Who needs soil to harvest plants?
Company spreads gospel of rainwater reuse, conservation
By Shannon Wells
The Portland Tribune, Apr 19, 2012, Updated Apr 19, 2012
Green stalks of vegetation reach up from an array of gravel- and lava-filled plastic barrels toward glowing lights. The soothing sound of gurgling water — circulating from goldfish tanks through plastic pipes — fills the nondescript, block-walled room.
A visitor innocently asks Jason Garvey how much soil there is beneath those rocks to nourish the thriving tomato, broccoli, celery and bok choy plants.
“There is no soil,” he says, delighted by the question. “When you break it down, it’s all about delivering the needs of plants. The plant requires light, controlled temperature, carbon dioxide, water and air. Beyond that, it needs nutrients. If we provide these things for the plant, it will thrive.”
In other words, exposing plants to fish-infused, nutrient-rich water along with light and warmth — a process known as “aquaponics” — makes soil essentially irrelevant.
“It snowed the other day, and I have the freshest vegetables in town!” Garvey says. “In nothing but gravel.”
The lesson is one of many rainwater-centric philosophies Garvey and business partner Scott Yelton espouse at Portland Purple Water, the business they started nearly four years ago out of Garvey’s house. The company moved into its Beaverton showroom on 11325 S.W. Canyon Road, just off Highway 217, about a year and a half ago.
Taking its name from industry jargon for untreated but generally clean, non-potable water, Portland Purple Water is focused on the management and conservation of rain and naturally occurring water sources.
In a broader sense, it’s as much a 21st-century green laboratory and think tank as a downtown merchant.
Over a barrel
From mundane roof gutter guards and garden irrigation systems to retro-chic cedar-lined rain barrels and esoteric aquaponics, Portland Purple Water covers all conceivable rainwater harvesting needs.
“Our showroom demonstrates the different ways people use water — and how they could use water,” Garvey says.
Garvey, Yelton and their five employees also offer installations, demonstrations and educational workshops centered on rainwater conservation and aquaponics (see related story).
“People call us for lots of different reasons,” Garvey adds. “We’re a gutter company — but it doesn’t stop there. We assist in stormwater mitigation, and supplies for gardens and landscaping.”
Yes, the partners know what many are thinking: “Why on earth does my rainwater need harvesting, particularly in an area known for plentiful, minimally treated municipal water sources?”
Don’t get Garvey started.
The Arizona native is adamant that it’s only a matter of time before the consciousness of resource conservation — in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide — moves from the fashionable to an imperative.
Walking the walk
Harvested rainwater can be used to water the garden, wash the car, flush toilets, wash clothes and bathe pets, whether it comes from one of the company’s 55-gallon, valve-equipped cedar rain barrels or a 10,000-gallon cistern.
If you’re not easily moved by philosophy and long-range supply-and-demand hypotheses, Garvey is happy to talk practicality and rainfall.
The idea of conservation, he says, “is to use only what you need (rather than) what you have. You can say, ‘Well, we have so much of it.’ Instead, why don’t we catch it where it falls instead of asking to get (water) from somewhere else?”
Garvey says the benefits of harvesting rainwater include:
• Conserving municipal water supplies
• Reducing energy and chemicals needed to sanitize and pump water via municipal and private well systems
• Limiting the draw from underground sources
• Allowing rainwater to replenish groundwater instead of being carried away
• Halting negative effects stormwater can bring, such as erosion, water-temperature fluctuations and pollution in streams
Rolling with the flow
Garvey and Yelton, who resides in Southeast Portland, got to know each other when Garvey did some work involving cedar barrels and drip irrigation at Yelton’s mother-in-law’s house. A Missoula, Mont., native, Yelton left a lucrative advertising/marketing career with Wieden+Kennedy to study sustainability education at Portland State University. He’d been laid off from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance when he crossed paths with Garvey.
“Jason started the business, and I just jumped on,” Yelton recalls. “Though I didn’t have any background in water, per se, the educational and sustainability element of the business was a perfect match for me. Plus, much of my career has been in marketing/advertising, so I brought a lot of strategic messaging.”
Garvey’s background is in food and beverage sales in Santa Fe, N.M., and his native Arizona. Some time after moving to Beaverton 12 years ago, he saw a new path.
“I left the food industry,” he says. “I had an epiphany: All my work in the food industry was opposed to my core values.”
As a salesman for Gutter Guard products, designed to keep leaves and debris off roof gutters, he realized the rain-diversion devices were a “tool for a much bigger system.”
“We have some amazing solutions here,” he says. “We don’t want to cajole anybody into this. We just want to try to open their minds to it.”
Yelton says after paying their share of dues in the corporate and sales worlds, he and his partner are committed to their vision for the long haul.
“We know we’re gonna hand this business down to our kids, whether they want us to or not,” he quips. “And that’s a great feeling.”
Aquaponic greenhouses could ease hunger • German’s design helps produce food, energy at same time
Portland Purple Water is teaming with German physicist Franz Schreier on a compelling potential solution to the problem of global hunger and food insecurity: aquaponics.
Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water instead of soil) in a symbiotic environment.
In normal aquaculture operations, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for fish. In aquaponics, the water feeds into a hydroponic system where such byproducts are filtered by plants and used as nutrients. The cleansed water is circulated back to the animals.
Schreier’s technology takes “generational leaps forward from what greenhouses are” today, says Jason Garvey, Portland Purple Water founder. Garvey met Schreier after seeing his presentation on aquaponics at a conference in Orlando. “It changed my expectations of what a greenhouse was instantly,” Garvey says.
Schreier has been working on a solar-powered greenhouse since 2006, trying to produce food and renewable energy at the same time. Through his business, Energy Biosphere Food, Schreier hopes to spread information about his technology throughout the world. His venture with Portland Purple Water will help market the system in the United States.
Schreier has developed three styles of greenhouses, which he calls Integrated Food and Energy Systems, each with different features and purposes.
“The greenhouse is highly productive,” Schreier says. “It will allow for year-round food growth and requires less electricity than it produces.”
Schreier adapted designs used in Chinese lean-to greenhouses, providing a controlled environment and maximum light transmission. He says they’re mechanically strong, self-cleaning, non-flammable and long- lasting. The structures are transparent for ultraviolet rays, meaning bacteria cannot grow, which improves crop yield.
Energy from the solar cells is used to cool and heat the greenhouse and control light levels. Schreier utilizes a sulphur plasma lamp, which, he says won’t burn out and is the most energy- efficient light source possible.
Schreier says his greenhouses have produced a 64 percent increase in plant growth. The greenhouse system can be built to any size, but the test model measures 25 feet by 30 feet, small enough to fit in most backyards.
The greenhouses will be available through Portland Purple Water, which also will teach classes on aquaponics.
For those not wishing to take on aquaponic farming, Schreier and Garvey have launched a new business, Own Food, which will offer aquaponically produced fruits and vegetables for sale.
For more information, visit www.pdxpurple.com or call Garvey at 503-922-3583.