Feb 5, 2011

A Conversation About Climate Change and Agriculture

Holy Shit: The Secret Behind Creating Truly Sustainable Food


Holy Shit: The Secret Behind Creating Truly Sustainable Food

MG: When I moved to a farm in rural Vermont, I knew life would be a far cry from the New York literary world from whence I came. I knew even though plaid shirts, work boots, and waxed canvas coats cover the fashion magazines these days-life on a real farm has nothing to do with image or status. I do have to say, however, when I meet my old city friends on the streets of Brooklyn to hock eggs or pumpkins, I have been known to brag. Not about how amazing farm life is, or how well I can pitch hay, but rather, how familiar I am with shit these days. And how in awe I am of poop. I tell my friends about where my chickens leave their dollops, and how that’s actually money in the bank.

Shit rules my life-or at least it should, if I were a good farmer. Don’t be grossed out. If you’re into food, you’ve got to embrace manure. The bowel movement after all (human and animal), is the foundation upon which the sustainable food movement stands. Where do you think rich, delicious soil comes from? The healthiest soil is made not from synthetic fertilizers, but from the backsides of livestock. Indeed, manure is the golden nugget upon which sustainable food’s economy was founded. There is no movement without themovement. And who better to discuss either movement than Gene Logsdon, longtime farmer and author of the book Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. I talked with Logsdon about the real scoop on poop, society’s misconceptions of manure, and the future of farming.

Makenna Goodman: You’ve been farming for about 30 years. How important is manure to agriculture in your estimation?

Gene Logsdon: It would probably be more accurate to say that I have been pitching barn manure for something like 65 years and spreading a lot of bullshit the other 13 years, too. On a scale of one to ten, with ten at the top, I’d give manure an eleven. Manure just doesn’t fit on a scale of values. It encompasses the whole environment as inextricably as water and air. Trying to measure its worth suggests that we can take it or leave it. Manure is with us always whether we give it a value or not. The fact that it is a beneficial material is our salvation. If we and other animals started to excrete radioactive dust, then we’d have a problem. Manure is holy.

MG: What are the most prevalent misconceptions that society holds about manure?

GL: I have to answer that first by addressing a broader question: what are the most prevalent misconceptions that society holds about the whole natural process of life? One main misconception is that science and technology can deliver us complete safety, that is, a zero risk environment. This notion is driven by the insurance companies who dream of a world where people pay dearly for accident insurance but never have accidents. The misconception comes when humans decide that science and technology can make that happen without the personal, individual, ongoing involvement of every one of us. Examples abound of the impossibility of this kind of push button safety system. Science and technology have been hard at work delivering a ladder that will be safe even for total idiots to use. The rules and regulations governing ladders cover over a thousand pages. But every day people kill or maim themselves with ladders.

Danger lurks at all times. That is an inescapable fact of life. No matter how fail-safe we want someone else to keep our environment, our safety requires the use of our own intelligence and responsibility first and last. The more we try to make others responsible for our well-being, as for example, by supporting a monolithic pill-pushing industry, the sicker we seem to get.

Focusing on manure specifically, the misconception is not so much that bodily waste can cause disease, which can be true if people are totally stupid about it, but that society at present doesn’t understand how comparatively easy it is to avoid that danger. The chances of getting sick from contact with barn manure or properly handled human manure are negligible in the first place, but the point is that the hygienic harm associated with manure is easily avoided by individual involvement, intelligence, common sense, and proper management. People don’t want to accept that responsibility. They want to flush it and forget it. Just letting manure age for a year practically guarantees that it has no pathogens in it if it ever did. But of course there might always be that one chance in a billion when it still does. You take far more risk than that just eating in a restaurant, where, health inspectors have told me, they sometimes find more E. coli bacteria on the tabletops than on the toilet seats.

MG: What makes manure such an incredible fertilizer?

GL: First I want to be clear that by manure I mean not only the feces and urine itself, but the bedding or absorbent material mixed with it. The bedding, most commonly straw with animal manure or sawdust in human dry toilets, is nearly as important as the excrement since it reduces odor, soaks up the urine and adds bulk to the feces so that the material is easier to handle and preserves the plant nutrients better until the material is applied to farmland or garden.

