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Join the revolution

(For those that can’t wait it’s the gut biology revolution - but that comes later)

revolution rev1.jpg What revolution you may ask? The gut biology revolution to make us healthy, mobile phones that are instinctive enough to use without a teenager, self-driving electric cars, solar and batteries to power the home. We are surrounded by technical revolutions.
food revolution rev2.jpg Brexit and Donald Trump may have the appearance of a revolution but are really just a symptom - the actual revolution is so much bigger.

old lathe rev3.jpg I am an engineer by training and started by first job 57 years ago. Factories have changed unbelievably. Then they were just a bigger version of a garden shed with much of the work done by hand operated machinery.

Computerised manufacture is not just multiples more productive but has totally changed the global economics.
CC lathe rev4.jpg It would have been virtually impossible to set up an old style manufacturing plant in an underdeveloped country. There simply would not have been the skilled people available to operate the factory.

The computer has changed all that - now a manufacturer can set up a new plant in any one of the developing countries - import the computer controlled machinery and literally take people from the paddocks and have a productive factory in double quick time.
uni students rev5.jpg Even better - many developing countries have invested heavily in education providing an abundant supply of qualified - if inexperienced graduates - making the process even easier.
containers rev6.jpg Lower transport costs - from the jumbo jet and automated container system and the internet enables people, goods and technology to move around the globe.

The revolution in technology and globalisation is here - whether we like it or not. The technical and economic system is coping fine - the political and environmental systems are simply not coping.

Environmental stress

The Brexit - Trump phenomena is just a symptom. The technical and economic systems have meant that a very small number of people have benefited on a gross scale - 0.1% of the wealthiest people own as much as the bottom 90%. The previously reasonably well off working population has been decimated - creating political stress
overpopulation rev10.jpg The stress on the environment is on an even larger scale. On the day when I first started work all those years ago there would have been at most a billion people who were enjoying an affluent life style with may be some three billion peasants. We are now roaring through the five billion affluent people and in the flip of a calendar we will have some nine billion affluent people (and a handful of traditional peasants) on the globe.
environment r11.jpg The environmental stress will dwarf the political stress of the technical economic revolution. Maybe the Brexit - Trump phenomena is indicating that our political systems are at least recognising the need for change - I see no sign that the needed adjustment to the environment is even on the board.
churchill rev12.jpg I have no political skills - my role is just a passive worried observer.
But I have always been active in the environment - particularly food that will make us healthy.
agriculture rev13.jpg Modern agriculture has been very effective in bulk production of carbohydrates - wheat, oats, corn, rice etc. but has steadily become deficient in trace minerals - phytonutrients and the biology to feed our gut.
charleston rev14.jpg
People talk about the ‘good old days’ - I am old and lived in them - we really don’t want to go back. Our future lies with technology - the right technology. We need to go forward and develop and manage the appropriate technology.

The next big thing

light bulb rev13a.jpg I am a naïve optimist - technology got us into this mess and we need the right technology to get us out.

What’s going to be the next big thing? How do we even think about this?  
selfdrivecar rev15.jpg We could look at what people need - but who fifty years ago who would have said they needed the internet.

 We can look at the history of recent changes - using this method we would look at the internet computer revolution and maybe predict just pointing at a map on your smart phone and a self-driving electric would automatically appear and take you to the shops.
lamboginig rev16.jpg But that is why us oldies have grand kids and if your grandkids aren’t fighting to take you shopping in your old age it because you bought a stodgymobile rather than a flash sports car.
iphone rrev17.jpg Let’s face it the computer internet era is beginning to run out of steam - it just wants some bright young start up to bring out a mobile phone which actually does what the current generation of smart phones claims to do and it will all be over - like the IPhone killed of Nokia.
train rev18.jpg Looking backwards to predict the future is not so smart - in the days of the steam train it may have been possible to predict the high speed electric train but never the airplane.

So maybe we should look at rapidly emerging technologies - the biological revolution is where the transistor was a generation ago.

What bought all this on?

eco village rev19,jpgSimple - for most of my life I have lived on acreage or at least had a large garden with plenty of room to grow things and compost - for the last fifteen years I have lived on an eco-village with over 200 hectares of land - much of this bush - my house has bush on three sides.

But with the mathematical certainty of aging we decided to buy a town house so we were prepared for when I could no longer dig holes in the block.
palace rev30.jpgNow this was a bit of a shock. I have always been a bit
of a compostoholic and having to put my grapefruit
skins in the council bin rather than my compost system
did not go down well.

compost rev21.jpgJust a few days of city living brought home to me just how unsustainable modern city life is.

My short term solution could be simply to cart all my rubbish back to the eco village where nothing organic (and that means nothing) is wasted - total recycling if you get what I mean without my being crude.
home grown rev22.jpgSo clearly I needed to turn what is left of my intellectual capacity to developing a system where I can grow food which has the critical ingredient for health - minerals, phytonutrients and biology and recycle as much organic waste as is practical in a city block.


Buy or grow?

surgeon rev23.jpgXiulan - my wife - spent her working life as a surgeon (I have a false knee in exchange for a wife - beat that on EBay) and is fanatical about cleanliness and despite our years of marriage I have failed to convert her to becoming a compostoholic.
farmers market rev24.jpg Our town house in Bundaberg is one of Australia’s premium horticultural areas so fresh farm food is cheap and abundant. Why - she argues - should you bother to grow things when we can buy 5 heads of Bok Choi for a couple of dollars or a complete head of lettuce for $1.50 or a sack of sweet potatoes for next to nothing - you are totally mad.
argument rev25.jpgNow I never win an argument with Xiulan without rock solid facts (and rarely even then) so I needed to prepare my case well.

