Biochar In Your Backyard: Regional Resources and Lessons From the Biochar and Carbon Farming Workshop

by James Sauer May 27, 2017

There are so many important issues needing attention in our world today, and climate change is definitely one of them. At the biochar and carbon farming workshop ASCO2 attended in Romulus, NY last weekend, this was once again confirmed in talks with top minds from Cornell University, as well as the farmers within our region. 

The Earth is changing. It’s a big problem that requires our solving. But even here at America Sequesters CO2, we sometimes wonder where in the world to begin.

It can be overwhelming—it’s not unreasonable to wonder how you could possibly help solve a problem so much larger than yourself. That’s why this week’s BioCharlie Blog post is as much about the incredible topics discussed at the workshop as it is about the resources we gained there.

BioCharlie Workshop Debut

The BioCharlie makes its grand debut at the Biochar and Carbon Farming Workshop!

On top of engaging discussions and debates, the BioCharlie team got the chance to mingle with other biochar enthusiasts, which proved just as valuable a learning experience. Other biochar businesses, bloggers, activists, politicians, and farmers came out from all over the Northeast to talk biochar and carbon farming. We really thought everyone would be from Upstate New York—what a great surprise meeting folks from Toronto, Ottawa, WNY, NYC, PA, and New England!

Turns out, there’s plenty of excitement about biochar right here in the Northeast. While we’ve noticed a large portion of our customer base (and many other biochar businesses we’ve heard of) hail from the West Coast, the workshop showed us that there really is a community right here in our backyard.

Suddenly, talking about using biochar in our own region got that much easier--and came closer to becoming a reality.

And strength in numbers was very important to this conference, since one of the more pertinent topics was New York State’s Carbon Farming Tax Credit Bill. 

We discussed the bill briefly in our last blog post, but were able to hear from politicians and activists involved in the legislation at the workshop. Their message was clear: raise your voice(s)! NYS Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton opened the program with more details on the bill. She emphasized that the bill will inevitably have a slow start, but the inclusion in the state budget for initial carbon farming studies is an "early victory." In a way, this slow start makes the effort even easier to get in on. The more politicians hear from constituents like ourselves, Lifton and Miranda Phillips of the Citzens' Climate Lobby iterated, the more influence we could have to make carbon farming a reality in NYS in coming years.

Here you can learn more about becoming a citizen advocate with the non-partisan Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Professor Mike Hoffman of Cornell University shared his knowledge on climate change and biochar's potential role in sustainable farming practices as well as offered a wealth of resources for research, involvement, and farming and gardening. As Executive Director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, he introduced the workshop audience to Cornell's Climate Smart Farming website, which features calculators and charts to help growers.

Hoffman also made an interesting point for the workshop's northeastern audience: elements of climate change could actually assist farmers and growers in the region, as long as we focus on development of new techniques. For example, though our climate is tending toward extremes--especially more droughts and more downpours--this means more water and longer growing seasons for major Northeastern markets. Something like biochar, Hoffman added, could help stabilize soils by holding more water or more aeration when either is needed.

Cornell’s Professor Johannes Lehmann also elaborated on biochar’s incredible potential to cultivate “Midwestern soils in Upstate New York." Lehmann and others—in the audience and on panels—agreed that while carbon sequestration is one of biochar’s major benefits, its power as a soil additive must be emphasized to reach out to farmers. In order for biochar to succeed—and ultimately help the climate—its financial benefits must take precedence.   

Biochar and Carbon Farming Workshop with Cornell Professor Johannes Lehmann

Lehmann discusses how biochar might help mitigate the effects of climate change.

And that's where the various businesses and backgrounds of attendees at the workshop came in. In addition to the BioCharlie, we saw how others were starting to promote biochar through their own endeavors. 

Some of the businesses we learned of that are right in our "backyard" include GreenTree Garden Supply which sells biochar-enhanced potting soils and plants in Ithaca, NY. Biomass Controls is a Connecticut-based firm that creates biochar to solve modern sanitation and biogenic waste problems. Farms that use sustainable soil and organic biochar practices were in attendance as well, such as Spencer, NY's Danby Farms and Hunt Country Vineyards in the Finger Lakes.

The BioCharlie even gained its own wiki page within the Open Source Ecology website as a result of the workshop. A resource for environmentally and socially conscious products, you can check out the BioCharlie on Open Source Ecology right here. A  big thanks to Dr. Rasmus Kiehl!

Like we did, I'm sure you can see how much there is to discover about biochar all over the region. This also showed us how much biochar's reputation is growing--and its potential for more growth. 

Kathleen Draper of Finger Lakes Biochar gets a big gold star for putting the whole workshop together so a HUGE thanks to her for working so hard in making it a great day!  Kathleen was one of the first people I had made contact with a couple years ago and she has helped me with several aspects of starting a biochar business.  She continues to be an energetic and motivational force in advancing the entire industry.

If you're not a northeastern biochar enthusiast, there may be many more biochar businesses and organizations in your area than you know! Look into our collection of links below, do some of your own digging--and letting us know your thoughts in the comments below is also a great way to start.

Together, we can really start a movement to help our soils and our planet--right in our own backyards. 

Until next time,



Some great ways to learn about and get involved in biochar:

Citizens' Climate Lobby

Cornell Climate Smart Farming

RIT NYS Pollution Prevention Institute

Biomass Controls

GreenTree Garden Supply

Finger Lakes Biochar

Open Source Ecology


James Sauer
James Sauer


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