueled by dirty processes. We give clean transport alternatives. Same goes for meat.
– Do you cooperate with The Zeitgeist Movement in any way? What is your attitude towards it? And what about The Venus Project?
– I’m not really that involved with either group anymore. I still support the ideas and vision, CFS is definitely based on them, but I have found both groups to be severely lacking in organizational structure and management capabilities. This goes back to my previous comment on management. Working together they could have done so much more, but TVP has shown me several times that they lack the vision to really grow beyond their compound in Florida. TZM seems to be averse to organizational leadership roles, as if everyone can just do what they want and somehow everything will magically just work out if we all just “spread awareness.” I don’t get it. It’s not comprehensive enough. Most people need more than words. Some people can be moved by words, sure, and I believe that that’s the problem. Those people are the ones who think that everyone should just “wake up” like they did. Sorry, not everyone works like that, so a more pragmatic process should be undertaken. Unfortunately neither group is really making positive global headlines with projects or material solutions to help people ween off the system. That requires money, and many TZM activists seem to be allergic to that idea, which is self defeating. We don’t live in a moneyless world yet, so we should use the system to erode the system and move beyond it. That’s not really being done, which is why myself and a few other former key members moved on to personal projects with the goal of actually making tangible differences using RBE philosophies.
– What else is there that you feel is important to mention?
– Nothing I can think of.
– Hopefully those who read this conversation are getting excited and want to know how they can contribute to it. Where can they do that?
– Our website has several ways people can contribute: www.cyberfarmsystems.com. I like the idea of strength in numbers. If we had 3,000 people support with $100, we could build our Demo Facility and use that to make advances towards projects that can really make a difference.
Thank you Douglas!
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