Dec 22, 2011

Practical Farmers of Iowa - PFI Farminars / Webinars Archives

2011 Summer Farminar Schedule

Tuesday, July 12, 7-8:30 pm, "Putting a Face on your Farm" with Andrew Clark and Carol Prescott
This Summer Farminar on creating a brand for your farm features experienced marketing consultant and a beginning farmer. Create WOW Marketing president Andrew B. Clark, (self proclaimed "The Brand Chef"), is renowned for his more than 15 years of expertise in the branding and marketing communications arena. Andrew has created a T.R.U.E. branding program to help businesses evaluate their current brand and develop a strategy to create stronger recognition in the marketplace. He says, "Without Truth to a brand, Relevance to your market, Uniqueness amongst your competitors and the ability to Engage your customers, a brand is destined to be boring." Carol Prescott will add her experience as a farmer beginning the process of designing a brand for her farm. (View Farminar)
2011 Spring Farminar Schedule

Tuesday, March 1, 7–8:30 pm, “Managing Farm Labor” with Eric Franzenburg and Morgan Hoenig

Experienced farmer Eric Franzenburg Pheasant Run Farm produces corn, soybeans, swine, meat poultry, flowers and high value herbs, near Van Horne, IA. This diverse farm requires the helping hands of many skilled laborers to succeed. Eric will be coaching beginner Morgan Hoenig, Mogo Organics, who began a CSA in 2009. Now in her third year of horticulture production near Mount Pleasant, IA, Morgan plans to hire her first paid laborers. Learn along with Morgan as Eric shares his experiences managing farm employees. You will gain information on hiring employees, employment forms, and labor regulations. (View Farminar)

Tuesday, March 8, 7-8:30 pm, “Building Wholesale Relationships” with Mike Krogh and Derek Roller

Farmers, do you want to sell to wholesale outlets like groceries and restaurants? Grocers and chefs, are you interested in offering more local fare? Hear from both sides of the transaction to learn how to build strong wholesale relationships that are beneficial to both parties.

Discover how New Pioneer’s Local Produce Program Manager, Mike Krogh, works with farmers to stock stores with local produce. New Pioneer is Iowa City’s natural food cooperative and has a mission to serve the needs of its members and to stimulate local agricultural production of natural and organic foods by providing a market for such foods.

You will also learn from Derek Roller, who operates Echollective Farm near Iowa City. For 10 years Echollective has grown vegetables, herbs, flowers and hay. Derek markets products to New Pioneer Coop, Iowa City restaurants, Iowa City’s downtown farmers’ markets and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. (View Farminar)

Tuesday, March 15, 7–8:30 pm, “CSA Members as Partners” with Elizabeth Henderson

Community supported agriculture (CSA) fosters a relationship between farmers and their customers in which customers have a keen interest in their food system. By taking a partnership role, your member customers can help you increase productivity and profits. Hear from Elizabeth Henderson how to better integrate members into your CSA through core groups, work hours, distribution and farm events.

Elizabeth Henderson farms at Peacework Farm in Wayne County, NY, and has been producing organically grown vegetables for the fresh market for almost 30 years. She is a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) in Massachusetts, has been on the Board of Directors of NOFA-NY since 1989 and represents NOFA in the national discussions of organic standards and on the Steering Committee of the Agricultural Justice Project. She has received numerous awards and honors, and is an accomplished author. Most notably she wrote Sharing the Harvest, a mainstay resource for CSA farmers. (View Farminar)

Tuesday, March 22, 7–8:30 pm, “Profitable Grass-based Livestock Systems” with Cody Holmes and Torray and Erin Wilson.

Thirty-seven year veteran rancher and author Cody Holmes will teach Torray and Erin Wilson how to plan for a profitable grazing system, how to work smarter with animals, how to track sales and costs, and how to maintain profit with grass–based livestock. Cody’s philosophy recognizes that a holistic systems approach can be used successfully in all aspects of ranching and home life by incorporating two critical components: planning and decision-making. Cody and his wife, Dawnnell, along with their daughter, Taylor, manage 450 cow/calf pairs, 300 sheep, 70 hogs, 1,500 poultry, and 12 dairy cows on 1,000 acres in southern Missouri. They also operate a retail meat sales home delivery service.

Torray grew up on the farm where they currently live near Paulina, Iowa. Erin grew up on a dairy farm in northeast Iowa. They practice holistic management while grazing beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, and help with the family niche pork operation that includes pasture farrowing. Their chickens are sold locally through farmers’ market; pork is sold on contract with Niman Ranch; and lamb is split between direct market sales and ethnic markets through a sale barn. (View Farminar)

Tuesday, March 29, 7–8:30 pm, “Brokering Tips” with Nick Wallace and Ryan Marquardt

Demand for local products is on the rise. Selling other farmers’ products has great potential for expanding the profitability of your direct sales while helping other farmers expand their sales. Get some great advice from Nick Wallace on maintaining fairness, transparency and accountability when brokering products for other farmers. Nick and his father Steve raise mixed livestock near Keystone, IA, on more than 80 acres of high-quality forages. Their farm business, Wallace Farms, sells its own products as well as products raised by other farmers direct to consumers in cities around Iowa and in Chicago. Nick will be coaching Ryan Marquardt, who farms with his wife Janice on 40 acres near Reasnor, IA. Their farm Wild Rose Pastures sells specialty “pastured” products including eggs, broiler chickens and turkeys through their farm website, the Iowa Food Cooperative and at Picket Fence Creamery events. They are just beginning to sell products from other farmers. (View Farminar)

Tuesday, April 5, 7–8:30 p.m., “Keeping Good Records on a Vegetable Farm” with Linda Halley

Managing records for a diverse vegetable operation can be tedious, but good records equal better production and profit potential. Linda Halley will outline how she manages her production and financial recordkeeping systems.

