Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A young monkey called Velvet, a story

In the heart of Africa, not very far from a well traveled dirt road, there is a small lake. It is really more like a pond. And it has become a water hole for the wild game that lives in the area. It is home to some fish, sometimes a crocodile or two, and occasionally a small group of hippopotamus that finds there relief from the blazing African sun.
The area around the lake is temporary home to herds of impala and to a  small troop of Vervet Monkeys. Every day the monkeys gather around the lake to catch insects, seeds and tender grass shoots that they eat. They also drink water from the lake.
Among the young monkeys in the troop there is one whose face is particularly soft. His friends call him Velvet Face. Some call him Velvet. Others call him Face, but he does not like to be called Face. He prefers to be called Velvet. That is how his mother calls him.
It is very hot on this particular day. It is early in the morning but the sun is already very hot. Velvet feels thirsty. He thinks of the fresh water in the lake but decides not to drink from the lake edge. The lake is known to have crocodiles and he is not going to take any chances. He decides instead to lick the drops of water hanging from the blades of grass. This water is very fresh. It was left on the grass leaves by the previous night's heavy rain.
And so Velvet satisfies his thirst licking the rain water drops from the thin blades of grass. He notices that one of his friends approaches him and decides to sit near his tail. But Velvet knows him and does not care. He is happy drinking the rain drops. His friend picks up the tip of Velvet's tail in a tender gesture and starts to smooth the soft hair with his fingers. Velvet feels good with these gestures of tenderness and trust.
Then, all of a sudden, his friend takes the tip of Velvet's tail to his mouth and bites it. Not a ferocious bite, but a good bite nonetheless. Velvet is startled, screams, and jumps up in the air releasing his tail from his friend's grip. He lands right in front of his friend who decides to run away, just in case Velvet decides to bite him back.
Velvet chases his friend half way around the lake and back. He is ready to give his friend a good bite back but does not seem to be able to catch him. At the end of this run they are back where they started. Both are tired and both are now thirsty. They settle, not very far from each other, among the fresh blades of grass, and start to lick the water drops that were left there by the previous night's heavy rain.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

42 – Sun-dried tomatoes

This one I am going to transcribe just as I found it on the Internet:
Dearest friends. More often than not time is not on my side as I try to share with you my ideas about all the projects I am doing. But today I am following up on my promise and describe my most recent project: a solar food dehydrator. I am not quite sure if it will work but when I decide on something I do not give up until I make it work.
Sun-dried tomatoes

I love sun-dried tomatoes and I normally do them in the microwave to save time. The other day, surfing the net, I received a comment from my friend Mônica who had a post about her solar food dehydrator. I was curious and went on to investigate this contraption. This was a very simple gadget. I bought the material and convinced my husband to make it for me.

Solar food dehydrator
Solar food dehydrator made out of Styrofoam.
People! These things are designed to dehydrate food products, like fruit, tomatoes and vegetables, in the sun. With all the sun we have here in Brasil. What a show! 
One day, after my husband arrived from work, we made this dehydrator. He made it. I gave opinions, suggestions and moral support… We opted for Styrofoam because this was going to be a test.
Aluminum foil to help concentrate the heat.
Detail of the mosquito net for ventilation.
I loaded my new dehydrator with tomatoes and after spraying them with a mixture of one half sugar and one half salt I placed the box in the sun covered with a piece of 4mm window glass.
Dehydrator covered with 4mm glass sheet.
Saturday I was very happy imagining my sun-dried tomatoes when I saw a dark cloud approaching. It has been raining since and I have not been able to test my tomato dehydrator. Why did I have to find out about this contraption at the end of summer? Well. So be it. I will wait for the sun to return.
My love to all the curious people who surf by my blog on a regular basis.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

