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Hometown: Berkeley, California Director, Sonoma Biochar Initiative Served on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club, Sonoma Chapter Served on the Board of the Sonoma County Conservation Council and the Steering Committee Member and Advisory Committee Member of Solar Sonoma County Received and MBA degree in Sustainable Enterprise, Dominican University, in 2011 Professional Photographer for over 30 years. Charter Member and Past President of the Professional Photographers of the Redwood Empire

Mendocino Workshops Announced

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative, a project of the Sonoma Ecology Center, in cooperation with the Mendocino Biochar Demonstration Project, is offering two separate workshops in Mendocino County on Friday April 11th. Both workshops feature Peter Hirst, a nationally known biochar expert and trainer, co-owner of New England Biochar, and farm manager at Swallow Valley Farm.

The morning workshop (8 A.M. – 11:30 A.M.), to be held in the Chenin Blanc Room at the Ukiah Conference Center, 200 S. School Street, Ukiah, focuses on biochar, including how it works to improve soil, its many benefits, how to properly condition it prior to use, and how to apply it.

The afternoon workshop (1 P.M. – 5 P.M.), will be held at the Ingel-Haven Ranch, 9000 Westside Potter Valley Rd., and will feature hands-on, in-the-field training for the conservation burn technique, including the scientific theory behind the process, safety and permitting considerations, pile construction, burn management, and maximizing production of biochar.

Workshop fees are $35 per session, or $60 for the whole day. We only have room for 36 people so be sure and pre-register using the link below. A portion of the proceeds will support programs at both the Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center.

For more information and to register, click here.

New Biochar and Conservation Burn Workshops Announced

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

***Upcoming Events***

Biochar Workshop & Conservation Burn Training featuring Peter Hirst

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative and Sonoma Ecology Center are pleased to announce a Biochar workshop and Conservation Burn training to be held on Friday March 21st at Circle Bar Ranch, south of the town of Sonoma.

By replacing conventional open burn methods with the conservation burn you can significantly reduce emissions (visible smoke and invisible chemicals and particles) from agricultural burns in your community and conserve resources, especially carbon. You will also learn how to produce biochar, a valuable soil amendment, in the process.

***The morning training (8 A.M. to 12 P.M. ) will focus on the conservation burn technique, and include both classroom and hands-on field training that will include the scientific theory behind the process, safety and permitting considerations, pile construction, burn management, and maximizing production of biochar.

***The afternoon workshop (1 P.M. to 5 P.M.) will focus on biochar itself, including why it works to improve soil, the benefits of using it in both animal and plant agriculture, how to properly condition it prior to use, and how to apply it.

For more information and to register, click here.

Impressions from the US Biochar Symposium

Written by admin on . Posted in Biochar General, Biochar Policy, Biochar Technology, Citizen Science Project, Initiative News, Member News

Several things really made an impression on me when I attended the US Biochar Symposium last October at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The first was the plenary speech by Dr. Johannes Lehmann, considered by many as the scientific “godfather” of the modern biochar movement. The eminent soil scientist from Cornell University emphasized one central theme throughout the talk: all biochar is not the same—in fact we should be using the plural term biochars when talking about it since no two biochars, made in different processes, at different temperatures, from different feedstocks, will have the same characteristics.

Dr. Lehmann cautioned those of us looking to commercialize biochar to be rigorous in providing a consistent product that will produce consistent results, and that consumers can trust. Most of us who have been in the biochar world for awhile have certainly heard of and seen many types of biochar, exhibiting many different characteristics. Biochar made as a byproduct from large gasifiers primarily producing energy, for example, can have a very different structure and ph level than that made from smaller continuous-feed or batch systems that are designed primarily to produce biochar.

So sourcing biochars from different producers may have markedly different results in similar soils. Since there have been positive, neutral, and even negative results using biochar in field trials much research still needs to be done—especially identifying which feedstocks, heated at which temperatures, will produce the optimal results in a given soil type, with which plants.

This work is underway all over the world, and we conducted our own Citizen Science experiment right here in Sonoma County this year. The results of this experiment using local gardeners willing to take part in a backyard field trial will be published early next year. SBI was also recently awarded a USDA Conservation Innovation grant that will allow us to produce large amounts of biochar locally and test it at three local farms: Green String, Oak Hill, and Swallow Valley.

Biochar mixed with compost makes a rich soil amendment beneficial for your garden.

Biochar mixed with compost makes a rich soil amendment beneficial for your garden.

My second big takeaway from the conference came at a virtual presentation given by Hans-Peter Schmidt titled “Novel Uses of Biochar”. Mr. Schmidt founded the Ithaka Institute for Carbon Cycling & Winegrowing in Switzerland and for 7 years has been adding biochar to vineyards and introducing it in other agricultural settings as well. The description of his talk at the conference explains what he calls the importance of integrating the “cascading use” of biochar in the farm workflow, and even in industial systems:

“In addition to the use of biochar as a soil amendment, there are an increasing number of ways to incorporate biochar into different eco- and industrial systems. Thus feeding biochar to livestock has numerous benefits not only for the animals, but it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improves nutrient retention in animal manure. The use of biochar in building materials is just beginning to be studied but shows promise in the ability to insulate, decontaminate air, and provide odor and humidity control. Biochar as pillow filling to induce perfectly reposing sleep is just another way to benefit from biochar’s multiple qualities. There are more than 55 uses of biochar that can all be combined in cascades. All of these uses have in common that the biochar gets slowly charged with nutrients, gets oxidized and can finally be recycled as a soil conditioner.”

Much more information on the many, many ways to use biochar(s) before finally putting it in the ground is available here. Click on Ithaka Journal and scroll down to the section titled “55 Uses of Biochar”.

Lastly, I was particularly impressed by the work done by NASA scientist Doris Hamill in producing a high school curriculum on biochar. If you are interested in teaching a science segment with some positive content about using biochar as a strategy to help mitigate climate change and promote sustainable agriculture, she has done an amazing job of preparing everything you will need. It is open source, free, and available here.

Raymond Baltar

SBI well represented at the Sonoma 4th of July Parade!

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

A great time was had by all at the City of Sonoma 4th of July Parade, 2013.  As part of the Sonoma Ecology Center Contingent of about 15 people, Ray Gallian, David Morell, and myself represented our organization by shaking and dancing around the streets of the Plaza to an enthusiastic and talented group of drummers that walked with us. What a great way to spend the 4th!

The Sonoma Ecology Center was well represented at the Parade.

The Sonoma Ecology Center and the Sonoma Biochar Initiative was well represented at the Parade.

Ray Gallian During the 4th of July Parade in Sonoma, California

Ray Gallian During the 4th of July Parade in Sonoma, California





Ray Gallian in his 4th of July finest.


The younger generation was well represented at the Parade.


SBI Board members David Morell and Ray Gallian.

Dr. Vandana Shiva

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Dr. Vandana Shiva at Dominican University of California by Raymond Baltar


I attended a talk recently at Dominican University of California by the amazing Dr. Vandana Shiva, the Indian anti-GMO, seed-saver extraordinaire. She has been fighting the attempted takeover of our worldwide food system for 30 years by various corporate, anti-diversity interests including biotech giants Monsanto, Cargill and others, and her speech was both frightening as well as inspiring. Among many other accomplishments Dr. Shiva has written the forward to an excellent primer on biochar called The Biochar Solution, by Albert Bates, which I highly recommend. Bates is another amazing individual who has been at the forefront of biochar research and field trials in recent years, and he has been a member of The Farm intentional community in Tennessee since 1972.