Linda has been growing organic produce since 1989, owning or managing farms in Wisconsin, California and Minnesota. She also enjoys being an author and educator on wide ranging farm topics. Currently she manages the Gardens of Eagan Organic Farm for the Wedge Food Co-op of Minneapolis and serves as President of the board of Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service and the Organic Field School President. (View Farminar)
2011 Winter Farminar Schedule

28 December Value-Added Legal Considerations

Sean Sullivan manages Juan O’Sullivan’s Gourmet Salsa Co. and adds value to fresh produce by converting it to salsa for supermarket shelves. Beth Kemp is a beginning farmer who sells at the Ames farmers market as Jumping Bean Farm. Her products include fresh produce, breads, and she is planning on adding more value-added products like jams and jellies. (View Farminar)

11-Jan Growing in High Tunnels

Adam Montri, Outreach Specialist for Michigan State University, and operator of Ten Hens Farm, a year-round farm near Bath, MI, will share how to grow crops well in high tunnels, manage for pests, fertility and rotations. Sara Hanson a beginning farmer is putting the finishing touches on a hoophouse of her own in northern Iowa. (View Farminar)

25-Jan Tomatoes Inside and Out

Clear Brook Farm business partners Andrew Knafel and Matthew Patterson join us from Shaftsbury, VT. They grow more than 20 acres of organic produce, on-farm renewable bio-fuel energy and about a half an acre in greenhouses. Jennie Smith’s Butcher Creek beginning farm specializes in heirloom tomatoes just south of Des Moines for restaurant and farmers market. (View Farminar)

8-Feb Farm Fresh Eggs, Handlers Licenses and Profitability

Tai Johnson-Spratt’s Foxhollow Poultry Farm sells pasture-ranged meat birds and eggs of specialty poultry breeds, including guinea fowl, duck, quail, chicken and turkey, to central Iowa customers. Theresa Gould is co-owner with her husband Robert of Cornucopia Family Farms, which is a new vegetable CSA located in the suburbs of Chicago. She and her family of 10 dream of having a bit of everything on their farm from veggies and eggs to a variety of animals. (View Farminar)

22-Feb Organic Cucurbit Production

Glenn Drowns with his wife Linda manage Sand Hill Preservation Center near Calamus, Iowa. They save farm genetic diversity with heirloom seeds, and poultry breeds. Glenn has been perfecting his techniques growing cucurbits organically for decades and is eager to share his knowledge. Ben Saunders has worked at Turtle Farm CSA near Granger, IA, for several years and is working to transition the farm to the next generation. With a university degree in Horticulture, Ben loves working with nature and educating on the farm. (View Farminar)
2010 Fall Farminar Schedule

19-Oct Vegetable Storage in Existing Facilities

Fruit and vegetable farmers are growing their operations, but don’t always have the financing to build new structures for all their needs. Join Denise O’Brien (Rolling Acres, Atlantic) and Melissa and Andrew Dunham (Grinnell Heritage Farm, Grinnell) to hear how they are storing their crops in existing facilities on the farm. Both farms will discuss how they have retrofitted current facilities to store products as well as future plans for storage to meet the needs of their farm and markets. Discussion will also include the use of the Farm Service Agency’s low interest Farm Storage Facility Loan Program. view farminar

2-Nov Cover Crops and Natural Manures

Building and maintaining soil health is essential to all farmers. Watch the first “Fishbowl” farminar of the season with eastern Iowa farmer Mark Quee (Scattergood Friends School Farm) and cover crop beginner Sally Gran (Wild Greens Farm). Learn how to manage cover crops, rotation recordkeeping, compost and manure applications. (View Farminar)

16-Nov Growing Greens Better

Larry Cleverley (Cleverley Farms) has been a horticulture farmer leader for more than a decade and has had success growing high quality greens. Joining Larry will be beginner Northeast Iowa horticulture farmer Glen Elsbernd (G it’s Fresh).(View Farminar)

30-Nov Setting Marketing Goals

Grass Run Farms is a small business started by PFI members Kristine and Ryan Jepsen. Their business has developed an increasingly specific mode of operation in the way they present themselves, brand the company, approach potential customers, and nurture relationships with existing customers. Says Kristine: In the meat business, the goal is to have a "home" (one or more customers) for all parts of the carcass you're selling; this determines where we focus our marketing energy. Joining the Jepsens will be beginning farmer Caite Grieshop who is beginning a direct market meats business in central Iowa (lambs, pork, and dairy cattle). (View Farminar)

14-Dec Financing Niche Pork

Jason Penner is a PFI member and beginning farmer with six years of experience producing niche pork in Minnesota. Jason will share his experiences, what worked for him and what he would have done differently, with beginners Devan Green and James Frantzen. (View Farminar)

Winter Farminar Series: 2010

26-Jan Whole Farm Soil Planning

Learn how to use the online Web Soil Survey to access valuable soils information for your Farm. Learn the best place to put perennials, annuals, and building structures. Led by a PFI member who grew up on a diverse crop/livestock farm in northwest Iowa. Now a soils lecturer at Marshalltown Community College and staff at Iowa Farmers Union, Amber holds a master's degree from Iowa State University's Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture. (View Farminar)

2-Feb Ramp up Vegetable Production

Martin Stosiek and his wife Christa have farmed near Hillsdale, NY since 1988. Martin will provide a virtual tour of his Markristo Farm while discussing areas he has ramped up production, and how he made decisions to scale up in these areas. Martin will also discuss to which markets he sells his products and why. (View Farminar)

9-Feb Grow Vegetables Year-Round

Adam Montri, Outreach Specialist for Michigan State University, and operator of Ten Hens Farm, a year round farm near Bath, MI, will share how crops are grown all year in Michigan. He will provide detailed crop schedules. (View Farminar)

High Tunnel Crop Schedule PDF's

16-Feb Opportunities in Agroforestry

Tom Wahl will overview the potential for various high value tree crops suitable for Iowa’s climate, including cultural practices, production, prices, markets, pests and diseases. Tree fruits to discuss include chestnut, persimmon, heartnut, paw paw, and more. Tom and his wife Kathy have grown high value tree crops since 1986 and also operate a small tree nursery which provides high quality varieties. (View Farminar)

2-Mar Beginner Fishbowl - Pastured Poultry

Farmer Tim Daley produces and markets poultry on pasture. He will share his extensive knowledge on this topic with beginning farmers Brian and Cheryl Ness. Join in with all your questions will be answered - ensuring you will not fowl-up your beginning operation. (View Farminar)

9-Mar Beginner Fishbowl - Vegetable Production

Farmer Gary Guthrie, Growing Harmony Farm, the "Carrot King" of Iowa, has 12 years of experience producing vegetables on about 2 acres of intensively managed land in a five-year rotation near Nevada, IA. Come with your small-scale "high intensity" questions and learn the system of roto-tiller/hand tool vegetable production. Will discuss cover crops and mulching to manage weeds and add organic matter to soil. Sorry, no free samples of carrots available over the web, but visitors are welcome to sample carrots anytime at the farm. Joining Gary will be beginning vegetable farmer Jennifer Zieser from Marion, IA. (View Farminar)