00 - Present and future articles

There is a lot to be explored in this blog.
I am going to start with dwelling construction articles but I will add other topics as frequently as I can find them. At the moment I have the following ideas and published articles:
  • 00 – Inspiration
  • 00 - Just a thought for the week
  • 00 - Present and future articles
  • 00 - The inspiring idea
  • 0.. - Good features in a dwelling
  • 01 - Heat and humidity
  • 02 - Humidity in buildings
  • 02a - Humidity in a dwelling - how to avoid
  • 03 - Building ventilation
  • 04 - Natural building ventilation
  • 04a - A dwelling with good ventilation
  • 04b - Good ventilation habits
  • 04c – More on natural ventilation  
  • 05 - Protection from the heat and the cold
  • 1.. - Building types and solutions
  • 10 - Modern or traditional style
  • 11 – An idea for a social center 
  • 11a – Another idea for a social center 
  • 2.. - Building materials
  • 21 - Mixing soil for compacted earth blocks (CEB)
  • 21a – More about adobe and rammed earth 
  • 22 - A manual CEB CINVA press
  • 22a - The manual CETA-RAM press
  • 3.. - Household tools and appliances
  • 30d - A rocket stove with adobe blocks
  • 4.. - Agriculture and Permaculture
  • 40 - Rainwater harvesting 
  • 42 - Sun-dried tomatoes
  • 5.. - Arts and crafts and more...
  • 50 - A kanga backpack
  • 51a - Making lye with ashes 
  • 51b - How to render tallow for soap 
  • 6.. - Business models
  • 60 - CEBs - a social business model
  • 60 - Value chains - general info
  • 61 - Value chains
  • 62 - Value chains from scratch
  • 63 - Value chains – examples
  • 63a – Value chains – another example, soap
  • 64 - Value chains - how they work
  • 7.. - 
Any valuable ideas and contributions will be welcome.
I would like to add ideas and articles from the most varied sources and I want to express in advance my appreciation for all and any contributions.
All this may seem excessively ambitious but I think it is very attainable.

51a - Making lye with ashes

Commercially made soap may have unwanted chemicals in it.

Making your own soap can be a rewarding experience that allows you to experiment with different ingredients for scent and texture. You control the process, so you can ensure that the only additives in your soap are ones you want. 
Making homemade soap involves using the same methods that have been used for generations. The two basic substances used are lye and tallow. Lye can be bought commercially, but for truly homemade soap, make your own from wood ashes. Commercial soap is sodium hydroxide while homemade lye is potassium hydroxide
The homemade lye is actually less harsh than the commercial alternative, making the resulting soap kinder on your skin. 

Things You'll Need
  • Wood ash from hard wood
  • Rain water
  • Two plastic buckets
Making the Lye
  • Burn some wood to create the ashes you need to make lye. You need to use a hard wood like ash, beech or hickory. When the wood is burnt, collect the light, white-colored ashes. Disregard any blackened, charcoal remains.
  • Drill an 1/8 inch hole in the bottom of the plastic bucket (green) about an inch off-center.
  • Stop up the hole in the bottom of the bucket with an 1/8-inch nail.
  • Elevate the bucket (green) above ground with, for example, two breeze blocks. Place the bucket so that there is space under the center for you to put the other plastic bucket (red) to collect the lye.

  • Scoop spadefuls of cold ashes into the bucket (green), compacting the ash down after each spadeful. Fill the bucket to about a third of its capacity.
  • Boil approximately half a bucket of water (rainwater preferably) and add some carefully to the ashes. There will be some hissing and popping at this stage so be sure to wear your protective clothes, gloves and goggles from now on.
  • You are in the process of making a caustic substance, which can be dangerous. 
  • Initially the water will not appear to be mixing with the ashes and will just sit on top. Leave it and come back later when you can add more water.
  • Take the nail out from the bottom of the bucket and come back to check it every few hours. It could take hours or days for nearly a bowlful of lye to accumulate.
  • When it has done, take it to the kitchen and boil it very carefully.
  • Pour the boiled bowl of lye back into the top of the bucket. 
  • This is how you strengthen your lye and repeat the process later on, if necessary.
  • To check the strength of your lye put a chicken's egg into it. 
  • Too weak - if it sinks,
  • Too strong - if it floats too high,and you should add some pure water. 
  • Just right - the egg will float with about the size of a modern dime showing above the surface of the lye.
  • Leave your lye in the sun in a shallow container until it dries into crystals.