Manure so defined can supply all the nutrients including trace elements that plants need to grow healthfully in most soils and situations, plus adding organic matter to become humus in the soil. It accomplishes soil enrichment safely. No commercial chemical fertilizer adds organic matter to the soil like manure does. For the farm that has its own livestock and chickens, manure is free for the loading and hauling. As purchased fertilizers become more and more pricey, this benefit alone makes manure incredibly valuable. It can keep a farm truly sustainable and a farmer less susceptible to outside forces seeking to take his money and his land away from him.

MG: Has our culture always been fearful of using manure as a soil enhancement or is this something more recent?

GL: Europeans settling America brought with them a respect for the value of manure and the management practices necessary to enhance that value. (In Switzerland, even in more recent times, farmers carefully aged their barn manure, along with their own manure, in big compost piles out in front of their barns where everyone could see it. The bigger and more neatly square or rectangular were the stacks, the richer and more successful the farmer was thought to be, sort of the way, in our culture, we leave the Porsche parked conspicuously in the driveway.) But in America, early farmers were under the delusion that the soil here was infinitely rich and did not need any kind of fertilizer. When that became obviously and painfully wrong, efforts were made to return to the careful stewardship of manure practiced in Europe and Asia. But at almost the same time, purchased chemical fertilizers became commonly available. Given the choice, and lacking the modern machines that make manure handling much easier, few farmers, beset with all kinds of tedious labor, opted for labor-intensive manure management. A leading farm magazine just a few decades ago ran an article declaring that manure was not worth the hauling. Some years later, the magazine contritely printed a retraction.

Only in an urban society removed completely from rural life did an irrational fear of barn manure develop. This kind of fear was and is part of our society’s paranoia about dirt and germs. In the countryside, the fear was about avoiding the labor of handling manure, and then, when the number of livestock on a farm started increasing dramatically without any advancement in good manure management, a fear of odor and flies.

MG: What role has technology and advances in industrialism played in the demise of our soil health?

GL: We can use technology well or use it badly. It is human nature making bad decisions about technology that is the problem. The question to ask is what role has greed and false economic assumptions played in influencing technology to work against soil health. Nor is industrialism of itself a negative force. Urban agriculture, now on the rise, is an industrial trend if it is anything. In a proper economy, industrialism can trend toward decentralized, more truly profitable farms and factories and away from bigger, cumbersome, consolidated farms and factories. The increase in the number and diversity of local farmers’ markets and farm fairs and the small manufacturers supplying the tools and equipment are very much an industrial process.

Technology can be used to promote good soil practices. Manure is now a more attractive alternative to chemical fertilizers than it used to be because we have tools like skid loaders to handle the stuff. A hoe in the hands of a man overtaken by greed will result in bad technology. A bulldozer in the hands of a man sensitive to improving the environment will result in good technology.

In my opinion, the real engine driving the decline in soil health is an economic system based on too much borrowed money and manipulated money interest. When I sell a bushel of potatoes for, say, four dollars, the money I receive is what I call real money. It actually represents something of real value. But if I put that four dollars in the bank, and the bank tries to increase it along with other real money, with hedge funding and derivatives and all that financial rattlesnake oil that tries to make pieces of paper reproduce themselves, the economy cannot help but collapse eventually. This kind of unreal money eventually affects good farming practices negatively. Farmers, deep in debt or barely able to stay in the black, feel forced to keep up “cash flow” by doing what seemingly brings in the most money here and now, even when they know that long term, the land is going to suffer and the number of landless people increase. An ear of corn grows at its own sweet pace, not by manipulated interest rates. Trying to make farming dance to an economy blind to the common good is what brings about the demise of soil health.

MG: What is the most important dilemma that modern farmers face when it comes to small-scale farming?

GL: Small scale farming as an American business can be saved as soon as government stops subsidizing quantity instead of quality and our schools start teaching the danger of excessive money borrowing. This assumes that economists can define what is excessive and government can agree on a definition of quality–both of which I exceedingly doubt can happen. It would be better just to stop subsidies altogether and for small businesspeople to listen to their own minds, not public opinion. Stay away from borrowed money to begin with. To resist borrowing as much as possible, to shun government “help” unless it really is help for the common good, sounds impossible but there are many quiet, shy, stubborn, fiercely determined people out there who are doing just that.