16-Mar Beginner Fishbowl - Vegetable Marketing

Farmer Susan Jutz, ZJ Farms, has produced vegetables on her farm near Solon, IA for years supplying a large weekly delivered share-based CSA market. Learn from her all the marketing techniques that she finds to be worthwhile. Beginning Farmer Chris Corbin will lead questions and share his input.(View Farminar)

23-Mar Beginner Fishbowl - Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-based livestock expert Doug Gunnink, Gunnink Forage Institute, and beginning farmers Dave Schmidt and Ethan Book talk about grass-fed beef production, setting up a system for the beginning grazier. Topics include what forage mixes, what breeds, pasture management, and tips on grass-finishing. (View Farminar)

Summer 2010

1-Jun Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

Get the lowdown on the new CSP from NRCS specialist Tom O'Conner and Plainfield, IA farmer Scott Weinburg. Includes questions and answers to help get your farm paid to do the right thing for the conservation of your land. (View Farminar)
Niche Pork Webinars: Winter/Spring 2009
Ron Mardeson farm tour 3/10/09
Tom Frantzen farm tour 3/3/09
John Kenyon farm tour 2/27/09
Tim Roseland farm tour 2/17/09
Dan Wilson farm tour 2/10/09
Steve Howe farm tour 2/3/09
Lyle Rossiter farm tour 1/27/09
Martin Kramer farm tour 1/20/09
Next Generation Farminar Series: Fall 2009

3-Nov Whole Farm Planning

Tips on how to manage the whole farm with the Critical Path Method. Led by Dave Baker from the Beginning Farmer Center. (View Farminar)

10-Nov Legal Issues in Succession

Planning the succession of a farm business and starting a farm business have a great deal in common. In both instances legal issues such as the selection of business entity, buy sell agreements, options, leases and other types of contract can and will have either a positive or negative impact on success. A basic knowledge of the legal "tools" can help those involved in either a succession or in starting a new business can help them to avoid costly mistakes. Led by John Baker from the Beginning Farmer Center. (View Farminar)

17-Nov Estate Planning

Led by John Baker from the Beginning Farmer Center. (View Farminar)

24-Nov Which Enterprise? Market ID

One starting point with selecting an enterprise is to look to the marketplace to identify unmet opportunities. This session will start with an overview of a business plan outline, with particular emphasis on the marketing plan section. Concepts to be explored include the difference between product features and product benefits, target trade area, segmenting customers, and calculating market potential. Market research concepts and findings will also be explored. Led by Gary Huber of Practical Farmers of Iowa. (View Farminar)

1-Dec Fitting in the New Enterprises: Grain, Beef, and Watermelons

Wade Dooley, a young farmer from central Iowa, discusses his family farm story and the challenges and opportunities of "adding an enterprise" to an exisiting operation. Features 39 full-color photos of his farm life. Dave Baker from the Beginning Farmer Center also available with pointers and suggestions for ensuring a smooth enterprise addition. (View Farminar)

8-Dec Enterprise Budgets - Pricing for Profit

Pricing products that do not have an established market can be difficult. For example, let's assume you are producing tomatoes and notice the local grocery store is selling California tomatoes for $1.50 per lb. In addition, you have asked potential buyers and they say they are willing to pay 10-20% above grocery store prices. From this information you sell your tomatoes for $1.80 per pound. Were you profitable? The key to long-term success is the ability to sell products at a profit. To do this you need to know your costs. We will discuss what enterprise budgets are and how to use them in pricing, production changes, and product mix decisions and ultimately how to make your business more profitable. Led by Craig Chase from Iowa State University Extension. (View Farminar)

Budgeting exercise w.o. answers Budgeting exercise

15-Dec Product, Placement, Pricing, Promotion, People

Rick and Stacy Hartmann own and operate a small direct-market horticultural farm. Rick will take a version of the much used marketing formula, 'the five p's' - product, placement, promotion, product and people - and apply it to their operation. Come join his discussion on how they successfully market their farm, particularly their largest enterprise, a 100 member CSA. Also, with Gary Huber from Practical Farmers of Iowa. (View Farminar)

22-Dec Financing Your Enterprise

How do you put together a financing plan for your new business? This webinar will describe some scenarios to consider and describe a basic strategy for assembling monetary assets for your new or expanding farm business. Utilizing resources available that might include loans or grants from government or private sources. Beginning Farming tax credits are another program for encouraging landowners to rent or lease land to beginning farmers. (View Farminar)

John Ikerd says the time is now to jump off the industrial treadmill. : Organic Gardening

By John Ikerd
The only thing we can say about the future, with certainty, is that it will be different—from both the present and past.

In 1942, most farmers were "organic" by default. Agrichemicals were not widely available until the late 1940s, born out of World War II military technology. Today, organic farming is a choice—a chosen philosophy of life as much as a method of production. True organic farming is based on nature's principles of production—on farming in harmony with the earth rather than in an attempt to conquer it. Integrated, diverse farming systems, often including crops and livestock, are designed to capture solar energy, recycle waste, and regenerate the natural productivity of the soil.

True organic farmers also believe in treating workers fairly and in cooperating rather than competing. Healthy foods, a healthy environment, caring communities, and a strong society are the natural rewards of pursuing an organic philosophy.

By contrast, chemical farmers of today rely on an industrial philosophy, which attempts to dominate nature and exploits people to achieve economic and productive efficiency. Agrichemicals are but one of many tools used to facilitate industrialization—to make production more predictable and controllable. Chemical pollution and contamination are among the many unintended consequences of an industrial food system. Industrialization also has led to larger farms and fewer farmers, and consequently, to the decline of family farms and the decay of rural communities. An industrial agriculture, quite simply, is not sustainable.

If agriculture, and thus humanity, is to be sustainable, farming systems of the future must be not only technically organic but also philosophically organic. Sometime within the next 60 years, we may well begin running out of the fossil fuels and minerals necessary for today's chemically dependent farming.

Sometime within the next 60 years, destruction of biological life in the soil, loss of genetic diversity, or some rogue genetically modified organism may well trigger a collapse in agricultural productivity.