Economics was not going to win the argument - neither was the environmental case for recycling.
chinese farmer rev26.jpgThe Chinese used to be past masters of recycling.

Did I ever tell you about a trip to a Chinese farm where someone - probably the kids who are used as slave labour - had carefully arranged human turds to make a daisy pattern around every Bok Choi over an entire paddock?

So with my first two arguments of economics and the environment I lose

score zero out of 2.

fertiliser rev27.jpgThat left me with just two arguments of growing food on the town house block.

The first is minerals. Modern food - even organically grown - is often deficient in trace minerals.

Plants can grow quite happily with just a few trace minerals - we cannot. In my research into Diabetes (Xiulan is diabetic) I have found that minerals like chromium and vanadium are essential for the body to disperse sugar from the blood.
pills rev28.jpgXiulan - being a doctor - thinks that pills are the first line of defence and I have just forked out the best part of $100 for a couple of bottle of pills to provide just some of the key minerals our bodies need.

I tried to argue with Xiulan that I could grow plants in mineral rich soil which would provide all the minerals she needed for cents and it would provide a far better balance of these micro nutrients than taking pills.
Fortunately I am becoming immune to loosing argument with Xiulan - even when I am right.

Score zero out of 3.

gut biology rev29.jpgJust one to go - gut biology - which I expected to lose. After all it can get pretty yukky. The technology is immature - many methods which should work but as yet are unproven.

The only method I know works for sure is faecal transplant - medi-speak for poking someone else’s pooh up your bum.

If you are at party and are introduced to this fantastic looking girl (or boy depending on your sex or inclination) let me tell you that ‘have you had a faecal transplant recently’ is not the best chat up line.


Gut biology wins - one out of 4

waste rev31.jpgBut surprise - surprise - Xiulan really bought into gut
biology. So now I have a challenge - or double

The first is to find a system of using our organic waste
to turn it into really good soil - but here is the catch -
without smell or flies.
waggle rev32.jpg Or I will get the - naughty naughty - big finger waggle from Xiulan and that will be the end of my composting  experiment.

I will quickly know if I have got that one wrong.
home grown rev34.jpgThe second is how to improve gut bacteria by growing plants. But how will I know if I have truly got it right?

 I have been collecting a mass of information on gut bacteria - with the help of my good friend Mr. Google but there is so much hearsay and not too much in the way of hard facts.

 One of the problems is that it is really hard to test for good gut bacteria as many species die outside of the gut.
life line rev35.jpgExperts use DNA testing but I’ve not seen a second hand DNA testing machine at a price I can afford at my local Lifeline store.

This means I am going to have to rely on a lot of empirical self-testing. Not such a bad method which has a track record in medical research.

After all that’s how Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, (two Australian researchers) discovered the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and deciphered its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease and were awarded Nobel Prize. Not a bad bit of do it yourself science.
high fat low fat rev36.jpgThis concern about the validity of science is not a new situation for me. I started to study how diet affects health years ago when Xiulan was first diagnosed with diabetes.

That was in the middle of the low fat craze which has now been overturned by the ‘certain fats are healthy’ school.
ancel keys rev37.jpgIt is a horrifying thought that one man - Ancel Keys - was largely responsible for the low fat mania which has jeopardised the health and even lives of thousands of people.

There is nothing wrong with a little bit of self-testing - not as scientific proof - just a common sense double check.
me rev38.jpgI am probably not a good test case for gut bacteria as I spend so much time messing about in the dirt but Xiulan is fanatically clean so she will be the guinea pig.

I will wait for the results before I go into details but I have a number of hypotheses I want to test.
labile compost rev39.jpgThe first is that beneficial biology will be transferred from the soil to the guts by eating freshly picked plants.

The second is that there must be a continuous supply of food for the soil biology - hence I will be experimenting with growing plants in soil containing labile or fresh decomposing matter with an inoculant to start the process.
baby rev40.jpgLabile means very young - like a baby - not to be confused with nubile which means a bit older. Labile compost is food for the biology but presents problems as the process of decomposition can absorb nutrients like calcium and nitrogen while emitting growth inhibitors.

The experiment will be to see if it is possible to grow healthy plants with labile compost using inoculants and mineral additives.

nubile compost rev41.jpgIf this works it should give the maximum soil biology.

If it does not work I will try nubile compost which is partially matured compost which is still biologically active but prior to reaching the humus state.
nubile girl rev42.jpgSearching for ‘Nubile compost’ reveals some interesting picture on the web.

The third is using the flood and drain system to ensure the soil is adequately oxygenated.

This is my pre-prototype test rig. The boxes are classic wicking beds filled with mature quality soil.
test rig rev43.jpg However I am using a hydroponics system to provide a flood and drain system, I have two chambers for food waste - the lower one (red) is mainly flooded with periodic draining while the upper one (white) is mainly in air with periodic flooding.

I also have some yabbies which have been genetically modified to have tungsten carbide tipped jaws. They should be able to dispose of any bones I may throw in but I may need a titanium tank to keep them in - I don’t think I would be too popular in my new neighbourhood if they escaped and started to chew up the local cars. Make a good film though.

I will keep you informed as the experiments proceeds.