The real dilemma is that few people want to make the sacrifices that come when one renounces fat salaries and keeping up with the Joneses. They feel forced by society to acquire, as quickly as possible, everything for themselves and their children that society deems proper for the well-regulated life. They have not been taught, as many of us oldsters were taught, that one can forego much of what is considered necessary in modern lifestyles and be quite happy-especially if we love our little farms and the life it engenders. Why can’t more people see that? That is the dilemma.

MG: Are you an organic farmer and what does that term mean to you?

GL: Now that the government and some organic farm leaders have co-opted the power to define organic in ways that allow very large farms and food delivery systems to call themselves “organic,” the term has become much less meaningful to me. Part of my definition of “organic” is that the farm should be comparatively small and sell primarily to local markets. If the operation is large and national or international, I don’t think it is necessarily bad, in fact it might be just as good as what the small operation offers. But it just isn’t organic to me.

My early reasons for championing organic farming were economic, not environmental. For me it was a way to farm without high overhead. I am uneasy now with the way “organic” has become sort of like an institutional religion where, if one does not follow sometimes-arbitrary rules absolutely and purely, one is headed for environmental hell. Why not just tell one’s customers exactly how you produce your food including when, if ever, you use non-organic materials. Then let the customer decide. This can work effectively on a small scale where a farmer is selling his or her own personal food to his own regular customers. As soon as the larger company is selling food from many sources, that kind of verification is not trustworthy to me no matter how many rules and regulations are supposed to be in effect.

MG: Do you see young people effecting change in current farming practices that is revolutionary or exciting?

GL: Oh yes. My favorite example is pasture farming, sometimes called grass farming or graze farming. The idea and ideal here is to produce meat, dairy products, eggs-all animal products-by allowing the animals to graze freely. The animals do most of the work themselves, harvesting the pasture by eating it and spreading their manure for fertilizers. Graze farming eliminates the high cost and destructive results of annual cultivation of grains.

Pasture farming is gaining adherents and momentum all over because it makes economic sense as well as environmental sense. A notable scientific development aiding and abetting the trend is the work of Wes Jackson and his staff at his Land Institute in Kansas. These revolutionaries are developing perennial grains-grains that will come up year after year without annual cultivation, like grass. Wes recently gave me a sample of flour from his improved perennial wheatgrass plantings. We made pancakes with it and they were very tasty. When pasture farmers have perennial grain grasses to plant with their clovers, there will be no reason at all to grow annual grains for animal feed.

Another exciting development is urban farming. If you have driven through Detroit in the last decade or so, you know how many parts of it look about like Dresden after World War II. Now city leaders are talking about transforming several hundred acres of abandoned buildings and rundown ghetto land into a farm. There are problems with this idea-perhaps it will never happen-but it is historically significant that urban people are even suggesting it. They are suggesting it because all over, gardening and market gardening and even animal agriculture are coming increasingly into all cities. Some suburbs are even getting rid of regulations that forbid chickens in backyards. Hooray. When the day finally comes when urban farmers figure out how to use human manure for fertilizer, then you will see the new age rising.

Ebonizing Wood with Steel Wool and Vinegar

by Allison, Northeastern Ca.

A few months ago I had read an article about ebonizing wood with steel wool and vinegar. Awhile back I tried this and absolutely nothing happened. I never even tried again. Ebonizing is a stain of sorts I guess. I also have heard there are several ways of doing this. The reason the original article caught my eye was because I sure as hell don’t have the money to buy Ebony (wood), and I am forever wanting or needing dark/black wood for my projects and I do not like to use paint, to the point of not making something I want to make if I need paint. (This is just a personal preference). Stain in itself can be quite expensive at times. However I just so happen to always have steel wool around especially the 0000 kind, as I use it as my last sweep of sanding. I also am one of those thrifty homemakers that likes to make a lot of her own cleaning supplies, and almost all have vinegar as an ingrediant. Even in my town, I can still buy a big gallon jug of vinegar with 2 bucks and leave the store with change!

The article I have the link to above says this

The ebonizing solution is made with two common products: vinegar and steel wool. A plastic jar with a plastic lid is best to use because the lid won’t rust.

To make ebonizing solution put a coarse steel wool pad in the jar and pour in enough vinegar to cover it, loosely screw the lid on the jar. If the pad is not totally submersed rust will quickly form on the portion exposed to air. After about twenty-four hours pour the vinegar in another jar. Don’t squeeze the vinegar out of the pad or you may get bits of metal in the liquid, which will rust, then just brush the solution on the contoured project pieces you want ebonized.