Sometime within the next 60 years, industrial food production globally may well be controlled by a handful of giant multinational corporations. And there may be twice as many people to feed.

At most, we have a 60-year window of opportunity to transform our food system to a sustainable organic model. The current industrialization of organics is not the answer. Sustainable organics must be ecologically sound and socially just; it must be economically viable. Industrial organics cannot be.

Regardless of what the critics say, we can feed the world with sustainable organics. Many organic farmers today produce just as much food per acre as do their chemically dependent neighbors. Admittedly, sustainable farming requires a more intimate understanding of nature and a greater commitment to caring for land and people. And it may require more farmers—but why not?

In 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted global starvation. Malthusians claimed food production could not possibly keep pace with population growth. Obviously, they were wrong. Those today who claim we cannot feed the world with a sustainable, organic food system are the "new Malthusians"—and still just as wrong.


John Ikerd, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Agricultural & Applied Economics at the University of Missouri in Columbia, is a national expert on sustainable agriculture.

This article originally appeared in Organic Gardening, Sep/Oct2002, Vol. 49 Issue 5, p43

Dec 21, 2011

WATER IS LIFE - The Water Retention Landscape of Tamera - YouTube

permaculture magazine's site:

Sepp Holzer and Bernd Müller explain how a water retention landscape is constructed and the dramatic effects a landscape of this kind can have in a short time, even in an area that is being desertified using the Tamera ecovillage as an example. Sepp Holzer's incredible work offers a local and natural solution to the global problem of water shortages, landscape erosion and polution.
Water Retention Landscapes as an Answer to Desertification and Globalization

The Second International Water Symposium is to take place at Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal from 27 - 29 April 2012. Most of the so-called 'natural disasters' experienced all over the world today are in fact human-made. If we are to survive on this planet, we must learn to cooperate with the forces of nature and water can be our best teacher.

The Peace Research Center Tamera has invited water specialists and policy makers from many countries. Methods and examples, such as the water retention landscape of Tamera, will be discussed as to how desertification can be reversed and the water cycle in all climate zones of the Earth can be repaired.

Among the speakers are: Sepp Holzer, permaculture specialist and rebel farmer from Austria, who supports groups building water retention landscapes in many countries; Rajendra Singh, 'Water Gandhi' who has built hundreds of lakes in Rajasthan; John D. Liu, a film maker who accompanies large scale landscape healing projects in China and the USA; Madjid Abdellaziz, founder of Desert Greening, Algeria; Nora van Cauwenbergh, UNESCO, Belgium; Martin Vilela, Fundación Agua Sustentable, Bolivia; and many others.

For those who want to learn more about Sepp Holzer's Permaculture there is the possibility to come earlier to Tamera and to attend a seminar with from 21 - 26 April.

More information:
More in the books:
Bernd Müller: The Secret of Water (Meiga)
(DOWNLOAD "The secret of water":
Sepp Holzer: Wüste oder Paradies (Stocker-Verlag) - Available in English in 2012 from Permanent Publications.

Sepp Holzer's Permaculture - £14.21 (special offer price 25% off ) + p&p free in the UK.
About the film

Water is life. The Water Retention Landscape of Tamera.
Sepp Holzer and Bernd Müller
A film by Grace Media, 12 min.
Camera and editing: Ludwig Schramm
Script: Leila Dregger
Female Voice Over: Layla El Khadri
Music: Rui Braga, Kevin McLeod
Photos: Tamera and Krameterhof archive, Ecomeda, Steve Lovegrove

Dec 20, 2011

Carefully Unraveling the Intricacies of Biochar

Bulk hardwood biochar prior to application on plots near Ames, Iowa.

When fires burned freely across the North American prairies, they left behind charred material that helped form the region’s dark, fertile soils. In South America, pre-Columbian Indians used slash-and-char practices to clear land for farming, which incorporated large amounts of char into the highly weathered soils of the Amazon. This char became a key building block in the development of the rich “terra preta”—or black earth—that sustained agriculture in the Amazon for more than 1,000 years.

Today, Agricultural Research Service scientists are learning more about “biochar,” the name for the charred biomass created from wood, plant material, and manure that has been used to improve soil fertility and remediate environmental contaminants. The multi-location effort is still under way, but preliminary results suggest that adding biochar to agricultural soils could rebuild soil fertility levels and improve nutrient and water retention. Biochar can even “sequester” carbon from plant materials by storing it underground, where it slowly decomposes and makes only a minimal contribution to the emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. So ARS scientists are working diligently—and carefully—to understand how biochar interacts with soil and crops so that the potential benefits observed in the laboratory can become economically viable realities in the field.

Biochar pellets in Prosser, Washington, made from dairy cow manure and used to capture phosphorus from dairy lagoons.(D2344-1)

First Steps

Much of the ARS field work on biochar started at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (NLAE) in Ames, Iowa. During November 2007, NLAE scientists began the first of six multi-year field studies at ARS locations around the country to assess how biochar affects crop productivity and soil quality. NLAE scientists amended 24 plots (almost 8 acres) of corn with biochar made from hardwood biomass. Twelve plots had almost 8,800 pounds of biochar per acre, and 12 had almost 16,000 pounds per acre. But no significant difference was observed in the 3-year average grain yield from either treatment.
Other small-scale ARS field and laboratory studies in Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Texas showed that hardwood biochar could improve soil structure and increase the ability of sandy soils to retain water. But soil fertility response was more variable.

These results underscore what ARS scientists already knew: Biochar characteristics vary widely, depending on the feedstock used to make it, the time spent in the pyrolyzer—a device that uses heat to break down the biomass in the absence of oxygen—the temperature used during pyrolysis, the feedstock’s moisture content, and other factors. Because of structural differences, some biochars break down more quickly in soil than others. Biochars can also differ in particle size, porosity, surface area, pH, and biologically active and available compounds. So even though there’s already a lot of public enthusiasm about using biochar in agricultural production, ARS scientists are much more cautious about the possibilities.

ARS soil scientist Doug Karlen, who is the research leader of the ARS Soil, Water, and Air Resources Research Unit at NLAE, has been involved with the biochar studies from the outset. “Now we’re studying how crops respond to soils that have been amended with biochar made from corn stover,” he says. “We didn’t see a significant response when we amended an acre with 8 tons of biochar made from hardwood, so now we’re amending fields with as much as 50 tons of corn stover biochar per acre.”

