Chewy and Other Innovations

‘Chewy’ is the name of a macgyvered Styrofoam shredder made at Manitoulin Permaculture. Its genesis is soaked in the ingredients for a highly creative marinade. The process that gave birth to it illustrates the unique learning environment at Manitoulin Permaculture. Eventually selected as opposed to air-crete, EPS-crete, sometimes called styrocrete, was chosen to insulate their unique greenhouse design. Styrocrete ‘rocks’ because instead of using gravel to make concrete, Styrofoam is used instead. It’s also a great way to recycle non-biodegradable Styrofoam. They eventually became the proud owners of their proprietary blend of styrocrete thanks to chewy. Here it is insulating the greenhouse:

The greenhouse is its own myth. After years of painstaking research that included professors, internships and volunteering, with months spent at organizations like the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute and SchoolGrown, a cost-saving, and permit-hacking greenhouse was erected.

Mark, who graduated with a bachelor’s in biochemistry, came on site and built a dome for himself that eventually became popular, so he built others. He is among many here who have benefitted from the extra time and space to create and research. Justin acts as a sort of venture capitalist at a Research and Development firm, and reallocates his funds to benefit the group. This group is steadily expanding. Their non-profit the Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute (NOPRI) recently scored the green light for community gardens and greenhouses at their new Little Current headquarters. They are also building a strong network of permaculture and alternative living enthusiasts. I meet a few every week who say they are catching on to this place. It is a vortex. Obstacles, like getting approval by engineers and architects, become opportunities to build a better network. Needless to say things are growing quickly.

Chewy was forged in the nexus of scavenged materials. Made of parts originally for another project, as well as a $2 addition, the collection of motor, nails, and axle was enough to shred Styrofoam, turning a once impossible process into a grueling and tedious task of dropping Styrofoam into the void.


There are constant setbacks and ‘technical maneuvers’ needed to keep things running smoothly. In many ways we are always living on the edge. Shane stresses that we are living on the ‘tail-end’ rather than the ‘front-end’ of development. Although Chewy survived the season, it was decommissioned. I think it represents a step in the right direction for the organization here.

I see a team of people who are resourceful with their scavenged materials. However, the immaterial scavenging here has as much if not more potential than the material scavenging. The opportunity to think combined with the freedom to create in a resource rich environment is the stuff places like The Recurse Center, a famous hacker school, and Open Source Ecology are made of. Wired magazine even had a similar idea when they ran this article

Here are the principles of scavenging that I think apply on both the material and immaterial plane.

-Tetanus. Avoid tetanus at all costs. Regarding information, I think that means ‘play it safe’ and avoid toxic material.

-Don’t take things you don’t need. If you take something that you do need but there are parts you don’t use those can turn around and benefit you later. If you take things you don’t need but that look cool, you’ll get distracted. In the end you’ll have to burn it all in a big fire anyway.

– Wood is always good. Never ignore a building block, especially a multipurpose fundamental like a new concept.

-NO MAYBEs. If you are iffy about it, just put it down. That’s how big fires start.

Diving into the innovation process here has revealed a few paths to me. The first is a combination of deliberate and non-deliberate network creation. One of the inspirations for the greenhouse was The Garbage Warrior Many of the resources that went into Mark’s research into the greenhouse came out of Google Scholar. The networks that need to be built are informational and social. While working here I notice many of the interns going in their own directions and leaving trails unexplored. This isn’t because they aren’t diligent, it’s usually because there just isn’t enough time. The potential energy is palpable. With an accelerating network in a resource rich environment (resources include: freedom, time, parts, ideas) minor increases in human capital lead to major increases in production. This is the kernel of educational theory that the above mentioned organizations/movements are based on.

These organizations are competing to create a synergy of forces (or resources) that accelerate their acceleration. The vision here is of a sustainable future, with a focus on regenerative agriculture. Hopefully, the success of NOPRI and Manitoulin Permaculture insures the food sovereignty of Manitoulin Island. This is what it feels like here when you make something.




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