Dec 13, 2013

Burning To Produce Biochar - Biochar burn school results

Biochar burn school results from kelpiew

November 20, 2013
Kelpie Wilson
Biochar Burn School was fantastically successful! Many thanks to all the participants. I was especially pleased at the diversity of people who attended - young folks and elders, permaculturists and scientists, land owners, nomads and Forest Service professionals. Thanks to everyone who came back for an extra day, just to see what else we could learn about this process.

Special thanks to Peter Hirst of New England Biochar for showing up with tools, educational materials and expertise.

I will be writing up a report with more details, but for now, the best way to understand what we did is to take a look at these pictures

Biochar burn school results

Polyfaces Farm Movie - Trailer

Polyfaces Trailer from Regrarians Ltd. on Vimeo.

'Polyfaces' is a biopic that charts the involvement of the Polyface Farm community of farmers, employees, interns, customers, animals & landscapes in the iconic Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, USA. This short trailer provides the viewer with a sense of the extremely high quality cinematography captured by European filmakers Alex Amengual & Hans Hansen along with up & coming Australian filmakers Isaebella Doherty & Lisa Heenan.

Shot exclusively with Canon 5D DSLR cameras this film captures the emotion, beauty & reality of a whole 'foodshed' determined to change the current food system for the better.

Producer, Director & Writer: Lisa Heenan
Editor/Post Production: Bergen O'Brien
Sound & Cinematography: Alex Amengual, Isaebella Doherty, Hans Hansen & Lisa Heenan
Narrator: Darren J. Doherty
Title: Pearl Doherty
Copyright 2013 Regrarians Ltd. (Australia)

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Polyfaces Trailer

Dec 12, 2013

Preparing Large Logs for the Sawmill - YouTube

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Published on Nov 27, 2013

Many people miss out on the opportunity to mill really good lumber when the logs are too large for the sawmill. With a little bit of planning and some effort your can get logs you would otherwise pass on to the mill and in the drying shed...

The Courthouse Elm

Preparing Large Logs for the Sawmill - YouTube

Cool Planet: A Company That Makes Biochar And Gasoline - Forbes

Peter Kelly-Detwiler, Contributor
I cover the forces and innovations that shape our energy future.

Every so often, one hears about a technology or start-up company that appears too good to be true. Most of the time they are just that, and you never hear about them again. The case of Cool Planet, however, may prove to be one of those memorable exceptions.
Image: Cool Planet

First, let’s start with the investors. Heavy hitters GE, Exelon, NRG, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Google are just some of the companies who have put money behind the venture. Then there’s the management team. These are serious players from the communications, finance, and fuels industries. The chief technology officer – Mike Cheiky – who came up with the company’s technology has over 50 patents, two World Economic Forum Energy awards, and has founded six start-ups.

So much for the bona fides, what does Cool Planet do? Well, they make gasoline from organic materials such as trees, grass, or corn cobs. The company can manufacture gasoline in modular plants, and their long-term goal is to produce it at $1.50 a gallon. Their first $50+million, 10 million gallon-per-year manufacturing facility is now being built in Louisiana.

But what may be even more important is the residual ‘waste’ that results from the creation of gasoline. That waste is essentially the carbonized remainder of the biomass they heat up, from which the vapors were extracted and liquefied into gasoline. This co-product is called biochar, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you may well soon. Biochar is defined by the International Biochar Initiative (yes, there is such a thing; the IBI has 400 paying members from 34 countries) as “a solid material obtained from the carbonization of biomass.”

Biochar – when blended with soil – has the unique ability to vastly improve plant harvests while reducing the amount of water and fertilizer needed. According to the IBI, biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration that is measurable and verifiable. Cool Planet’s biochar is the first product to be certified by the IBI.

I spoke to two executives from Cool Planet to find out more about the whole business, and what the company was up to. Mike Rocke, vice president for business development explained that because of the properties outlined above “We aren’t carbon neutral, we can be carbon negative.”

Here’s how the process works, according to Rocke:

We take any non-food biomass, we grind it up and then we use pressure and heat like mother nature does, and we do it in minutes versus years, to drive all the reactive gases out of the biomass. Then we take it through a catalytic column, and then out of that we get fuel – floating on water – and biochar.