A couple of days ago I ran into another article about how to do this , and I decided to give it another try. Come to find out the reason it did not work for me the first time was the steel wool I was trying to use was some generic crap that wasn’t completely steel wool. At the time I never really checked nor did I know that you can even buy steel wool that is not real steel wool. LOL!!!

The article I followed starting day before yesterday was slightly different. First of all it said to use nothing but a glass jar. Place your steel wool in it. Then cover with vinegar. (Again making sure that you do indeed completely cover the steel wool with the vinegar.) Then place your lid on it and make sure it is tight. (Not loose like the first article) and to keep it in there for 48 hours.After the 48 hours strain the liquid a couple of times thru a coffee filter and then apply.

Following is what I did this morning messing around and I was so impressed.
Above is a piece of 1/4 inch Birch plywood. This is with the first coat. I painted it on the wood with a brush for blush make-up.

(Sometimes a girls just gotto do what a girls gotto do) as this was all I had! LOL.
The dark side on the left is a second coat. the middle is what the wood looked like before I put this solution on . The right side is the same wood but the other side with just one coat.
Same piece just upside down. Now with 3 coats on the darker side and 2 on the other side. Photobucket
Well now I am having too much fun. I love the way this is looking , so I gather up some funky odds and ends just to see what would happen.

On the left 1/2 inch toungue and groove pine from a drawer.The middle apiece of pine originally brought home for our wood stove.It is laying on corkboard flooring. And to the right is a 1 inch piece of Douglas Fir,
that I only did half of
This is a piece of the redwood that we just used to make our deck on our house. It has a couple of coats put on it.
I am truly thrilled that I gave this another try.(And used the right steel wool) LOL!

I have so many patterns where I need dark/black wood that I have not done. I now feel as if I can. All this was done today in a hurry.I was so excited by the outcome. I feel confident that I can ebonize wood for my intarsia pieces, yet I won’t feel as if I used paint. When I used the whole jar up of the stuff I made I came in here to write this. In doing so, I had forgotton about reading about how this can be deluted with water if you prefer a lighter dark.Of course I would not recommend doing this on a nice piece of furniture for color, but I think it is going to be perfect for my scroll work , and intarsia!

Ebonizing Wood

Achieve a deep, rich black using household ingredients plus some powder from a South American evergreen.

It’s hard to improve on the natural beauty of wood with all its various hues and grain patterns. For that reason I generally prefer a natural oil finish to just about anything. But there are occasions when there is already too much of a good thing in one space. I occasionally like to see black chairs around a particularly striking tabletop or a black frame showcasing woven hickory bark in the back and seat of a chair. For whatever reason I decide to ebonize, I prefer to do so naturally. I have tried ngr (non-grain-raising) stains, aniline dyes and oil stains and they all have their advantages for specific situations. But for depth and durability, I prefer ebonizing with iron.
I have been experimenting with using iron to stain wood for more than 20 years. I have read a little bit about it, but most of what I have learned came through experimentation. Iron staining, or ebonizing, generally uses a reaction between iron oxide and the natural tannins in wood to create a natural- looking black that is actually created in the fibers of the wood rather than a stain sitting on top. This is why it is so durable. It is integral, not superficial. I have also found it to be very light-fast.

The problem with this staining method is that it traditionally relies on the wood having enough tannic acid to react with the iron. This limits the wood choices and makes the results unpredictable. Oak is commonly used because of its high tannic acid content, and walnut is a very reliable wood for ebonizing. But even within these species there are a lot of variations.

The trick I have found to getting consistent results is to control the reaction independently without relying on the wood’s varying chemistry. I saw an encouraging example of this in a chair by Randy Cochran in Knoxville, Tenn. He had ebonized a chair seat using chemical tannic acid first to saturate the fibers of the wood. Then he applied a rich iron solution made by soaking rusty nails in water for a few weeks.

The effect was an impressively deep black, but with a bluish tint like indelible marker ink. It worked well for his contemporary chair design, but I was in search of something more natural looking.

I experimented with adding chemical tannic acid and got nearly identical results to Randy’s. I tried adding other stains afterward to tone down the blue tint, but I didn’t like the results. When I later was explaining this problem to my father, he mentioned that he used a tree bark called “quebracho” for tanning hides. This was traditionally used because of its high tannic acid content. So I borrowed a batch of this bark powder from his stash to try.

