This week’s Energy Diet Challenge: A small step from apples to energy

My weekend revolved around apples. Recently my partner purchased a grape press from Kijiji, in order to take his latest hobby (or possibly obsession), traditional home-brews, to a new level. The press is older than I am and seems to necessitate the employment of a mule to turn the crank. This purchase was justified because our kids’ school was having its annual Fall Fair and Rob came up with the idea that we should sell apple cider at the fair and give the proceeds to the school.

The beginning of apple mania started Friday. We joined up with a local initiative, the Calgary Urban Harvest Project, which rescues fruit from urban trees, that would otherwise be left to fall to the ground, and donates it to volunteer pickers, the tree owner and a local homeless shelter or food bank. Many municipalities have similar programs (maybe even yours!). It is such a great concept and really brings to light how much perfectly viable food is wasted in favor of food that travels an average of 4,000 kilometers from farm to plate!

Twelve intrepid kids and parents picked a total of five apple and crabapple trees, yielding approximately 200 pounds of apples. That night, Rob and I were up until midnight chopping apples for the press. Saturday at the Fair was a great success. The soft cider was a hit with kids and adults alike, and the school dads gathered in droves to try the press and swap tales of home-brewing heroics.

One moment in the day really stood out to me though. A young couple approached us after tasting the cider, and asked how much we’d charge for a gallon jug. We paused, considering the question. My first answer was, “a million dollars”, but then we got more realistic about it. The 200 pounds of apples produced less than 40 liters of cider. We pressed so many apples, and invested ten hours of time and energy for a relatively small amount of juice. Hence, I stuck to my original answer.

The savings are bigger than we think

Though the food manufacturing system most Canadians are used to is more efficient than a bunch of adults making cider in an old grape press, the inputs — whether it’s energy, water or apples — are often much higher than we’re aware.

The story is similar with the energy and water that’s delivered to our homes. We often think of it at the individual level; money saved that stays in our pockets and a vague idea that it’s also good for the planet. But, there are parts of the system that usually don’t enter our minds. Water pipes, sewage treatment, coal mining, transmission lines and dams for hydroelectricity are just a few energy-intensive components at the front and back ends of the infrastructure we depend on for water and energy. However, we rarely think of potentially needing less of these components, as we reduce our demand.

Last week, the Energy Diet Challenge contestants were challenged to change their showerheads and faucets to low-flow and try to ultimately achieve a five-minute long shower. This week, they are asked to ditch the dryer and hang-dry their clothes for the week.

By undertaking these two challenges, they will notice energy and water saved on their utility bills. But, the savings go well beyond their homes. Maybe their energy and water saved will be the tipping point needed to justify one less dam, one less water treatment facility or coal plant. It is important that we start seeing our individual homes and lives as part of a much bigger energy system, and realize that when we all use one less gigajoule or kilowatt, there is the potential to save much more.