Lettuce growing in Minnesota field plots amended with 20,000 pounds of macadamia nut shell biochar per acre. The study evaluated how the biochar affects crop yield, soil fertility, and greenhouse gas production from the field.

Finding What Works Where

“We need to make sure that the biochar will actually improve the condition of the soil where it is being used,” says soil scientist Jeff Novak, who coordinates the ARS multi-location effort to learn more about biochar dynamics under different real-world field conditions. “We want to ensure that the correct biochar is applied to the right soil so that we avoid decreasing soil quality.”

Novak, who works at the ARS Coastal Plains Soil, Water, and Plant Research Center in Florence, South Carolina, is working with other scientists to manufacture “designer biochars” with properties tailored to remediate specific soil characteristics. He led a laboratory study to learn more about the characteristics of different biochars and to see which biochars could improve the sandy soils found on the Carolina coastal plain and the silt loam soils of the Pacific Northwest, which are derived from volcanic ash and windblown sediment known as “loess.”

Several other Florence researchers, including soil scientist Warren Busscher, environmental engineer Kyoung Ro, agricultural engineer Keri Cantrell, and microbiologist Tom Ducey, participated in the study. Other ARS partners included chemist Isabel Lima, who works in the ARS Commodity Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans, Louisiana; soil scientist Jim Ippolito, with the Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, Idaho; and ecologist Harry Schomberg at the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, Georgia.

The team made biochars from peanut hulls, pecan shells, poultry litter, switchgrass, and hardwood waste products. By pyrolyzing these materials at different temperatures, the researchers produced nine different types of designer biochars. Then the biochars were mixed into one type of sandy soil and two silt loam soils at the rate of about 20 tons per acre. The test soils were leached with water every month.

ARS soil scientist Jim Ippolito conducts analysis of essential plant elements from soils amended with biochar in Kimberly, Idaho.

After 4 months, the team found that biochars produced from switchgrass and hardwoods increased soil moisture storage in all three soils, but biochar made from the other biomass sources did not. They saw the greatest moisture increase in soils amended with switchgrass biochar produced via high-temperature pyrolysis—almost 3 to 6 percent higher than a control soil sample. Biochars produced at higher temperatures also decreased soil acidity, and biochar made from poultry litter greatly increased soil levels of available phosphorus and sodium.

Results also indicated that switchgrass biochar amendments could extend the window of soil water availability by 1.0 to 3.6 days for a soybean crop in Florence and could increase soil water availability for crops grown in Pacific Northwest silt loam soils by 0.4 to 2.5 days.

These results support hopes that agricultural producers might someday select feedstocks and pyrolysis processes to make designer biochars with characteristics that target deficiencies in specific soil types.

Karamat Sistani, research leader at the Animal Waste Management Research Unit in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is part of the ARS biochar team. “In 2010 we started a field study on combining biochar with poultry manure to see how microorganisms and nutrients in the manure affect biochar efficiency in improving soil quality and corn yield,” Sistani says. “We also want to see if it has any efficacy in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions of nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide.”

The Bowling Green researchers will also be determining whether biochar amendments can help improve the nutrient-holding capacity of Kentucky limestone karst soils, which develop large cracks that allow water and fertilizers to move quickly through the subsoil. In addition, Bowling Green hydrologist Carl Bolster and research associate Sergio Abit are conducting a lab study to see whether biochar affects the movement of pathogens like Escherichia coli in the soil.

In New Orleans, technician Renee Bigner places poultry litter pellets into a furnace to make biochar via slow pyrolysis.

The Results Aren’t All In Yet

In Kimberly, Idaho, Jim Ippolito and soil scientist Rick Lentz are studying how three different soil amendments—biochar, manure, or a biochar-manure combination—affect soil quality and crop response in the region’s calcareous soils. During the first study year, biochar-amended soils showed no real improvement in nutrient levels, aside from an increase in manganese, which is an essential plant nutrient, and a slight increase in total organic carbon. Soils amended with manure also had increased levels of manganese and of other plant nutrients.

“Both manure and biochar applied alone increased soil manganese, but their combined effect was synergistic,” Lentz says. “In plots where soil was amended with a biochar-manure mix, the total increase in manganese was greater than what we would have obtained from just adding the manganese increase from biochar to the manganese increase from manure.”

However, during 2010, fields amended with biochar had a 31-percent crop yield decrease, along with a 33-percent decrease in nitrogen uptake. Sulfur uptake in fields amended by biochar also decreased 7 percent.

“We think that the biochar is somehow inhibiting nitrogen and sulfur uptake, maybe by stabilizing the soil organic matter. This would reduce the mineralization rate of soil organic matter and decrease the availability of nitrogen and sulfur to the crop,” Lentz says. “After biochar is added to soil, its chemical and physical characteristics will change with time, so its effect on soils and crops may change accordingly.”

The third year of the study will help determine whether the 2010 results bear further investigation or were just a fluke. But the findings already demonstrate that biochar amendments might not always work the way farmers want them to work.

At Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, chemical engineer Akwasi Boateng (right) and mechanical engineer Neil Goldberg (center) adjust pyrolysis conditions while chemist Charles Mullen loads the reactor with bioenergy feedstock.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Ethylene

In Minnesota, ARS scientists are studying biochar activity in soils formed from glacial deposits. Soil scientists Kurt Spokas and John Baker, who both work in the ARS Soil and Water Management Research Unit in St. Paul, found that amending glacial soils with biochar made from macadamia nut shells reduced a range of greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists conducted laboratory incubation studies by amending the glacial soils with biochar at levels from 2 to 60 percent. They found that emission levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide were suppressed by all amendment levels, but the nitrous oxide suppression was notable only in soils amended with 20, 40, or 60 percent biochar. The amended soils also had lower microbial production of carbon dioxide and lower volatilization rates for the pesticides atrazine and acetochlor.

“Now we’re looking at how volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in biochar affect soil microbe activity,” says Spokas. “Since biochar is a product of thermal-chemical conversion, it has the same VOCs that we find in smoke and soot, like benzene and toluene. We’ve already identified 200 different VOCs in some biochars, which is significant, because we want to use clean biochar for agricultural production.”