Unlike ethanol – which is mainly produced from corn in this country – CoolPlanet doesn’t have to use food to make fuel. Rocke comments, “We could use all of the dead trees in Colorado with the beetle-killed wood, to avoid forest fires, and we could make fuel and biochar to help recover the land.”

In fact, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced in November a grant of $9.8 million to the Colorado State University to work with Cool Planet in helping to convert some of the 42 million acres of diseased wood in western forests into fuel and biochar.

The process is flexible. It’s not just wood that can be used as a source of fuel “We can use any cellulose – switchgrass, for example or woody products like ligno-cellulose.” And the manufacturing plants are relatively flexible as well, since they can be built in a modular fashion, much smaller than the typical investments in the gasoline industry.

The plants are low capex – these are low cost units. They are eventually planned to go in cargo containers and you can ship them anywhere. Our Louisiana facility, which will be Cool Planet’s 1st commercial site, will cost $56 million and yield 10 million gallons a year in capacity. It will be ready by Q3 of 2014

The long-term goal is to scale manufacturing to get the plants into the $20 million range, and Rocke notes, “We should be able to put out gasoline at cost of $1.50 when we get to scale. We’ve already presold our fuel to the big majors to blend with existing fossil in order to lower their carbon footprint.”

In creating this mix of products, Cool Planet has faced more than one arched eyebrow. Rocke noted that one of the major oil companies initially looked at the fuel, which has been verified by independent research labs to be 99.98% the same as gasoline, and thought it was a traditional ancient hydrocarbon product.

They thought it was fossil because of the gas-chromatograph test and said ‘we’ll come back in two weeks and tell you where it was from’ (oil companies can test random samples and tell you what part of the world they originate from and their age). They came back and apologized because they had done a carbon 14 dating test and said ‘this is new.’ We said, ‘yes, we told you that.’ Then they responded – we can now tell you the fuel came from corn cobs.’

Rocke commented that the ability to create valuable biochar as an additional product was somewhat accidental. “Originally we were going to put this stuff back in the ground as coal. We didn’t know what we had with biochar.”

In the early stages of development, the biochar they created was actually killing the plants they tested it on. Then Cool Planet realized the trick was to actually apply less energy to the production process (called fast pyrolysis).

We use a minimal amount of energy – everybody else (other competitors) heats it up real hot and creates gases and reclaims the gas, but they tend to over-heat it. We use a minimum of energy and out comes this biochar at the end.

A number of approaches were necessary to get to the right outcome, with the input of agronomists, botanists, and microbiologists to optimize the impact on plants.

Rocke noted that there was a good deal of initial trial and error.

There has been a lot of work. The first time we created biochar three years ago we created a herbicide. We are now the first company certified the by Int’l BioChar Initiative. With this whole rhyzosphere, you need a symbiotic relationship between microbes and bacteria to fix nitrogen. You create cable-ready condos for microbes at the root level of plants. Not only do we have condo-ready move in, it comes with running water.

Rick Wilson, the executive responsible for the Cool Planet biochar operations, observed that the entire biochar industry is relatively new.

There have been a lot of false starts in marketing biochar. The product has to work every time, and that was not the state of the technology. We generally saw that people cooked biochar too high and it didn’t work very well.

Wilson noted that Mother Nature’s biochar is a forest fire.

A dead tree turns into a dead zone for a while, and then just takes off and the forest flourishes. All our IP came from looking at interaction with soil. If you overcook, you remove organic compounds that the microbes need. The function of biochar is to nurture symbiotic microbial populations. We discovered we need to not only do cooking right, but fix the chemistry before we put it in the soil. That’s the one-two punch that allows us to get pretty profound results 100% of time, not only in yields but faster growth rates. We tell farmers to reduce fertilizer use and water use by half.

Cool Planet is focusing on higher value crops like strawberries – which are worth 40 times as much per acre as corn. The company is currently engaged in field trials in row and orchard crops in both California and Florida, and they are testing in dairy as well, where European experiments show that small amounts of biochar can improve the health of animals while increasing milk output.

