Workshops Make BioChar as Part of Sustainable Agriculture Program

Antioch University Seattle and other regional non-profit organizations held the first of three workshops to educate the public, landowners, and those involved in sustainable agriculture about the benefits of creating biochar and it’s use as a soil amendment. The BioChar Workshops are funded by a generous grant from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.

BioChar is a highly beneficial form of charcoal that is created by heating organic material at high temperatures with low oxygen exposure. This process creates a carbon-rich product that can be tilled in or used as a top dressing to native soils.

“BioChar is a product we can create that is beneficial to agriculture as well as having other benefits, such as mitigating climate change,” said Jonathan Scherch, Ph.D., MA Programs in Leadership and Change.

On August 18 and 19, twelve participants including AUS graduate students and alumni, gathered for a two-day workshop at the Sammamish Valley Farm.  Using the farm as an outdoor classroom, students used Day One of the workshop to construct six biochar stoves.  Each stove is made on-site from two 55-gallon drums.  Ventilation holes are cut into the drums and pipe for venting is added.

Abundant reedy invasive species, such as Himalayan blackberry and reed canary grass, are excellent feedstock materials for biochar. The feedstock is put into a stove and heated using a low-oxygen, high-heat process of pyrolysis.  The stoves are virtually smokeless with the amount of smoke and steam produced dependent on the moisture of the feedstock materials.

“The drier your ingredients, the cleaner the burn and higher the quality of biochar that’s produced,” said Scherch.

Soil amendments add nutrients or minerals back into the soil.  In the case of biochar, the carbon it adds not only improves the soil’s structural quality and health (helping retain important nutrients, bacteria and moisture), but returns climate-beneficial carbon to the soil.

Workshop participants used their new biochar to amend the soil around several cherry trees at the farm.  The workshop’s results: clean energy, healthy soil with increased fertility, reduced risk of water table contamination (often an impact of chemical fertilizer usage), and anticipated heightened agricultural productivity.

Antioch University Seattle will conduct two more weekend biochar workshops.  They are currently scheduled for:

              • November 17 and 18, 2012: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
              • April 27 and 28, 2013

Click here to register for an upcoming workshop.

The BioChar Workshops are part of Antioch University Seattle’s commitment to sustainable food systems and the environment.  Students and faculty work together to develop an understanding of the social, ecological and political issues of food systems—from soil to plate—and design and implement sustainable changes in these systems. These programs involve people working in organic farming, permaculture, ecological agriculture, urban and rural sustainability, social work, community supported agriculture, and food services.

For information, click on the links below for our:

Partners in the BioChar Project include: