Dec 31, 2011

2011: The Year I Learned to Hate College Football | The Nation

Dave Zirin on December 31, 2011

In a decade of sports writing, I’ve always used a very basic framework: don’t reject sports, reclaim it. In other words, no matter how greedy, hateful, or ugly sports become, you fight for it to change. No matter how many publicly funded stadiums or Redskin logos, or how much sexist doggerel is expectorated by the athletic industrial complex, you remember what you love about sports. You stand your ground and never forget the fun, fellowship and artistry these games have the potential to produce. That’s been my framework, until now. This weekend marks the pinnacle of the college football season. For more than twenty-five years, since a young Ohio State wide receiver named Cris Carter broke every Rose Bowl record, I’ve tuned in.

But not this weekend, and barring a major change, I’m never watching again. It’s not just because the bowl season has turned into an orgy of commercial branding that would shame a NASCAR event. It’s not the crass commercialism of “Chic-fil-A Bowl”, “The Bowl” or “The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.” It’s not the ugly use of football to sell the business of war, with this year’s “Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman” or “The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl” coming to a television screen near you (these are not made up). It’s not the fact that today seventy teams, including fourteen 6-6 teams, get to play in bowls, making it about as special as a Cracker Jack prize. It’s not even everyone’s favorite complaint: the absence of a real playoff system to crown an actual national champion.

This year I was broken by just how disgusting the institution of college football has become. It started with the scandals at Ohio State and the University of Miami. Both showcased just exactly how hypocritical the system is, as athletes are pilloried in the public square for violating NCAA rules that deny them even modest compensation. But those problems seem positively quaint after the happenings at Penn State and the way the economic, social and cultural imperatives of big-time college football were put ahead of the safety and welfare of small children.

But the straw that snapped my back was seeing free agent head coach Urban Meyer get a $24 million, six-year contract at Ohio State University. Fresh off scandal, the Buckeyes were back in business. There were two things about this that made me physically ill. First was the fact that this money for Meyer is guaranteed, unlike a Ohio State player’s four-year scholarship, which can be rescinded at year’s end by Coach Meyer if that player falls out of athletic favor. This is the rule of the land at every school, and it gives lie to the idea that “players might not get paid but they get to go to school for free!” Then there’s that number: $4 million a year. Legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes at the peak of his prominence made slightly more than $40,000 a year. That was just thirty-five years ago.

The money has metastasized dramatically, and as Emerson said, “Money often costs too much.” Athletic departments have now become a moral dead zone. For winning college football programs, the amount of cash flowing in the system is staggering. For mediocre and losing college football programs, the sport is bankrupting athletic departments, but they spend more with the hope that a winning team will cover all losses. Our schools are being sold on margin right under our noses, and I’m done with it. Until the criminal cartel that is the NCAA is finally made a relic of history, until the rancid BCS system is no more, until coaches are no longer the highest paid and most powerful people on campus, until the NFL funds its own damn minor league and stops outsourcing this task to our universities, until all of these things happen, I’m done, and I hope I’m not alone. Unless we boycott sham amateurism and indentured servitude masquerading as sport, we will never reclaim sports.

I am with you Dave... Did watch my Illini win at the Hunger Bowl which seemed to have a better theme than most...  Monte

Buckminster Fuller - Everything I Know - “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Buckminster Fuller and his wife

An amazing man with a genius mind ...!
A comprehensivist, not a specialist...!
A man endorsed by Einstein as understanding his principles...!
I highly recommend viewing the videos  "Everything I Know" to fully understand the principles of the universe / nature / politics / economics ...! 
It is amazing how appropiate and accurate it is today...!
Best educational and most inspiring lecturer I have ever seen and heard in my lifetime (65 years)...!
Monte Hines

Uploaded by GnosticMedia on May 26, 2011
This is a recompiled and edited version of the Bucky videos on Google Video from the website - the videos on that site being too disorganized and poorly edited for my liking. Here all of the blank screens at the end of each tape segment have been removed, and I've recompiled the tape segments back into their original order by session and date.