51b - How to render tallow for soap

By David Fisher

On the label of many commercially available soap products you'll see sodium tallowate listed as an ingredient. Sodium tallowate is the by-product of mixing lye with tallow or beef fat. Technically, tallow is fat (beef or other) that has been rendered. The primary ingredient used in most soaps is beef fat.
Whether you agree with the use of animal products, there are a few simple reasons why beef fat (or tallow) is used so widely in soap making:
  1. It's cheap,
  2. It's readily available,
  3. It makes really good soap.
The lather is rich and creamy, and hard to duplicate in vegetable oil soap. Vegetable oils are easier to store and there are a lot of people who just don't like the idea of beef fat in their soaps. 
So...how do we render beef (or other animal) fat into tallow? It's pretty easy.
1 - Getting started
Rendering Tallow

To render the tallow you'll need:
  • 3-5 pounds of fat - chopped or ground into as small of pieces as possible.
  • A large pot - you will use to make soap
  • Water and some salt
  • A sieve or colander
  • A large bowl to cool it in
  • Some large spoons, and a potato masher if you have one
Be sure to see the Special Note about the fat you get.

2 - Adding water and salt
Adding Water to the Pot

Rendering is pretty much just melting it to separate out the fat from the meat, gristle and other impurities. It is similar to filtering out all the olive skins, bits of pits, olive flesh and excess water from your freshly pressed olive oil.
To render the fat into tallow, first, put the fat into a big stew pot and add enough water to just cover the tallow. Add about 1 tbs. of salt for every pound of fat.
The smaller the chunks, the quicker and more efficiently it will render. Ask your butcher to run the fat through the grinder or run it through the food processor. It really makes a big difference! Don't forget to give the butcher a bar of soap when it's done!

3 - Heating the mixture
Beginning to Boil

Heat the mixture to boiling, then reduce the heat to a low, rumbling simmer. The chunks of fat will start to release the liquid fat, and any meat that was left in the fat will start to cook.
Be sure to do this in a well ventilated place or turn on the range fan - it will get very smelly!
4 – Letting it simmer
Almost Ready

The size of your fat chunks will determine how long you will have to boil the mixture. For pre-ground fat, you will only have to simmer it for about 20-30 minutes. If the chunks were larger, it will take longer. Just keep it simmering over a low heat and stir often. You can also take your potato masher and mash the fat a bit. This will help squeeze the oil out of the meat/chunks.
5 - Simmering until it becomes melted tallow, meat and gristle
Meat and Gristle

When all that is left solid in the pot is browned meat and gristle, you've gotten about all of the fat you are going to get. Yes, there may be some reluctant chunks of fat and meat still floating in the pot, but sometimes it's just not worth the extra work to get the fat separated out. If you're up for the challenge, mash the remaining meat chunks with the potato masher to get out every last drop of oil you can. That should get nearly all of the usable fat separated out.
6 - Straining the liquid
   Strain the Liquid

Now, carefully take the pot off of the stove and pour the hot liquid through a sieve or colander into a large bowl in the sink. (And just like you wouldn't pour hot wax down the drain, be careful that none of the liquid fat goes down the drain!) The colander is to strain out all of the pieces of meat and gristle.
Lift the colander out of the big bowl. You'll notice that the water is sinking to the bottom and the melted tallow is rising to the top of the bowl.
Note: You can mix the meat and gristle with some peanut butter or bran to make a treat for the birds.