The Trick: Bark Powder Tea
Making a tea of the bark powder to saturate the wood did a lot to increase the tannic acid content. Using the bark tea first, then adding a solution of vinegar and iron once the wood had dried, I finally started getting close to the effect I was looking for. It was a bit chalky though, and not the intensity I wanted. Topping it off with another coat of the bark tea made all the difference. The tea completely eliminated the chalky look and the piece became a deep, coal black.

The process of ebonizing this way is pretty straightforward. Soak the wood surface with bark tea, wait until the surface moisture absorbs into the wood, then add the iron solution. Follow up with a bark tea “rinse.”

Making the Solutions
For the iron I have used rusty steel wool and clean steel wood. I get about the same staining results from either, but rust solids build up in the pores from the rusted version. Any iron source will likely work, but the fine filaments of steel wool dissolve faster than anything else I have tried. I just wash a fresh pad of #0000 steel wool in soap and hot water to remove the oil and shove it into a plastic quart bottle of Heinz white vinegar. I don’t know why, but I have had better luck with the Heinz brand.

It can take a week or more for the steel wool to dissolve. If you need faster results you can bring the steel wool and vinegar to a boil, then remove it from the heat. I can sometimes get a working solution in a day by boiling the vinegar and steel wool. You’ll want a lot of ventilation for this, as the gasses produced are obnoxious. Either way you go, when the steel wool has all been eaten by the vinegar it is ready to strain. I put a coffee filter in the sieve and slowly pour the solution through it into the quart jar. Then I pour it back into the plastic jug. The solution should be either light gray or light reddish brown. I don’t know why it varies, but it doesn’t seem to matter. In either case the liquid should be quite clear rather than cloudy.

Before using the vinegar and iron solution, I always test it with a stick of oak or cherry dipped in the solution. It should turn fairly dark in a few minutes. If not, you can try just waiting another day or make another batch. I haven’t found a cure for this particular failure. Nor do I know why it sometimes doesn’t work well. It might be that I’m not always being thorough in getting the oil out of the steel wool. I highly recommend making this iron solution at least a week or more in advance of actually needing to stain a project. You’ll want to get the feel of the whole process before putting it on a real piece of furniture.

The iron solution keeps for months in the jug. As the steel wool dissolves, gas is produced. And if the container is sealed it can burst. Just because the iron is visibly dissolved doesn’t mean the reaction has stopped. So be sure there is an escape hole in the lid. A 1⁄32" hole is adequate.

The bark tea is easy to prepare and can be made up right before using it. I just put a heaping tablespoon of bark powder in a pint of hot tap water and stir it up well. (It helps to mix up a slurry of the powder with a couple tablespoons of water first to get all the powder mixed, then add the rest of the water slowly while stirring. This makes it easier to avoid clumping.)

The Process
Be sure you sand the furniture well and raise the grain at least twice before the last sanding. I would stop after #320 grit to avoid burnishing the wood. It is possible to burnish with #320, so use a light touch and fresh paper. If you have to sand the wood to remove raised grain after staining, you’ll need to start the staining process over. I have experimented with using the bark tea to raise the grain between the last two sandings. It doesn’t take a lot of bark tea dust up your nose to realize this is probably not a healthy method, even with a dust mask.

Apply a good soaking amount of bark tea to the assembled furniture and allow it to soak in. Be careful not to rub the wood; just lightly stroke the surface with the solution. If there are places where the tea can pool, blot off any excess that collects there. Once the tea has soaked in you can apply the iron solution. I like to do this when the wood is still damp, but not visibly wet. If there is tea still sitting on the wood surface the iron will react to that tea rather than the tea that has soaked into the wood. You want the reaction to happen in the wood, not on top of the wood.

Once this tea has soaked in, apply a liberal amount of the iron solution with light strokes. The wood should start turning black immediately. Keep applying until every part is turning black. Look at the piece from several angles to make sure you didn’t leave any part unstained.

By this time you have put a lot of water on the piece. I recommend letting it dry for a few hours before finishing it off with the tea rinse. Once dry you can use the iron deposits left on the surface as a fine abrasive to polish the wood. Just use a clean rag and buff the piece as well as you can. Be gentle so you don’t burnish the wood too much, just in case you need to re-stain. This not only polishes the wood, but it also removes a lot of the loose iron deposits. Once it is looking pretty even in sheen, it’s time for the rinse. Just apply another coat of the bark tea and “wash” the surface with it just like you were washing anything. Let that dry and buff one more time. This should polish the piece very nicely.