Buckminster Fuller - Final Message - 2 weeks before his death
Produced and Recorded by Shari Morgan and Roger Kotila of EarthStar Radio. Based an interview by Americ Azevedo with Buckminster Fuller two weeks before his death.

The engineer Buckminster Fuller is often cited for his use of trim tabs as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment. In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Fuller said: Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.So I said, call me Trim Tab.
—Buckminster Fuller

R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) of the Universe.
Written and directed by D.W. Jacobs. From the life, work, and writings of R. Buckminster Fuller. Performed by Thomas Derrah.

Other shorter video clips... 

A one hour conversations with renowned "Comprehensivist" Polymath Buckminter Fuller at his "World Game" offices in Philadelphia. Much time is given to asserting his "synergetic" major premise that in terms of mankinds collective technological augmented advancement through time we had reached a point - in terms of our collective capabliity to provvide "life suport" to the people of "Spaceship Earth" - within a correct assumption there were more "haves" than "have nots" for the first time in human history and that by utilizing "Anticapatory Design Scince" we could beginning serious modeiling the premise we had transcended material scarcity and we had reached that "Critical Point" in the year 1970.

The Fuller World. Design Scientist. (NET Series F-155, no. 1)
Ann Arbor, Michigan: National Educational Television.
December 1963


Some Richard Buckminster Fuller quotes:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.”

“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty........ but
when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

“I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”

“I'm not trying to counsel any of you to do anything really special except dare to think. And to dare to go with the truth. And to dare to really love completely.”

“Dare to be naive.”

“Everything you've learned in school as "obvious" becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There's not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines.”

“I am convinced that creativity is a priori to the integrity of the universe and that life is regenerative and conformity meaningless.”

"I seem to be a verb"

“I'm not a genius. I'm just a tremendous bundle of experience.”

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

“Geniuses are just people who had good mothers.”

“I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuity. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.”

“Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is quite staggering”

“Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.”

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”

“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

“If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do... HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?”

“If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference.”

“I just invent. Then I wait until man comes around to needing what I've invented.”

“I am a passenger on the spaceship Earth.” 

“It is essential that anyone reading this book know at the outset that the author is apolitical. I was convinced in 1927 that humanity's most fundamental survival problems could never be solved by politics.”

“When I was born, humanity was 95 per cent illiterate. Since I've been born, the population has doubled and that total population is now 65 per cent literate. That's a gain of 130-fold of the literacy. When humanity is primarily illiterate, it needs leaders to understand and get the information and deal with it. When we are at the point where the majority of humans them-selves are literate, able to get the information, we're in an entirely new relationship to Universe. We are at the point where the integrity of the individual counts and not what the political leadership or the religious leadership says to do.”

“Either war is obsolete or men are. ”

“Human beings were given a left foot and a right foot to make a mistake first to the left, then to the right, left again and repeat.”

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”
Bucky coined the term "synergy", as represented by the picture above, to demonstrate how the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the individuals. Through the synergy of the inventive mind and generous hearts of humanity we can turn "Spaceship Earth" around. He understood that we have all the technology and resources necessary to foster Earth as an integrated regenerative system.


"The Grunch of giants consists of the corporately interlocked owners of a vast empire of airwaves, satellites, skyscraper clusters, factories, research laboratories. It controls the financial system of credit and the with-all for large mass production and distribution. It monopolizes the vast theoretical know-how with universities."

"Bucky" says that there are enough resources and know-how to give every human a good standard of living, without fossil fuels or nuclear power.

"the great majority of "savvy," well-to do individuals... are convinced that there exists an inherent inadequacy of life-support on planet Earth, and therefore that their own successful survival as well as that of those whom they cherish depends upon their cleverly learning more and more about how to be legally selfish and thereby to accomplish personal economic advantage by anticipatory depriving others in directly undetectable ways. These ways are legally and socially accepted practices of deceiving and cheating the public."

On-line version Grunch of Giants:


David McConville is the President of the Buckminster Fuller Institute and co-founder of The Elumenati, a design and engineering firm that creates custom installations for clients from art festivals to space agencies. In this capacity, he also serves as creative director of the Worldviews Network, a NOAA-funded collaboration of scientists, artists, and educators at science centers across the United States re-imagining
the big picture of humanity's home in the cosmos. ......
Wer are the 100%. Integrity, to Buckminster Fuller, represented the degree to which any design or system actively enhances the regenerative processes that support life on Earth. Thirty years ago,
he wrote the cautionary tale Grunch of Giants to warn of the immediate dangers posed by the lack of integrity within the "invisible, abstract, and completely ruthless" empire of corporations that control the world's finances. Dubbing this corrupt system the Gross Universal Cash Heist (GRUNCH), he argued that, as a non-living entity, it was incapable of
recognizing how its legal mandate to maximize monetary gains by socializing risks and privatizing profits were in direct opposition to the long-term requirements for human survival.
The expanding occupations and protests around the world directed towards the global economic system testify to the prescience of Fuller's critique concerning the lack of integrity within manufactured scarcity. The myriad of issues driving unrest reflects a rising awareness that the challenges facing humanity cannot be effectively addressed in isolation. They are in fact interconnected symptoms of a dominant socio economic environment that is not designed to adequately support 100% of humanity.
Fuller argued that we must begin to transform this dysfunctional system by recognizing that it confuses money with wealth. He maintained that money is "a medium of exchange and a cash accounting system," while wealth is the "organized technological capability to protect, nurture, educate, and accommodate the forward days of humans" that arises from supporting the integrity of living systems. Based on his calculations of world resources, human trends and needs, he demonstrated that it would be possible to support all of humanity at a better standard of living than ever before if the production capacity and technical know-how of global society were properly applied. Instead of fighting to tear down the existing system, he sought to harness its technological and economic forces to shift "from weaponry to livingry" through the problem-solving approach he called comprehensive anticipatory design science.......

In precessional partnership,
David McConville

President, The Buckminster Fuller Institute

Uploaded by NoelMurphyTV on Jan 25, 2012
Buckminster Fuller explains E=mc² in a single telegram



Isamu Noguchi Care Greenwood 66 Calle Republica Coumbia Mexico City







One of our favorite Bucky quotes:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
I think this the best way to change our world... 
Our goal is to help show modern "monoculture" farming is obsolete compared to "polyculture" farming...

Monte & Eileen Hines
Hines Farm Blog

Dec 30, 2011

Elevation Partners Director and Co-Founder Roger McNamee

Elevation Partners Director and Co-Founder Roger McNamee from The Paley Center For Media on

Stunning information if Roger is right...! Monte

Roger McNamee notices a precipitous decline in Google's search business as a result of the iPhone and other mobile devices, which use apps to access the internet instead of the world wide web. "Because search is falling, I believe that we're being liberated," says McNamee.
Roger McNamee is a managing director and co-founder of Elevation Partners. Prior to Elevation, Roger was a co-founder of Silver Lake Partners, the leading private equity fund focused on technology and related growth industries. He was a member of Silver Lake's Investment Committee and was involved in all aspects of that partnership. Prior to Silver Lake, Roger was a co-founder of Integral Capital Partners. Integral is a leading technology investor in late-stage venture and public company investments. Founded in 1991 by Roger, John A. Powell, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Integral pioneered the crossover investment strategy, which seeks maximum capital appreciation by making investments in expansion-stage private companies and growth-stage public companies in the technology and life science industries.

Dec 29, 2011

Back to the Garden, Flower Power Comes Full Circle

Back to the Garden - Video

Director: Kevin Tomlinson | Producer: Kevin Tomlinson & Judy Kaplan Genre: Documentary | Produced In: 2009


In 1988, director Kevin Tomlinson interviewed a group of back-to-the-land hippies at a “healing gathering” in rural Washington state, practicing peace and love. 

Now, in this poignant examination of this community over time, he tracks down those original interviewees and their children twenty years later to find out what the glories and sufferings of living out of the mainstream and off the grid might really look like.

Worth a watch... Monte

Portable Rocket Stove Heater Build

Rocket stove heater build.

