Nature, Agriculture, and Biochar

Last weekend Carol and I went for a drive around the town of Sullivan.  We've been here for over three years, had yet to travel all the roads in town (and there aren't that many), and decided it was time to see what we'd been missing.  The sights of the town brought two topics to mind --- nature and agriculture.  Nature, because it's everywhere in this beautiful town, and agriculture, because it isn't too much (although it used to be).

The beauty in and of nature is always breathtaking, no matter where it is.  A lot of people find the deserts out west bleak and barren, but I've always enjoyed them.   Not just during those rare, fleeting, springtime instances when the desert is in bloom (a desert bloom is comparable to peak foliage in New England for its dazzling but ephemeral visual impact- kind of like nature's fireworks), but also in the heat of summer and the cold of winter.  But even though we can find beauty everywhere, there aren't many places that I find as peaceful as the woods in New England.  A hike or a stroll in the silence of the forest is like diving into a sea of tranquility (and I don't mean the moon).

It still amazes me how much woodlands there are in New England.  I mentioned earlier that New England was nearly completely clearcut at one time, but a newcomer to the area might never know it now, except for all the stone walls running through the forest.  When I first came to New England , just a couple weeks out of high school, I was dumbfounded by how rural and undeveloped most of New England is.  Being the oldest settled part of the country, I naively expected it to be completely built up, and I was blown away by all the woods.  That amazement  has yet to wane.

At one time, when most of the woods had been cut, there was considerably more local agriculture than there is now.  That was true everywhere, because there was no long-distance transportation of food or supermarkets.  Evidence of that still exists in the still-cleared fields around town.  We believe that there will be a lot more local agriculture in the future.  Organizations like NOFA are working hard to foster that.  Sooner is better than later, but it is inevitable.  A perfect storm of energy, economics, and environmental issues are conspiring to bring an end to the present agricultural regime.  It simply isn't long-term sustainable.  The good news is that once we've transitioned back to locally based agriculture, our food will be fresher and more healthful for us.  We're excited to be part of the movement to make that happen sooner.

Speaking of excitement, Rich and I went to the North American Biochar Symposium held at UMass Amherst in October.  Because of schedule, we were only able to attend one day of the four-day event.  But even in one day we were able to gather a considerable amount of information, meet many people in the vanguard of the biochar movement, and become even more excited about the prospects of biochar.  The assemblage was a varied mix of seniors and youth.  They say that wisdom comes with age, but I find the enthusiasm of youth infectious.  One of the young presenters we met was Bob Cirino (aka "Biochar Bob").  Here are a couple graphic photos of his showing the effects of biochar on crops:

okra:biochar
okra:biochar
banana trees:biochar
banana trees:biochar

Finally, here is a short video of his very succinctly explaining the benefits of biochar.  He made the video to help fundraise a recent project, and I find his enthusiasm contagious.

Steve