The last step is to wash the piece off with clear water. This is to remove any residue and to help see if the stain is what you are looking for. The water makes it easier to see where you’ve missed a spot. If you do find a light spot, you’ll need to sand that part lightly with #320 grit before starting the staining process at step one. You don’t need to re-stain the whole piece, but I have only been able to fix a missed spot by sanding the whole part and starting over with that part. You don’t need to remove all the stain, just sand enough to scratch the surface everywhere so the solutions can penetrate more easily.

Problems and Solutions
As simple as it sounds I have run into some perplexing problems and inconsistencies with ebonizing. They all have solutions, but with proper attention they can be avoided.

If you apply the two solutions with a rag and wipe with too much pressure, you can compress the fibers. It doesn’t take much pressure to do this. Compressed wood will not absorb well so the staining will only happen on the surface, not in the fibers. As soon as you wipe off the surface after cleaning, most of the black comes off too. If this happens you’ll need to sand again with #180 then #220 grit. Then start the process over.

To prevent this problem you can brush on the liquid each time or apply it with a paper towel using light brushing strokes, keeping finger pressure off the wood.

The second problem is that a build-up of solids can occur on the surface. This is often from the bark tea being too strong, or poorly mixed. You’ll notice a texture change on the surface of the wood when this happens. The only way I have been able to fix this is to sand and start over.

Sometimes it seems impossible to get the solutions into the pores of oak, especially white oak. A little soap in the liquids can help. I have had my best luck fixing this by just sanding after the first iron reaction has dried and starting the process all over. This sanding forces ebonized wood dust, iron and bark tea residue into the pores. That sounds like a problem in itself, but it sure seems to work, and I haven’t had any trouble with this dust crumbling out of the pores later. The subsequent iron and tannic mixes either wash out the dust or bond it in place.

I have noticed that the solution needs to be fairly pure when applied to the wood. If you use the same rag to apply both solutions, the chemical reaction will happen in the applicator rather than in the wood. You’ll be essentially applying ink to the surface rather than creating the reaction you are looking for in the wood. I recommend using a squirt bottle to get the solution onto the rag or brush. That way you never dip into the solution and contaminate it. I have also used jar lids to dispense a small amount of each solution and I only dip my brush into the jar lid, never into the main container.

Every time the vinegar rag goes over the tea-soaked wood it gets contaminated. The same happens when you use the tea rag in the rinse step. A little bit of this is not critical, but you’ll need to keep contamination to a minimum. Change paper towels often, or rinse the brushes periodically to make sure only pure solution is applied to the wood.

You’ll need to keep the two brushes or paper towels separate. Never dip the same brush or towel into both liquids or you’ll spoil the batch. Eventually any batch will get contaminated in the process of ebonizing, that’s why I work out of jar lids or squirt bottles. When using the jar lids, I use up the solution before it gets too contaminated. A squirt bottle is best.

It is possible to stain the parts before assembly. I used to do this, but the hassle of keeping tenons and mortises clean is more work than staining around lots of joined pieces. It’s doable either way, and the design of the piece will dictate which is more practical. This process will take patience, as does any finishing.

In my experience it tends to add about 20 percent to the cost of any project. Figuring that in to your expectation for completion time will help set reasonable goals. This is not a project to knock out in the evening after a long day at the office. Start in the morning and try to avoid interruptions. You can stop at the end of any step and come back to it later with little if any adverse effect, but I do best when I can stay with it all the way through. I also recommend only staining one piece of furniture at a time. It won’t likely take much longer and I find I do a better job with fewer parts to keep up with. Ebonizing can be a lot of fun and it’s a great option to add to your offerings. PW

What You'll Need
One quart of Heinz white vinegar
(in a plastic bottle)
One clean, large-mouth quart jar
One pad of #0000 steel wool
One stainless steel spoon for stirring
One basket-type coffee filter
One sieve
Quebracho bark powder
One pint jar (for mixing)
Two small containers (quart jar lids are big enough) or squirt bottles
Paper towels or two brushes
Latex gloves

Van Dyke’s Taxidermy
800-843-3320 or
2 lbs. bark tan & dye (quebracho extract) #01347179, $6.39
Price correct at time of publication.