The company put me in touch with David Holden, an expert in agricultural field development research with a very long, 40- year resume, to discuss the results of the field trials to date. Holden is your quintessential cautious and understated researcher. He has to be, since he runs 120-140 agricultural trials every year on different products and applications, and people rely on him for accuracy and reliability.

Holden indicated that he first started trials of biochar in California in late May, on tomatoes and peppers, with strawberries and celery to come next. Applying a rigorous process “to avoid the possibility of cherry-picking the data,” he’s looked at biochar applications with normal fertilizer levels, as well as levels reduced by 20% and 40%. Likewise, he has tested with traditional applications of water, as well as applications reduced by 20% and 40%. He observed plant growth, nutrient uptake, soil depletion, and general levels of plant response. And so far, Holden has been impressed. He noted that with the biochar, a number of trials demonstrated higher than standard yields even with reduced fertilizer and water use. He also spoke like a true scientist. “With this early data, I would say that it was ‘significantly beneficial’ when we used the biochar.” Holden also commented “I would just say from a general perspective that I am impressed with the due diligence they (Cool Planet) are applying in developing the data for their product.”

So, while it’s still relatively early days for Cool Planet, things look pretty good to date. They are building their first modular gasoline plant in Louisiana, and they are still undertaking their field trials in California, and so far the results appear promising. The economic value associated with fuel production may be quite significant. And the value of the biochar could have profound implications as well. Holden insinuated that if the data continue to be positive, the economic opportunity could be immense just in this country alone. “In the US, we are the best in the world at producing food. Farmers don’t waste money, and they know what they are doing. If they see benefit in this, they will spend the money.”

Cool Planet: A Company That Makes Biochar And Gasoline - Forbes

Dec 11, 2013

How to Make an End Grain Cutting Board

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One of my favorite woodworking projects is a butcher block end-grain cutting board. In Part 1 of this two part series, we cover the preparation and construction of the board itself.

In Part 2, I show you two of the most popular ways to finish cutting boards, or any wooden kitchen item for that matter. I go over a few finishes to avoid. And I review the care and maintenance required for an end-grain cutting board.

Dec 9, 2013

Joel Salatin responds to New York Times’ ‘Myth of Sustainable Meat’ | Grist

By Joel Salatin

The following post originally appeared on the Polyface Farms Facebook page.
Cows at Polyface Farm. Photo by Amber Karnes.

The recent editorial by James McWilliams, titled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book, and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response. But since it specifically mentionedPolyface, a rebuttal is appropriate. For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

Let’s go point by point. First, that grass-grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed ones. This is factually false. Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside. Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical. Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we’ll all perish. I assume he’s figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions. But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane. This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds: herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.

As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures. At Polyface, we call it neanderthal management, because most livestock farmers have not yet joined the 20th century with electric fencing, ponds, piped water, and modern scientific aerobic composting (only as old as chemical fertilization). Hence, while his figures comparing the relative production of grain to grass may sound compelling, they are like comparing the learning opportunities under a terrible teacher versus a magnificent teacher. Many farmers, in many different climates, are now using space-age technology, biomimicry, and close management to get exponential increases in forage production. The rainforest, by the way, is not being cut to graze cattle. It’s being cut to grow transgenic corn and soybeans. North America had twice as many herbivores 500 years ago than it does today due to the pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures. And that was without any corn or soybeans at all.

Apparently if you lie often and big enough, some people will believe it: Pastured chicken has a 20 percent greater impact on global warming? Says who? The truth is that those industrial chicken houses are not stand-alone structures. They require square miles of grain to be carted into them, and square miles of land to handle the manure. Of course, many times that land is not enough. To industrial farmers’ relief, more often than not a hurricane comes along just in time to flush the toilet, kill the fish, and send pathogens into the ocean. That’s a nice way to reduce the alleged footprint, but it’s devilish sleight of hand with the data to assume that ecological toxicity compensates for the true land base needed to sustain a factory farm.