Spokas and Baker also conducted the first study that documented the formation of ethylene—a key plant hormone that helps regulate growth—from biochar and soils amended with it. They found that ethylene production in biochar-amended non-sterile soil was double the level observed in biochar-amended sterile soil. This strongly suggests that soil microbes are active in this biochar-induced ethylene production and that the ethylene might be involved in plants’ reaction to biochar additions, since even low ethylene concentrations produce various plant responses.

A column filled with poultry litter-based activated chars is put to the test by chemist Isabel Lima (right) and Bonnie Dillon by letting a solution of copper ion pass through. The solution turns clear as the copper ions are absorbed by the activated chars.
Cleaning Up With Biochar

ARS scientists have also spent years investigating the use of biochar for environmental remediation. Retired ARS chemist Wayne Marshall, who worked at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, started pursuing this line of research in the 1990s. He and Lima found that charred poultry litter is especially adept at removing hard-to-capture heavy metals like copper, cadmium, and zinc from wastewater. They produced pellets, granules, and powders made from the char for use in water tanks, columns, and other filtering structures.

The New Orleans scientists also developed a method for making carbons that have increased surface area for adsorption or chemical reactions. They did this by pelletizing ground poultry litter and then heating the pellets at high temperatures via slow pyrolysis to produce steam-activated char. ARS was issued two patents on the process, which Lima says could be used to replace traditional activated carbon adsorbents in air or liquid-waste cleanup applications.

Since 2006, chemical engineer Akwasi Boateng, who works at the ARS Sustainable Biofuels and Co-Products Research Unit in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, has helped lead ARS studies of biochar production via fast pyrolysis. Other Wyndmoor scientists contributing to these projects include research leader Kevin Hicks, chemist Charles Mullen, and mechanical engineer Neil Goldberg.

“We use fast pyrolysis when we produce bio-oil from biofeedstock to maximize fuel production, but this process produces a biochar byproduct that has a lower surface area,” says Boateng. “We’d like to improve the biofuel production process so that it also yields biochar that has a high surface area. This would make it more structurally suited to use as an activated charcoal and as a soil amendment. Identifying this kind of process could help make the biochar use in soils economical.”

As part of this effort, Boateng and Lima worked with other scientists in Wyndmoor and New Orleans to see whether steam activation would increase the ability of fast-pyrolysis biochars to adsorb toxic metals. They found that biochars made from broiler litter and alfalfa stems had the highest pollutant-uptake levels.

ARS microbiologist Hal Collins, who works at the Vegetable and Forage Crop Research Unit in Prosser, Washington, is exploring similar territory by evaluating the production of bio-oil and biochar from waste materials like wheat straw, logging debris, and manure. “There are a lot of concentrated animal-production facilities in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s not a lot of room available to store manure,” says Collins. “Nutrient runoff from these sites can potentially pollute nearby water sources, so using the manure to produce bio-oil and biochar could be one mechanism for controlling nutrients at dairy facilities.”

In one test, Collins made biochar from plant fibers remaining after processing dairy manure through an anaerobic digester used to capture methane from manure. He used that biochar to adsorb phosphorus present in the digester effluent. He found that the biochar removed 32 percent of the phosphorus from the effluent, and when the biochar was used as fertilizer, 13 percent of the adsorbed phosphorus was immediately available for plant uptake.

Given these results, Collins believes that bio-chars could help mitigate nutrient runoff but agrees that much more work is needed on the potential benefits and drawbacks. “Using this biochar to fertilize fields is not like using phosphorus fertilizer,” he says. “We can add 200 pounds of fertilizer per acre to support plant growth, but we’d need to add 2 to 3 tons of the biochar to add the same amount of phosphorus to the soil.”
Looking to the Literature

Spokas, Novak, and others conducted a meta-analysis of approximately 100 biochar studies and concluded that because of variability in char quality and application, results were about 25 percent negative, around 50 percent neutral, and around 25 percent positive. They published their findings in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

“A lot of research has already been done on biochar,” says Spokas, who is the first author on the paper. “We’re building on that work to figure out how to make biochar work best in our current production systems.”

Novak, who is working with Ippolito and Spokas on additional experiments in the laboratory and field, agrees. “We just need to make sure it’s the right biochar for the right soil type,” he says.

“We’re still trying to get our hands around this,” Karlen concurs. “We’re very curious. But we don’t have all the answers yet.”—By Ann Perry, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

This research is part of Climate Change, Soils, and Emissions (#212) and Water Availability and Watershed Management (#211), two ARS national programs described at

To reach scientists mentioned in this story, contact Ann Perry, USDA-ARS Information Staff, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-5129; (301) 504-1628.

"Carefully Unraveling the Intricacies of Biochar" was published in theNovember/December 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Rocket Mass Heater Project

by The BReNTSTeR

These are some shots from a small project I took on the combat boredom and possibly get some free heat from scrap wood. So far I am very happy with the results. I don't really care about safety or fires etc. I just wanted to have some fun. You should probably not try this at home. Thanks to Rob at IWillTry.Org for the inspiration!

Started with an old water heater. I cut the bottom off of the tank.
Me welding on the beast.

The core of the unit. Basically a J shaped tube. All 4 inch.

As it sits in my crib...

During a test burn outside...

I just cut off the heating elements with my grinder so that the holes remained plugged.

This shows the burn tube being fitted into the tank.

I just plugged the holes with 3/4" freeze plugs.

The "ass" of the stove.

Fully assembled, waiting for the tank to be re-sealed.

More test burning.

Build a rocket stove for home heating :

2010-03-13 by Rob - Categories: Home heating

For some time I’ve been considering the best way to deal with a pile of scrap wood that has been growing next to my home, the result of many woodworking and carpentry projects I’ve been involved in over the years. A few options I have considered are:
taking it to the landfill
cutting it into chips and using it as mulch
burning it

From a climate change standpoint, the latter of these is surprisingly the least harmful in the long run. Mulching or burying do postpone carbon release to the atmosphere, but the carbon will be released eventually regardless. What’s worse, mulching or burying the wood will result in some anaerobic decomposition (that is decomposition in an oxygen deprived environment) which will result in the production of methane, a far more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Burning also has a side benefit. It releases energy which may be captured and put to some use. Scrap wood and yard trimmings are burned in backyards across the country each year without any attempt to capture that useful energy. Rather than simply “disappearing” my pile of scrap wood, I wanted to extract as much value as possible by heating my home with it. To do so most efficiently, I built an ultra-efficient wood burning stove, more commonly referred to as a “rocket stove’. Rocket stove designs are most often used for small cook stoves but larger stoves for home heating are not unheard of. They are often referred to as rocket mass heaters.