One of the best portable rocket stove builds I have seem... Monte

Prophet Mike and the Jerusalem Artichoke - YouTube

Jerusalem Artichoke Prophet Mike Repkin teaches us all about this amazing vegetable! From its health benefits, to its possibilities for fuel and fiber sources, this root-plant is a one hit wonder!

Bugs may be resistant to genetically modified corn - Quad Cities Online

Article - Quad Cities Online
Canary in the coal mine... Time to wake up and stop believing all the propaganda we are feed by Monsanto and others... Just because Monsanto sponsors your nightly news and builds buildings at your state universities does not mean that their ethics are beyond approach and they are looking out for "our" interest... Monte

Dec 28, 2011

BBC News - Less is more: Simple living in small spaces

Video Link

Log-cabins, beach shacks, and yes, even treehouses have long been considered places to go for a quiet escape. But pint-sized dwellings of all shapes and sizes are slowly becoming more of a primary residence.

For many Americans who feel the economic pressures of a recession with no end in sight, tiny homes provide some relief from high rents and big mortgages.

For others, living smaller is simply a personal preference. Many of these fully-functioning miniature homes can be found in Northern California where the mild weather agrees with a lifestyle spent mostly outdoors.

Jay Schafer of Graton, California, is the owner of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. He says the key to living in a tiny home is smart design and attention to detail.

But aesthetics aside, Mr Schafer believes people can discover a sense of freedom in living with less.

Great little short video... Monte

Thomas Malthus and Population Growth

Thomas Malthus's views on population. Malthusian limits.

Very interesting...  See comments on YouTube about this Khan video... Monte

Dec 27, 2011

4 stroke gasoline to air / steam - YouTube

For only a couple dollars, you can modify the crankshaft of any four stroke and turn it into a steam engine. This should produce a tremendous amount of torque, as there is one power stroke per revolution, as opposed to one in every four.

Airgunman is an innovative guy. Appears he is on to making an inexpensive steam engine... Watch his series of videos... I can visualize a generator hooked up to his engine to produce on site power...Monte

Energy Inputs for Tilling a Hectare of Land

Thinking about energy consumption for tilling land

Khan Academy

Appears we might have more interesting data / ammunition on why poly-culture / permaculture is more efficient use of resources...  Monte

Land Productivity Limiting Human Population

Thinking about how we get Calories from the land limits human population densities.  - great video, very educational


Nature requires a balance of species , including humans...

Sustainability becomes a question... Living in harmony with nature becomes a question...

Challenge is to educate grassroots to realize the problems with the present agriculture methods...

With an educated grassroots then local solutions can be generated around the world...

If the educated locals realize population is too great, you would hope that they would self correct.

BASIC PROBLEM is education of masses... Buy-in to permaculture / polyculture mindset to find solutions...

Maybe Khan's education methods / YouTube videos could be applied to permaculture education of young and old...

Permaculture university . org ... Lots and lots of short videos over time.... Might speed education of the masses and permaculture solutions world wide.

What do you think?


Impact Investing: Saving Capitalism from Itself

Complete video at:

Mitchell Kapor, founder of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, calls for investing with an eye toward creating a more sustainable form of capitalism. He explains that despite growing anger from groups like Occupy Wall Street, not enough action is being taken to reform the system that brought the economy to the brink of collapse.
The Social Innovation Summit brings together top executives and thought leaders from around the globe to discuss opportunities for leveraging technology & innovation to affect social change. Attendees will discuss philanthropic trends, analyze innovative approaches for problem solving and build lasting partnerships that enable them and their organizations to discover new means of engaging with social challenges.

Mitch Kapor is an entrepreneur, startup investor, and philanthropist. He founded Lotus Development Corporation in 1982 and designed Lotus 1-2-3, the "killer app" which made the PC ubiquitous in business. In 1997, he established the Mitchell Kapor Foundation (, a private foundation that works to ensure fairness and equity, particularly for low-income communities of color. Mitch is a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; the founding Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, creator of the Firefox web browser; and the founding Chair of Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, the leading online virtual world. He is also a Trustee of the Level Playing Field Institute and Managing Partner at Kapor Capital, which invests in seed stage IT startups. Mitch serves on the advisory Boards of Generation Investment Management (sustainable, long-term investing), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights on the Internet), the Sunlight Foundation (improving access to government information), and the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia and other free content projects).