Brian is a furniture maker, teacher and tool designer in Asheville, N.C. You can visit his web site at brianboggschairs.com.

Homemade 1 Ton Rated Wood Lumber Kart - Snow Days In The Hines Farm Shop

Snow Days Provide Fun Shop Projects

Homemade, 1 Ton Rated, 6 Shelf, Lumber Kart (4' High X 4' Long X 18" Wide), for less than $30
[2-Harbor Freight 1000 LB Rated Dollys, 2-2"x4"x8', 1-18"x4'x1/2" Strand Board, 1-3/4"x10"x44" Board, & 12-10"x1/2" Electrical Conduit]

10" Conduit (.70" OD) used as dowels placed 1" into 2x4s at 10 degree upward angle, one foot apart

A junior sized hanging tree

BOY! We got the Snow!!!

Half a day with JD and we were good to go have fun in the shop!

Feb 4, 2011

The Organic Opportunity

The Organic Opportunity (26:00) from Christopher B. Bedford on Vimeo.

“THE ORGANIC OPPORTUNITY/Local Organic Food as Economic Development in Woodbury County, Iowa” tells the story of the first county in the US to promote local organic agriculture as economic development. In 2005, Woodbury County, Iowa became the first county in the nation to offer tax rebates to farmers who transition to organic agriculture. In 2006, the county became the first in the nation to mandate the purchase of locally grown organic food by county institutions. And now the county is offering access to farm land and housing to new farmers who relocate there to farm organically. Home to the Floyd Boulevard Local Foods Market in Sioux City – the first farmers market to exclusively sell “healthy, humane, homegrown” food – Sioux City and Woodbury County are experiencing an economic renaissance built around the promotion of small organic family farms. “The Organic Opportunity” looks at these developments in depth, offering anyone interested in economic development and healthy food a model for change in their communities. The film is produced by The Center for Economic Security. Award winning writer-director, Chris Bedford, is the film maker. DVDs are available through Local Harvest

What Will We Eat?

What Will We Eat? COMPLETE from Christopher B. Bedford on Vimeo.

"What Will We Eat?" tells the story of a values-based Local Food Revolution through a look at the Floyd Boulevard Local Foods Market in Sioux City, Iowa and the Sweetwater Local Foods Market in Muskegon, Michigan. "Healthy. Humane. Homegrown." This 26 minute film presents these three values within the frame of food industry over the last 60 years. It is a hopeful vision presented by farmers and consumers. This film is meant to educate small groups of consumers, gardeners, students, small farmers on what it means to be a "food citizen".

COMING HOME: E.F. Schumacher & the Reinvention of the Local Economy

COMING HOME: E.F. Schumacher & the Reinvention of the Local Economy from Christopher B. Bedford on Vimeo.

COMING HOME: E.F. Schumacher and the Reinvention of the Local Economy, is a new 37 minute film that tells the story of a series of revolutionary innovations by the community of Great Barrington, MA to address, at the local level, some of the economic challenges of our nation’s current hard times. In 1973, British economist E.F. Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful – Economics as if People Mattered”, – a book that offered a vision of an economy driven by a desire for harmony, not greed; a local economy based on community and ecological values, not global financial derivatives. In the 1970s, “Small is Beautiful” helped launch a back-to-the-land movement that is the ancestor to the Local Food Revolution of today. For the last three decades, the E.F. Schumacher Society has transformed Schumacher’s ideas into a series of practical innovations – reinventing much of the local economy of Great Barrington, Massachusetts and southern Berkshire County in the process. Chris Bedford’s new 37 minutes film, COMING HOME: E.F. Schumacher and the Reinvention of the Local Economy tells the story of the Society’s remarkable work that includes founding of the nation’s first CSA, economic development based on Community Land Trusts, and the creation of the nation’s most successful local currency – BerkShares. “COMING HOME is a timely and profound documentary about an alternative kind of economy, the opposite of the ‘free-market’ capitalism that has led us into our current morass,” writes Professor Albert Nigrin, Director of the New Jersey International Film Festival. “This film offers anyone thinking about relocalization of their community’s economy an inspirational model and a practical guide to that change,” said Denise O’Brien, candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. “Schumacher’s vision has never been more relevant.”