Fire is dangerous. Building and operating your own wood stove of any design will almost certainly void any fire insurance you may have on your home and may also pose a serious risk to you and your family. As far as wood stoves go, a rocket stove is probably one of the safest designs since the combustion chamber is tiny, the exhaust volume is low, the draft is strong, and the bulk of the exterior of the stove does not reach very high temperatures. However, as with any combustion appliance, there are some precautions you should follow.

0. Locate the stove well away from anything flammable. At least 18″ is recommended by most building codes for ordinary fireplaces and wood stoves.

1. Keep a watchful eye on your stove whenever it’s burning. With an average load of wood my stove burns for about 30 minutes before requiring more fuel. I consider this short burn time to be not a burden but a safety feature, and I don’t mind it at all since there’s a certain pleasure that comes from putting another log on the fire.

2. Don’t burn treated or manufactured woods. Treated wood, plywood, OSB, etc all contain chemicals that will be released into the exhaust during combustion. You certainly don’t want to breath these and you probably don’t want to put them into the atmosphere. You should only burn untreated solid wood.

3. Install a smoke detector. Smoke detectors are required by most building codes, so you probably already have one. However, if you build a rocket stove for heating a garage or outbuilding, you should probably install a smoke detector there as well.

4. Install a carbon monoxide detector. All combustion appliances are capable of producing carbon monoxide which can be deadly if it is released into your home. Other combustion appliances in your home such as a furnace or hot water tank are probably a greater carbon monoxide threat that the rocket stove described in this article since they operate continuously, unattended, even while you sleep. That said installing a carbon monoxide detector is a wise precaution.
How is a rocket stove different from a regular wood stove?

The goal of a rocket stove is to burn a relatively small amount of wood at as high a temperature as possible, resulting in more complete combustion, and to extract as much heat as possible from the exhaust gases. To generate high combustion temperatures, rocket stoves separate the combustion, heat extraction and exhaust functions. They have insulated internal chimneys to generate a strong draft for vigorous combustion. My design uses a down draft combustion chamber. Scrap wood is loaded directly on top of the existing burning wood inside the combustion chamber. The flame is drawn downward by the strong draft rather than rising out of the chamber as one might expect. The result is that ALL combustion products pass through the hottest part of the fire resulting in very complete combustion, producing the greatest amount of heat and reducing products of incomplete combustion such as carbon monoxide and smoke. To capture as much of the heat as possible and radiate it into the room, the exhaust gases are passed through a secondary chamber (much larger than the combustion chamber) that absorbs and radiates the heat. Finally the relatively cool exhaust gases are expelled through an exhaust tube.

The following illustration shows the basic design.

Insulating the chimney ensures a large temperature difference between the exhaust gases inside the chimney and those outside it. This temperature difference causes a density imbalance resulting in a strong draft. The hot exhaust gases in the chimney rise, while the cooler exhaust gases outside the chimney fall, and the whole process draws fresh air into the combustion chamber, supporting vigorous combustion. In my design, the radiating chamber is about 18″ in diameter by about 36″ high, while the combustion chamber is only about 4″ by 4″ by 10″. Don’t let the overall size of the stove fool you. It only burns a couple handfuls of wood at a time. The large size is required to absorb and radiate the heat, not to contain the fuel.

Rocket stove mass heaters are often built from steel drums. These are convenient since they have a flat top that can also be used for cooking. I did not have one handy though. What I did have was my parents’ old electric hot water tank that they had just replaced since it was corroded and leaking. In addition to this I used some 3″ diameter steel pipe, some 4″x4″ square tubing, and some flat steel plate, all about 1/8″ wall thickness (though that is probably thicker than necessary). I also used some flexible aluminum tubing (dryer ducting) to feed the exhaust from the rocket stove into my existing fireplace.

Above is a picture of the internal parts of the stove (combustion chamber and chimney) set up for initial testing to make sure it would generate enough draft for vigorous combustion. The aluminum flex tubing is connected to the top of the chimney for testing only. In the finished product it will be connected to the side of the stove. The chimney is insulated with about 1″ of Roxul (a rock wool insulation that will tolerate higher temperatures than fiberglass insulation) and wrapped with adhesive aluminum furnace tape to hold the insulation in place.

The above image shows the hot water tank cut to accept the combustion chamber and chimney.

The above image shows the combustion chamber and chimney being welded into the side of the hot water tank. Note the block of wood between the end of the chimney and the inside surface of the tank to ensure an appropriate gap for the exhaust gases. This piece of wood will be removed after the chimney is welded in place.

Mad scientist at work…

… and after a bunch more welding and a paint job that I neglected to take any pictures of … viola! … the finished product. The silver band around the bottom isn’t a racing stripe. It covers the seam where I tack welded the bottom of the tank back on. I did not want to weld it on permanently since I may want to disassemble the stove later for inspection.

Notice that I removed a glass pane from the left door of my fire place and replaced it with cardboard. The aluminum flex tube passes snugly through a hole cut in the cardboard to expel the exhaust gases into the fireplace where, still warm, they rise and exit through the existing chimney. I know you’re probably thinking I must be crazy to use a combustible material like cardboard for this purpose, but the fact is that the exhaust volume from this stove is so low and the stove is so efficient at removing heat from the exhaust that this aluminum tube reaches a maximum temperature of only about 60 degrees C during operation. That’s cooler than a typical cup of coffee. The top of the stove gets much hotter, of course.

I also made a simple metal screen that can be placed over the combustion chamber to prevent sparks from popping out into the room where they could ignite something (or more likely just leave burn marks as they smolder on the carpet). I have another cover, not shown, that is a solid steel plate. It’s useful to quickly extinguish the fire and to prevent air infiltration when the stove is not in use.

Above is a photo of the cleanout. The plate which makes up the bottom of the combustion chamber is removable. I just slide it out as shown in the photo and the ash drops into any suitable receptacle (I’m using a plastic tray above). I’ve found it best to clean the ash out every week or so as once there is more than about a cup full it will fill the bottom of the combustion chamber and start to build up in the tube between the combustion chamber and the internal chimney. Then it’s a little harder to get to and it will eventually start to reduce the draft. In hindsight, access through the side of the combustion chamber instead of the bottom would have been more useful.
Does it work?