7 – Cooling the liquid
Disc of Fat

Let the liquid cool to room temperature. Then carefully put the bowl in a cool place and let it cool overnight. The tallow will cool into a large white disc on the top of the bowl.
8 - Separating the tallow
Remove the Tallow

Using a knife or a fork, pry up the disc of tallow and put the pieces into a large bowl.

Now comes a tricky part. What's left will be a gelatinous, gray goo. You don't want to pour the left over liquid into the sink – there may still be some chunks/particles of fat left that can clog your sink pipes. I recommend throwing it out into the backyard, or at least into the toilet.

9 – Cleaning the tallow
Clean the tallow

On the bottom side of the tallow, there will likely be some loose pellet-like particles of fat. Wipe off as much of this as possible with a paper towel, and wash the rest off under some cool running water. Again, you don't want too much of this going down your sink drain.
10 - Ready to use for soap
Ready to Use Tallow

Cut the tallow into small pieces and put it into a plastic freezer bag. Label the bag as to when you made the tallow. It will keep a year or so in the freezer. As you need it for your recipes, just break off a few chunks and throw them into your soap pot!

Special Note about the fat you get:

Any animal fat (cow, deer, sheep, buffalo) can be rendered into tallow, but the quality of the fat you use will determine the quality of the tallow. Many people swear by only using "kidney suet", the fat that surrounds the cow's kidneys. It's much harder and whiter and makes really wonderful tallow. It's also really hard to find anywhere but a specialty butcher shop - and you're likely to pay a pretty penny for it - whereas normal, everyday beef fat from the grocery store butcher is likely to be free. Is there a difference? Probably - to the purists at least - but I haven't noticed a big difference in the soaps I've made.

As you'll see from looking at commercial soap labels now that tallow is a common oil that people use to create soap recipes. Whether you choose to use animal oils or not in your soap recipes, understanding the qualities of soap making oils, and at least knowing how to render your own tallow is a soap making experience that I think all soap makers should have at least once.

Monday, July 16, 2012

40 – Rainwater harvesting

During my reading time yesterday I came across an article that caught my attention,

The paradoxes that afflict arid and semi-arid regions of Mozambique. This article, written in Portuguese, was published in a blog called Um outro Moçambique é possível.
This article reminded me of another, I had read a few days before, about an Indian citizen, Rajendra Singh, who has dedicated his life to the recovery of water streams that had been dry for years. Some of these streams had been dry for decades. Rajendra uses traditional methods of rainwater harvesting. As a result whole communities now have water and new opportunities for agriculture and raising cattle.
Rajendra has revitalized traditional techniques to build johads. Johads are earthen check dams. These dams are simple to build and serve two purposes. One is to capture rainwater. The water retained in the johad will seep into the soil recharging the local aquifer. Water wells will function better. The other purpose is to provide water for agriculture and cattle. Local animals and plants also benefit and nature has recovered.  
I did a quick search on the Internet using the word johad and the English equivalent, earthen check dams.  Among the many articles and documents available on this topic I found these two that can be downloaded using these links:
There are many more. It is a well known technique for rainwater harvesting and storm water control. 
I wonder how much of this knowledge can be used to recover land across our World. Land that has become arid or semi-arid and unsuitable for agriculture due to all sorts of desertification processes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

11a – Another idea for a social center

This is another idea for a social center, a health center or a small school. Its design is based on straight lines making it suitable to be built with adobe bricks or compacted earth blocks (CEBs).
Four (4) individual buildings surround a central patio. This are can be closed off with gates or safety fences, making the whole complex very safe. 
The central patio can be covered with an open roof structure for shade and protection from the rain. People moving from one room to another do not have to feel exposed to the weather. A tree in the middle of the patio can provide additional shade. This creates a cooling effect for the whole complex.
There is more detail about this model at the mestiçagens blog. You may also download this model from Google 3D Warehouse with the Google SketchUp, which is free and easy to use.

