Sea to shining sea?
October 8, 2006 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Agronomy / save the planet question: Since vast stretches of land are owned by the government running right beside the interstate highways what plant groups could be used there to provide ongoing good bio mass to harvest using those wonderful paved lanes right next to the of the road?
posted by Freedomboy to Technology (17 answers total)
What do you want the biomass for? Like, energy production? If so, wouldn't you care more about what is easiest to turn into energy? I mean, stuff grows there now, and they go out and mow it.
posted by salvia at 10:57 AM on October 8, 2006

You're looking to plant and harvest in those strips of land by the road? They (local transit authorities) spray nasty poisons and herbicides there to keep plants from breaking up the asphalt. You're also talking about releasing non-native species into the wild. If you're determined to do this please try to keep it to species native to the area.
posted by lekvar at 10:58 AM on October 8, 2006

It wasn't clear to me from your question, but if you're thinking of growing food, it's not a good idea. The plants by the side of the road absorb heavy metals from car exhaust.
posted by ROTFL at 11:04 AM on October 8, 2006

To answer your question, sugar cane is one of the best plants for producin ethanol, but won't grow well in most of the US due to climate. The use of switchgrass is the current buzz.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:12 AM on October 8, 2006

I think Freedomboy's idea is that it'd be no good to grow anything there for consumption (because of pollution), but why not grow crops for biofuel (ie. ethanol)? That's if I'm reading it right.

In response, I'm not sure that there's really any kind of land shortage that would make that necessary, especially in the US. Production is high, crops are cheap on world markets. Why bother?
posted by reklaw at 11:45 AM on October 8, 2006

A slightly better idea would be to encourage people to have shared/communal vegetable gardens in their neighbourhoods. Vancouver, BC has a bunch of these. Quite cool.

Instead of alongside highways, are there any unused train/rail corridors in your city? How about on rooftops of buildings that can support the weight?

How about urban aquaculture? I originally got interested in it from William Gibson's Count Zero; catfish and shrimp/prawns are quite easy to raise.

If you really want to use the strips of land alongside highways, lobby for the decriminalization of hemp/marijuana. Hemp is robust and grows quickly in much of the climate in N. America. Hemp fibre can then be used to make paper/newsprint thus sparing the desire to log government owned forests. While you're at it, hemp fibres are also fantastic for clothing. Long lasting and becomes very soft and comfortable once worn in.

Of course, there'll always be people temped to grow high THC content marijuana plants amidst the hemp (which isn't a very good idea - partially for the same reasons why food alongside highways is a bad idea and partially because hydroponics [or even backyard growing, I have a neighbour with fantastic heirloom tomatos] will produce far higher quality marijuana for recreational use).
posted by porpoise at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2006

Highway departments already use carefully selected plants (and combinations of plants) in those locations, but they're chosen for erosion control, hardiness, and pollution control, not for harvest. (Which would be a bad idea; carbon monoxide and food don't mix well.) One of my college roommates was a bio major who could wax lyrical and at great length about the various combinations of greenery that were suitable for different roadside environments. I'm fuzzy on the details, but driving around LA with him was always interesting.
posted by ook at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2006

Well my simple question was intended to see if the actual existence of a measurable resource located in the best place, i.e. everywhere - could be “farmed” since the land causes something to grow there now and could the better use be in the harvesting of the solar benefit for making say cleaner fuels to then cause a reverse to the pump it and burn it dead end road we are on now. It took a long time to get here and if it takes a while to do a better plan then why not do the math? This can also permit a huge market for solar arrays also thereby gaining an economy of scale due to the volume of units. I just was thinking maybe once we could do something smart. I hope the "People might be blinded by the glare o f solar panels this will never work" advocates are off today though.
posted by Freedomboy at 12:18 PM on October 8, 2006

You obviously need this putting in plainer language. Your idea sucks. It is stupid. There is no conspiracy against it.
posted by reklaw at 12:21 PM on October 8, 2006

reklaw, that's pretty harsh. Why is the idea of growing switchgrass along highways bad? It's a hardy, sustainable grass that can be harvested and used for biofuel production. I can't imagine doing a end-of year harvest would be any harder than mowing the medians currently is.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:18 PM on October 8, 2006

Answers my question thank you. Oh,
posted by Freedomboy at 1:56 PM on October 8, 2006

In a word:KUDZU
posted by ptm at 2:17 PM on October 8, 2006

The idea has its points ...the networks of linear fires covering the US every dry season would probably be quite pretty, photographed from space!
posted by jamjam at 2:35 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Safety is a huge issue too. There are already too many accidents involving construction workers and police officers who work by the side of the highway. If you tried to do agriculture there too, with the many people you'd need to sow, weed, water and harvest, it would be a disaster.
posted by saffry at 2:55 PM on October 8, 2006

A lot of those side strips, not to mention strips in the middle, are not really easily accessible. There isn't any reasonable way to get farm equipment onto them to use them except by using the highway itself, which is dangerous since farm equipment is big and slow.

But though your idea probably doesn't make any sense in the US, it's not as far-fetched as you think overall. In the Netherlands, the empty spaces between air strips and otherwise in and around Schiphol Airport are farmed, or at least they used to be. (Or at least they used to be.) That land was hard won from the sea, and the Dutch don't want to waste it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:29 PM on October 8, 2006

In Australia, the side of the road is known as the "Long Paddock", and is grazed in time of drought eg
posted by pompomtom at 5:27 PM on October 8, 2006

In China the median strips and shoulders are parks, bike lanes, sidewalks and, particularly in but not limited to rural areas, farms.

I should also mention that in China they have a really high level of highway pedestrian fatalities.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:45 AM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

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