Well… actually … it works too well. The difference between burning wood in the fireplace and burning wood in this stove is incredible. You really have to experience it to believe you can get so much heat from a small handful of wood. I’ve fed my fireplace for hours with hardly any change in room temperature but it only takes a few minutes for the rocket stove to raise the room temperature noticeably. It may take a long time to get through all my scrap wood at this rate. Feeding the stove every evening after work, I have only managed to go through about one bin (perhaps 20kg) of wood per week. Part of the issue is the season. It just doesn’t take much heat to get the house to a comfortable temperature right now in early spring. I will be able to burn a lot more wood in the stove next winter.


On average the heat energy available from burning wood is around 4.5 kWh per kg (assuming a 20% moisture content). Assuming roughly 80% efficiency of the stove (just a rough guess) the heat extracted will be about 3.5 kWh per kg. I heat my home with electricity that costs about $0.07 per kWh. Therefore, the heating value of my scrap wood is about $0.25 per kg and by burning about 20kg per week I save about $5 per week on heating costs or about 50% of my heating bill for this time of year. Savings will be much greater in winter when the stove can be operated more frequently without the room becoming uncomfortably hot.
Why not just buy a fireplace insert?

I considered buying a fireplace insert but after learning about rocket stoves I quickly dismissed the idea because:
an insert would almost certainly be less efficient
it would require significantly more cost and effort to install
it wouldn’t provide nearly the same conversation value
I would not be able to re-purpose existing waste material such as my parents hot water heater
it would not be portable (I look forward to operating my rocket stove on our patio on cool summer evenings).
What about adding thermal mass? Would that be more efficient?

Wood stoves used as a primary heat source for a home will derive significant benefits from thermal mass (imagine replacing my short length of aluminum flex tube with 30 or 40 feet of duct buried inside a couple tons of concrete and you’ll have the right idea). The thermal mass stores heat and releases it slowly into the home, evening out the temperature and allowing the stove to be operated intermittently.

However, for a stove like mine that’s used only for supplemental heating, thermal mass is not of much benefit since an even temperature can be maintained simply by varying the heat input from the primary system (which happens automatically since it is controlled by a thermostat). For example, when I operate my rocket stove in the winter, my electric heaters automatically cut back such that the house temperature does not rise significantly.

It is also worth noting that thermal mass, by itself, does not improve efficiency. Improved efficiency is often a side effect of adding thermal mass, but the improvement is really just a result of extracting more heat from the exhaust gases. This could be accomplished just as easily without adding any thermal mass. For example, I could extract more heat from my exhaust simply by using a longer piece of aluminum duct between the stove and fireplace (I have noted that the exhaust temperature drops about half way to ambient for every 20cm of tube length).

So in a nut shell, thermal mass is not really that useful for a stove that’s intended for use only as supplemental heat, if the primary heating system is on a thermostat.
Further reading

There is a lot of good information on rocket stoves online. A Google search on “rocket stove” or “rocket mass heater” will yield good results but is probably the best place to start. There is also an excellent book called Rocket Mass Heaters available for purchase in PDF format at There are also several videos online of rocket stoves in action. Search for them at
Reader Projects

If anyone out there decides to build a rocket stove based on this or a similar design, I would be happy to post some pictures of your project, or if you have your own site, let me know and I will post a link below.

2010-12-13: One reader, Brent, built his own rocket stove following a similar design (though he was clever enough to put the cleanout in the side of the combustion chamber rather than the bottom). You can read more about his stove in the comments, or take a look at some pictures and a video on Brent’s blog:

Happy burning!


Rob... Great innovative work...! Monte

Dec 19, 2011

"Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." - Permaculture Tinkerers Presentation

"Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
-- Frank Zappa

Great presentation by paul wheaton ...!   Monte

podcast 020 thirty tinkerers in thirty minutes

length: 46m 15s

download the podcast

In this session Paul gives a “30 minute” talk about permaculture tinkerers to a group in Tacoma, WA he goes about 45 minutes but does a wonderful job of giving a whirlwind tour of the world of permaculture innovators and their projects. The cool bit is that he created a thread on the forum and used it as a visual aid for the presentation. For best effect load up the thread and scroll along so you can see what in the heck he’s talking about. That way its just like being there; unless you want to throw something at Paul.

Main Presentation thread

Topics include: Deviation from the norm; rocket mass heaters; WOFATI housing; Living with electric heat; Jean Pain style compost heated showers; Rain barrels vs. hugelkultur; raising chickens; cooking with Cast Iron; diatomaceous earth; Brian Kerkvliet’s solar food dehydrator and home scale grain threshing; Lawn Care the cheap and easy way; Cheap bicycle luggage; and more!

Dec 18, 2011

Broken Limbs - Documentary Film

Broken Limbs :
Director: Jamie Howell, Guy Evans | Producer: Jamie Howell, Guy Evans
Genre: Documentary | Produced In: 2003 |

Synopsis: Wenatchee, Washington, "Apple Capital of the World." This pastoral Valley in the heart of the Pacific Northwest prospered for nearly a century as home to the famed Washington apple. But the good times have vanished. Apple orchardists by the thousands are going out of business and thousands more await the dreaded letter from the bank announcing the end of their livelihoods and a uniquely American way of life. After his own father receives just such a letter, filmmaker Guy Evans sets out on a journey of discovery to try to find out what went wrong here in this natural garden of Eden. Along the way he witnesses small farmers forced off their land as they struggle to compete against the Goliaths that populate today’s global economy. The future looks grim for the Apple Capital until Evans happens upon an entirely new breed of farmer, practitioners of a new model for farming called sustainable agriculture. They have come to be known as the New American Farmers and they are finding success by going against the grain of conventional agriculture. The ideas that Evans uncovers define a path of renewal that could save not only his father, but farmers across America. BROKEN LIMBS explores these hopeful stirrings within agriculture, and outlines ways in which any individual can play a role in saving America’s farmers. Told from a hometown perspective, the film presents the stories of farmers attempting to create this new model for agriculture and emerging, more sustainable solutions to the crises of recent years – solutions applicable not just to apples and not just to farming, but to nearly any sector of the American economy troubled by the effects of consolidation and globalization.