Dec 26, 2011

Hines Farm - Homemade - DIY - Band Saw Milling Sled

Pipe clamp band saw sled mill.

Pipe clamp band saw sled mill, right end.

Pipe clamp band saw sled mill, left end.

36" log held by sled

3 completed slabs, 36" x 2 1/2" x 8"

Big shootout and thanks to for their post on their making a Bandsaw Milling Sled !!!

With modifications to suit my needs, I made a similar sled.

I utilized  4' x 16" x 3/4" plywood to mount 3/4" x 3/8" x 4' aluminium miter slide on underside.

I added a piece of 3/4" x 5' black pipe, with a deep reach pipe clamp set. I added a 13" x 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" steel angle attached to each clamp end with a set screw shaft collar (1-1/8" ID, 1-3/4" OD). To hold the pipe, I used 4 pipe clamp saddles.

The sled can mill logs up to 54" long and produce slabs, up to 12" wide by various thicknesses.

Related links:

Permaculture Song - Permaculture Ethics - Permaculture Design Principles

Permaculture ethics
  1. Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. 
  2. Care of People: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence. 
  3. Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.[7]

Permaculture 12 design principles:
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. 
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need. 
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing. 
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. 
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources. 
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste. 
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go. 
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. 
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes. 
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. 
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. 
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.[8]

Love the song..., but I am not trading tractors for horses... Permaculture ethics and design principals work for me... and a growing number of people who see the present paradigm of modern agriculture as not sustainable... Nice 'pictorial walk through for beginners' at Permaculture - Beginners Guide... 

Dec 25, 2011

Permaculture in Winter

By Jason Akers

I'll be the first to admit that I hate winter. People can try to convince me all they like about the cycles or death and life. Yeah I understand the cycles I just don't care for winter. So I've spent several of them trying to reconcile my desire to make progress on my homestead while essentially most of the "fun" activities are off limits just due to the harshness of the weather or its ability to completely block my efforts on some accounts.

Almost a year ago I wrote an article for BackHome Magazine and did a subsequent podcast on conducting permaculture activities in winter (you can find the podcast here: It was a good way for me to put in words my efforts to ignore winter and just go about my business making my homestead into what I wanted it to be.

So what can you do in the winter?

*Observing – Observe and Interact is one of the key permaculture principles (there are 12 total). This principle posits that the best thoughts and designs come from just simply observing nature and even your own systems to see how they are working and what can be improved. So why do this in the winter? Well for one, many things become quite obvious.

For one thing, a good deal of the vegetation will be gone, allowing mostly unobstructed views of your property. You can clearly see how contours run and judge spacing more accurately.

For another you see the actual patterns that occur in winter. If you aren't actually out there during the harsh times you might not realize how harsh they can be on your plants or livestock. Its important to get an idea of the big pictures.

Lots of things change in winter - wind patterns, precipitation types, sun angles. You need to know these things.

*Clearing – The absolute best time to cut trees is in the winter. If you are going to leave them lay and you want them to rot quickly you need to do it before this in early fall. But in winter sap is dormant which means less chance of disease in trees and less stress on root systems for coppicing or pruning. Plus there are fewer worries about poison ivy or venomous snakes - both are prevalent in my area!

*Learning – Curl up with a seed catalog or good book (hear which book I recommend wholeheartedly). A garden plan never survives contact with the actual garden. So this is the ultimate time to plan and replan and then plan some more. You probably aren't planting much so this will both quench your thirst for garden activities and it will make the resulting garden a better one.

*Building – All the equity and none of the sweat equity. I love to build in the winter. No insects landing on me and stinging or biting and I can concentrate. When there's too much green I get distracted. There's little else to do so why not utilize the time to build structures so you can avoid the heat in summer?

That's my list. I'm sure there are more things I'm forgetting. What's on your winter activity list?

Check out my other stuff at

Read more:

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.