What’s New

Mendocino County Biochar Workshop &
Conservation Burn Training

Our most recent workshops were held on April 11th in Ukiah and Potter Valley, and we want to thank the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. and the Woody Biomass Working Group, for their support.  We also want to thank Mary Anne Landis (and the City of Ukiah) and Judith Harwood for helping us with logistical support, and Mac Magruder and Kyle Farmer of Magruder Ranch for their kind hosting of the afternoon conservation burn event.

The workshops brought together a diverse group of interested people that included Frank Shields of the Biochar Lab, Robert Scaglione of the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District, Mary Anne Landis, Ukiah City Councilperson, Joseph Brinkley of Fetzer Vineyards, and Jess Arnsteen of Parducci Cellars, among many others. There is definitely some buzz about biochar in the grape-growing community, and we now have the ear of the local air management districts as well.

Below are some photos from the conservation burn workshop in the afternoon at Magruder Ranch:







The workshops given at Circle Bar Ranch on March 21st were a great success. Below are a few images from the conservation burn training. If you are interested in learning more about how to minimize the pollution generated by your open burns let us know and we will put you on our mailing list for future events.





The Sonoma Biochar Initiative recently completed the Final Report on the 2013 Citizen Science Project, a study funded by the Mental Insight Foundation, that engaged and educated local gardeners in the use of biochar. Click on the Citizen Science link above and scroll down to download the full report.

SBI, in partnership with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the Farm Bureau, held a successful conservation burn workshop on Feb 14th for 40 participants at SRJC’s Shone Farm facility near Forestville.


Presented by SBI Board member Peter Hirst as a 4-hour hands-on, field and classroom training, participants learned how to conduct open burns that generate less pollution while also making biochar.


Sonoma Ecology Center Receives USDA Grant, Kicks Off Biochar Project

The Sonoma Ecology Center and the Sonoma Biochar Initiative have received $75,000 in support from the US Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program to establish this county’s first integrated biochar production system. These federal funds are being matched by $75,000 from the Sonoma County Water Agency and $83,000 of in-kind support from three local farms where the biochar will be applied. Other partners in this project include Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District and the North Coast Resource Conservation & Development Council’s Cultivating Commerce initiative.
Biochar is specialized charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is produced through pyrolysis, a chemical process that reduces woody feedstocks to char and releases fuel gases that are burned to maintain the reaction and provide renewable energy. The remaining product is nearly pure carbon: biochar.

Biochar has been known for many years, but its wide adoption is just emerging in California and elsewhere. In recent years its benefits have been studied sufficiently to indicate a high probability of success in the integrated structure proposed here. The new Sonoma County Biochar Project is intended to prove locally available research results from elsewhere that biochar will build soil, conserve water, improve agricultural productivity, and improve forest practices — all while replacing greenhouse gas emissions with sequestered carbon in individual farming operations.

Adam Retort

Adam Retort at the Tech Day Exposition, U.S. Biochar Symposium, October 2013 / By Raymond Baltar

The Ecology Center’s new unit, called an “Adam Retort,” will be located at Swallow Valley Farm in western Sonoma County, where the team will produce biochar and apply it to onsite farm operations. As much as possible, biochar will be produced for on-farm use from woody resources available there. The biochar will also be applied at Green String Farm near Petaluma and Oak Hill Farm near Sonoma, allowing a full demonstration and evaluation of its impacts on varied Sonoma County agricultural production. SEC, GRRCD and NCRC&DC will carry out education and outreach regarding biochar to potential agricultural users throughout the area, allowing leading farmers and growers here to recognize the benefits of integrated biochar production and application.

Sonoma Biochar Initiative: A project of the Sonoma Ecology Center / Contact Us / Login