Next-Level Algae Collection

This is a happy surprise post and unexpected realization about how I could achieve next-level algae collection at Mezzacello. It involves someone visiting and helping on the farm and being curious about what a chicken feather plucker does. As I was explaining how it worked, we realized this would work for algae as well.

Captures Algae Efficiently

You may be wondering what a chicken feather plucker is. Put simply it is a round stainless steel barrel with a motor on the bottom of a spinning base which also has 30 latex fingers that turn the chicken carcass. Picture a washing machine with rubber fingers instead of holes.

Where the holes are is where the fingers are and they stick out into the barrel. The feathers are removed by the friction of the latex fingers when a carcass is inserted and tumbles around against these fingers. The base spins while the drum remains still.

A Tool Not Torture

The Chicken Feather Plucker is a tool for harvesting humanely butchered animals. It is not a torture device. Please do not assume live chickens go into this. That is never and will never be the case.

Jim Bruner

The Surprising Insight

I was giving a tour for NDIA for their employees who were volunteering with me at Mezzacello on this summer day. This idea originated with Miles, an NDIA employee volunteer. We were 16 of us that day touring and working all over the farm.

We were working on multiple chores all over the farm – including changing out the biofilter and organizing tools and equipment. Changing the biofilter is a chore and the wet, algae-laden sponges are messy and require a day or two of drying before the algae can be scraped off. But the benefits of using the algae all over the urban farm are too good not to recycle this algae!

This is when my guest Miles saw the Chicken Feather Plucker. He was very intrigued that there was a machine with such a specific use. He was also involved in drying out the sponges from the biofilter and saw how much algae collected on the sponges and still needed to be scraped off and recycled.

Reframing The Problem

Feather removal is all I have ever used this chicken feather plucker device for in the past. When Miles understood the basic mechanics of the device he immediately saw how much chicken feathers and dried algae on biofilter sponges had in common. He also saw that cleaning algae off sponges is tedious work.

So I set up the plucker on the rubber mattes of the classroom and green house breezeway and put in the sponges. (See photo of the sponges in the gallery above). Even if it didn’t work, the frame of the plucker is stainless steel and the fingers were latex so it would be a snap to rinse it clean from whatever happened.

Biofilter interior
A cross section of the biofilter sponges and interior layout.

It was magic! Miles was right! In five minutes every biofilter sponge was clean as a whistle and the algae was pulverized and laying in a pile at the base of the plucker. I was astounded and delighted!

This insight will allow me to collect so much more algae in such a efficient and easy way! I am grateful to Miles and his curiosity and willingness to ask questions and make associations.

All this time I have been trying and failing to develop a system that would make algae collection less tedious and back breaking. In one afternoon a man from South Africa took one look at the feather washing machine idea and just said, “what about algae?” This is the power of #AppliedSTEM.

I would also like to take a moment and thank Angela Siefer and her amazing organization, NDIA for being so gracious and volunteering with me on 8/3/2022. So much good came from that day. Also if you don’t already know and support NDIA @NetInclusion you totally should!

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