While it’s true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism)-free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting. Even if they ate zero pasturage, the land is the same. The only difference is our animals get sunshine, exercise, fresh pasture salad bars, fresh air, and a respectful life. Chickens walking on pasture certainly do not have any more leg sprains than those walking in a confinement facility. To suggest otherwise, as McWilliams does, is sheer nonsense. Walking is walking — and it’s generally considered to be a healthy practice, unless you’re a tyrant.

Interestingly, in a lone concession to compassion, McWilliams decries ranging hogs with rings in their noses to keep them from rooting, lamenting that this is “one of their most basic instincts.” Notice that he does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair with confinement hog factories. Nothing much to use their noses for in there. For the record, Polyface never rings hog noses, and in the few cases where we’ve purchased hogs with rings, we take them out. We want them to fully express their pigness. By moving them frequently using modern electric fencing, polyethylene water piping, high-tech float valves, and scientifically designed feed dispensers, we do not create nor suffer the problems encountered by earlier large-scale outdoor hog operations 100 years ago. McWilliams has apparently never had the privilege of visiting a first-rate, modern, highly managed, pastured hog operation. He thinks we’re all stuck in the early 1900s, and that’s a shame because he’d discover the answers to his concerns are already here. I wonder where his paycheck comes from?

Then McWilliams moves on to the argument that economic realities would kick in if pastured livestock became normal, driving farmers to scale up and end up right where we are today. What a clever ploy: justify the horrible by eliminating the alternatives. At Polyface, we certainly do not discourage scaling up — we actually encourage it. We think more pasture-based farms should scale up. Between the current abysmal state of mismanagement, however, and efficient operations, is an astronomical opportunity to enjoy economic and ecological advantages. McWilliams is basing his data and assumptions on the poorest, the average or below. If you want to demonize something, always pick the lowest performers. But if you compare the best the industry has to offer with the best the pasture-based systems have to offer, the factory farms don’t have a prayer. Using portable infrastructure, tight management, and techno-glitzy tools, farmers running pastured hog operations practically eliminate capitalization costs and vet bills.

Finally, McWilliams moves to the knock-out punch in his discussion of nutrient cycling, charging specifically that Polyface is a charade because it depends on grain from industrial farms to maintain soil fertility. First of all, at Polyface we do not assume that all nutrient movement is anti-environmental. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for animals in nature is to move nutrients uphill, against the natural gravitational flow from high ground to low ground. This is why low lands and valleys are fertile and the uplands are less so. Animals are the only mechanism nature has to defy this natural downward flow. Fortunately, predators make the prey animals want to lounge on high ground (where they can see their enemies), which insures that manure will concentrate on high lookout spots rather than in the valleys. Perhaps this is why no ecosystem exists that is devoid of animals. The fact is that nutrient movement is inherently nature-healing.

But, it doesn’t move very far. And herein lies the difference between grain used at Polyface and that used by the industry: We care where ours comes from. It’s not just a commodity. It has an origin and an ending, start to finish, farmer to eater. The closer we can connect the carbon cycles, the more environmentally normal we will become.

Second, herbivores are the exception to the entire negative nutrient flow argument because by pruning back the forage to restart the rapid biomass accumulation photosynthetic engine, the net carbon flow compensates for anything lost through harvest. Herbivores do not require tillage or annuals, and that is why all historically deep soils have been created by them, not by omnivores. It’s fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer runoff to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened. Unbelievable. In addition, this is one reason Polyface continues to fight for relaxing food safety regulations to allow on-farm slaughtering, precisely so we can indeed keep all these nutrients on the farm and not send them the rendering plants. If the greenies who don’t want historically normal farm activities like slaughter to occur on rural acreage could understand how devastating these government regulations actually are to the environmental economy, perhaps McWilliams wouldn’t have this bullet in his arsenal. And yes, human waste should be put back on the land as well, to help close the loop.