Feb 2, 2011

Build Your Own Mini Hoop House in Hours (Video) : TreeHugger

build your own hoophouse photoImage credit: TheYardfarmer

With Spring on its way, many gardeners will be dreaming about geodesic dome solar greenhouses, converted swimming pool hoop houses, or maybe a greenhouse built from old soda bottles. But there is an easier way to protect your crops from unexpected cold snaps and get a head start before the summer heat. And all you need is some piping, rebar, string, and some plastic sheeting. That, and a few hours of spare time.

I've seen plenty of examples of home-made mini greenhouses, and have even built a couple myself. But this video from The Yard Farmer is about as simple, efficient and effective as it gets. Rather than building a whole frame for the greenhouse, the idea is simply to drive rebar into the ground at regular intervals, bend plastic piping onto the rebar, and then brace it using string. Then you simply cover your hoop house structure with plastic, which can be rolled up or down as necessary, and you start growing. The best part is that it can all be packed away once it isn't needed anymore and stored out of the wind, sun and rain, ready for the next year.

The trick of stacking milk crates to start more seedlings in limited space is pretty neat too.

Telling the Biochar Story at TED « The Biochar Factor



As many of you may already know, I’ve been offered the distinct honor of speaking on biochar at TEDxBerkeley in February. It’s a dream come true to me–I’ve wanted to speak at TED ever since I was first introduced to its amazing collection of inspiring humans several years ago. TED is one of the things that makes me feel like it might be OK to bring a child into this world someday. I’m serious.

TED is about storytelling. When you hear a presentation at TED, it’s not “the technical potential of X” or “proving the business case of Y”. It’s, “this is the story of how I came to be involved in researching the stickiness of gecko feet, and why that’s relevant to the world today, and you.” The speakers lead you in with authentic and personal stories, and sneakily slip in technical data, specialized information, and inspiring perspectives along the way. TED is great about providing ample information and support to speakers so that they can deliver “The Talk of Their Life” (no pressure…), including a “10 TED Commandments”, which include such guidelines as “do not sell,” “don’t flaunt your ego,” and “show us the real you.”

TED wants to hear about biochar. And I want to tell them. This is an opportunity for the biochar story to be shared with a broader audience than it’s ever reached before. I am incredibly excited to tell the biochar story, in a way that is also authentic to my experience with it. Which brings me to ask: what IS the biochar story? Biochar is incredibly complex–there are so many angles to cover, so many potential applications and potential benefits, so many caveats and considerations to ensure that it is accurately represented (without the “Magic Bullet Flair” that so many tend to give it).

I have 18 minutes. About 10 of those are going to lead into the story of how I was introduced to biochar and realized its incredible value to our world today (this story includes Burning Man, meditation, and a small barely-inhabited island off the coast of Lombok called Gili Meno. Of course.); as well as the ancient history of biochar–how it has been dubbed the Secret of El Dorado; and how it helped to increase the Amazon Basin’s capacity to support larger populations than people thought possible.

Which brings me to my question for all of YOU:

What do you think the biochar story MUST include?

Please leave comments, including statistics, benefits, concerns, inspiring quotes, or stories about what inspires YOU about biochar. The theme for this TEDx conference is “Engaging the World”, and I am particularly keen for insight on how you think we can best engage the TED community (and the 100,000+ watching live online Feb 19th) in biochar–without selling a product or asking for investment. How do you think the civilian world can dig its teeth into biochar? What story should we be telling to the world together, that will inspire both hope and pragmatism, and get people jumping off their chair to join the biochar movement?

If I nail this talk, there’s a good chance it will get placed on TED.com, for an even wider audience. So help me out! I see myself as a representative of a much larger community–I’m just the megaphone. Lend me your voice, and I’ll shout it out to the world!

NECESSARY DISCLAIMER: While I am very grateful for your time in making suggestions and comments, I make no promise that I will be able to use all, or any, of your comments or suggestions. Thank you for understanding this, as I work with the nuances of developing a compelling talk that is fluid and appropriate for the audience.

Jan 30, 2011

Hines Farm Weekend Shop Activities - Building A Hanging Tree

Hanging Tree - Compactly Storing Some Hines Farm Woodworking Tools

Hanging Tree after Wood Finishing

Hanging Tree Before Finishing

Two Additional Handle Template Patterns Made This Weekend