11 – An idea for a social center

Traditional building techniques are well suited for residential buildings but can be very well applied to other buildings.
A social center, a health center, a small school, with multiple interior spaces can be built with the same materials and using the same techniques we use for a traditional dwelling, a rural dwelling. 
The dimensions can be decided depending on the local needs, according to the available materials, or depending on the building skills or needs of each community.
The example presented here was constructed as a small scale model and published in mestiçages, is only an idea, only a model.
This model is available at Google 3D Warehouse and may be freely used.

04c – More on natural ventilation

There is an interesting article on natural ventilation in residential dwellings published in mestiçagens, a Portuguese language blog.
The contents are similar to what has already been published here but it may still be of interest.
And so, here is the reference.

21a – More about adobe and rammed earth

Rammed earth is one construction technique that is experiencing a healthy rebirth all over the world.
Another well known construction technique, wattle and daub, has been used in the construction of low cost dwellings as well as not so low-cost buildings in many parts of the world. 
In an article I published in my mestiçagens blog about a year ago I mention a couple of Internet sites that, even though written in Portuguese, describe very clearly this technique.
One of these sites, Chácara da Boa Vista, describes the manufacture of adobe bricks. In the other site, howstuffworks, Fernando Bussoloti describes the rammed earth technique as well as other nature friendly construction methods and techniques.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

22a - The manual CETA-RAM CEB press

It is not easy to find documentation about compressed earth block presses, manual or mechanical, but this one is a gem.

This is the CETA-RAM block press
Full documentation with drawings can be found at the following link:
If for some reason you find that the link does not work, let me know. I have a copy of the pdf document I can send you.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

63a – Value chains – another example, soap

Let us explore another value chain related to the manufacture of soap. The theme sounds a bit simplistic but I think it can be of value to our rural communities. 
Soap is made out of one or more oils or fats mixed with an alkaline chemical such as lye, also known as caustic soda. These oils and fats can be of animal or vegetable origin. And lye can be obtained from hardwood ashes when properly treated with rainwater.
All these ingredients can be obtained in our rural communities and the resulting soap can be sold in all sorts of market places. Homemade soap is highly valued by many people. 
An example of a value chain related to the manufacture of homemade soap could be like this:
  • someone raises cattle, produces and sells animal waste to farmers
  • this person sells cattle to the local slaughterhouse
  • the butcher buys carcasses and sells meat
  • the butcher has a lot of excess animal fat that people do not want
  • a local person collects this animal fat to make tallow
  • the local baker uses firewood to bake bread
  • someone collects the ashes from the baker and other places
  • these ashes are used in the community latrines
  • with rainwater and ashes this person also makes lye
  • someone uses tallow and lye to make homemade soap
  • this person sells soap in the community and at the city market
Here we have a value chain, a sequence of activities that make use of existing resources, such as rainwater, ashes and tallow, to develop a new product, homemade soap, which in turn provides work for one or more people. This new product for this community, soap, has value. It has value to be bartered for other products and has value to generate monetary income when it is sold to other communities or at the nearby city market
In addition, certain local resources had no value or very limited value in the community, such as the case of ashes and unwanted animal fat, but now gained value for the local soap maker. Homemade soap is very valued by many people because it does not contain unwanted additives as is often the case with industrially manufactured soap.
Some of these activities may be performed by the same person in one community and by different people in another community. Each individual and each community will pick and choose what will make sense. Each one will choose what activities will be performed by one or more people. In some cases some experimentation will be necessary to find out what makes sense.  
It is very important to know what a community needs and consumes because that is what will sell. In some situations we may feel inclined to make what we know how to make, but that may not be what the community, the marketplace, needs or wants. Soap is always needed although there is already soap in the marketplace. But if this homemade soap is better, if it smells better, if it does not irritate the skin or if it will make the skin softer, this homemade soap will sell better than the commercially available soap. 
The price of the homemade soap is very important so it can compete with the commercially available soap. The price has to cover the cost of the raw materials, the manufacturing costs, and the distribution costs in order to generate profit. These costs will vary from community to community and from situation to situation. But with such low raw materials costs there is a lot of opportunity for doing business at a profit. 
A value chain is the sequence of various activities for the benefit of various participants.
In this series of blogs we will explore various manufacturing processes for lye, for tallow and for the manufacture of homemade soap. We are going to explore various recipes for making soap not only with animal fats but also vegetable oils such as peanuts, avocado, cashew, coconut and other plants that grow in our climate.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