Third, at Polyface, we struggle upstream. Historically, omnivores were salvage operations. Hogs ate spoiled milk, whey, acorns, chestnuts, spoiled fruit, and a host of other farmstead products. Ditto for chickens, who dined on kitchen scraps and garden refuse. That today 50 percent of all the human edible food produced in the world goes into landfills or greenie-endorsed composting operations rather than through omnivores is both ecologically and morally reprehensible. At Polyface, we’ve tried for many, many years to get kitchen scraps back from restaurants to feed our poultry, but the logistics are a nightmare. The fact is that in America we have created a segregated food and farming system. In the perfect world, Polyface would not sell eggs. Instead, every kitchen, both domestic and commercial, would have enough chickens proximate to handle all the scraps. This would eliminate the entire egg industry and current heavy grain feeding paradigm. At Polyface, we only purport to be doing the best we can do as we struggle through a deviant, historically abnormal food and farming system. We didn’t create what is and we may not solve it perfectly. But we’re sure a lot farther toward real solutions than McWilliams can imagine. And if society would move where we want to go, and the government regulators would let us move where we need to go, and the industry would not try to criminalize us as we try to go there, we’ll all be a whole lot better off and the earthworms will dance.

Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farm -- which was featured in Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma and the documentary film Food, Inc. He is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel, and their families. Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.
Joel Salatin responds to New York Times’ ‘Myth of Sustainable Meat’ | Grist

Healing Quest: Grass Fed Movement - YouTube

A revolution is quietly rolling across pastures and kitchens all over the U.S. Its aim is to foster a new attitude about healthy fats in our diet and the value of grass fed, pasture raised livestock.
Healing Quest: Grass Fed Movement - YouTube

Dec 8, 2013

'Dressing' Animals For The Table and Don't Eat Anything With A Face ???

Don't Eat Anything With A Face from Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates on

Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary and farmer and author Joel Salatin, discuss the assumption that because one dresses an animal, they can not love the animal.


Neal Barnard
Neal Barnard, M.D., is Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., who guides numerous clinical trials investigating the effects of diet on body weight, chronic pain, and diabetes. Barnard’s most recent study of dietary interventions in type 2 diabetes was funded by the National Institutes of Health. He has authored dozens of scientific publications, 15 books for lay readers, and has hosted three PBS television programs on nutrition and health, ranging from weight loss to Alzheimer’s prevention. As President and Founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Barnard has been instrumental in efforts to reform federal dietary guidelines. He also leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research.

Gene Baur
Gene Baur, President and Co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, has been hailed as “the conscience of the food movement” by Time magazine. Since the mid-1980s, Gene has traveled extensively, campaigning to raise awareness about the abuses of industrialized factory farming and our system of cheap food production. His book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food (2008), a national bestseller, is a thought-provoking investigation of the ethical questions surrounding beef, poultry, pork, milk, and egg production. It describes what each of us can do to promote compassion and help stop the systematic mistreatment of the billions of farm animals who are exploited for food in the United States every year.

John DonvanJohn
Donvan is a correspondent for ABC News Nightline. He has served as ABC White House Correspondent, along with postings in Moscow, London, Jerusalem and Amman.

Chris Masterjohn
Chris Masterjohn pursued a career in health and nutrition after recovering from health problems he developed as a vegan by including high-quality, nutrient-dense animal foods in his diet. He earned a PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Connecticut in 2012 and currently researches the physiological interactions between fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has published six peer-reviewed publications and has submitted one manuscript for review. He also writes two blogs. The first, The Daily Lipid, is hosted on his web site, Cholesterol-And-Health.Com. The second, Mother Nature Obeyed, is hosted by the Weston A. Price Foundation at The opinions expressed in this debate are his own and do not necessarily represent the positions of the University of Illinois.

Joel Salatin
Joel Salatin has been featured in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and in the films Fresh and Food Inc. He is also the author of six books including Family Friendly Farming, Salad Bar Beef, and his latest, Everything I Want To Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front. He is a full-time farmer of the highly successful Polyface Farms, and winner of the Heinz International Award for Environmental Leadership.
According to a 2009 poll, around 1% of American adults reported being vegan. In 2011 that number rose to 2.5%--more than double, but still dwarfed by the 48% who reported eating meat, fish or poultry at all of their meals. In this country, most of us are blessed with an abundance of food and food choices. So taking into account our health, the environment and ethical concerns, which diet is best? Do vegans have the right idea, or are we meant to be carnivores?

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