64 – Value chains – how they work

Let us now look at how a value chain actually works. 
A value chain is based on market demand. It is based on market demand at each level of the chain. Market demand is based on people willing to buy a product at a given price. We may have a good product but it may be too expensive, or nobody is willing to buy it because there is no need for it. Or there may be too many people already selling similar products or the same product. Or it may not be the right time of the year for that kind of product. All these factors influence market demand. 
Let us take our example of the peanut products value chain as outlined before:
  • someone grows peanuts and sells for food
  • someone buys some of the peanuts and makes cooking oil
  • someone sells cooking oil locally
  • someone sells cooking oil at the city market
  • someone collects ash from fireplaces
  • someone buys cooking oil and ash and sells soap
  • someone buys the soap and runs a clothes washing business
Let us take peanuts as they come out of the ground. There may be a market demand for raw peanuts. And another market demand for cooked peanuts or for roasted peanuts. People who buy raw or roasted peanuts may be different people. And the demand may not be the same every month.
A value chain is formed by a sequence of activities. In this case the activities are selling and buying peanuts that provide revenue to the producer. But the activity may be variable or temporary and in this case the producer does not have a dependable source of income.
In large cities there may be a large demand for peanuts, but in a small community the demand may be small and the producer may need to plant very few peanuts or find buyers from other communities. Finding buyers requires knowing people.

And so an important activity for the producer is to find and maintain reliable buyers.

Another important activity is to produce good quality peanuts and on time for the market.

We want value chains that are dependable. We need to have a marketplace for our product and we need to know the marketplace for our product. And we want to create associations with other producers or with buyers who can help us and on whom we can depend.

In a small community the producer may have to plant peanuts and other produce because the local demand will be limited. But this can be a good thing. The farmer will then plant some peanuts, some potatoes, some corn, some other crop, and with all these products provide, on a regular basis, the community with the produce it needs.
In small communities a farmer may not be able to produce just one crop. The farmer may have to be good at many things.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

63 - Value chains - examples

Let us look at some more examples of value chains that can be developed in our rural agricultural communities.

Generically speaking a value chain should have as many activities as there are specific skills or capabilities in a community. 

Another way of looking at it is - where can I best make use of my time and my skills? I may be able to do many different things but all these things may not be a good use of my time. Someone may be able to do them better than I can or at a lower cost.

It will be different for each community and for each situation.

One value chain example could be:
  • someone who raises cattle and produces manure
  • a farmer who specializes and produces seeds
  • a farmer who buys seeds and manure and sells grain
  • someone who grinds the grain and makes flour and bread
  • someone who takes flour and bread to sell at the city market
  • someone who buys farming tools at the city market and sells to the farmers
  • a farmer who teaches farming to children at the local school
Another value chain could be:

  • someone grows peanuts and sells for food
  • someone buys some of the peanuts and makes cooking oil
  • someone sells cooking oil at the city market
  • someone collects ash from fireplaces
  • someone buys cooking oil and ash and sells soap
  • someone buys the soap and runs a clothes washing business
We could go on and on. Some activities may make sense in some communities but not in others. Each community will know what will work and what will not work. In many cases one needs to experiment. Rural and agricultural communities have an advantage - many of the products needed are readily available. This is not the case in cities or even in larger communities.
The following articles have a number of examples. Look them up if you have the chance: