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Biochar Stoves in Costa Rica with SeaChar’s Estufa Finca project

Ah Costa Rica. I love Costa Rica. My senior year in High School I had to get out of the classroom and experience a different part of the world. Where there’s a will there’s a way and that May I found myself on a plane to work on a permaculture farm in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Costa Rica! What an amazing experience! I remember waking up in my hut every morning to a hummingbird above me and would look over the jungle in the valley and soak in the biodiversity!

I was so inspired by that trip – I saw permaculture work on a large scale, and lived IN it. I carry that experience with me in my current efforts to share the story of sustainability. The last thing I did on the farm before leaving was, I bet you already guessed it, taught them about biochar—because how could I not, honestly.

When I learned that Art Donnelly and his Seattle-based biochar non-profit SeaChar had a project called Estufa Finca in that very same town, it seemed like the stars had aligned. Recently I’ve come to learn that that same farmer maybe be one of Costa Rica’s first Biochar Ambassadors! I guess I was Biochar Bob before I was… Biochar Bob, haha.

Some background:

Situation: Half of the world’s population cooks on an open fire.

Problem: Close to 2 million people die annually from smoke related diseases, mainly women and children.

Situation: Every year, worldwide, soil degradation wipes out an area three times the size of Switzerland.

Problem: As soil fertility is lost worldwide, the crippling grip of chemical dependence in agriculture not only threatens the profitability of farmers, but also the health of entire ecosystems.

Solution: SeaChar and its partners in Costa Rica have introduced an easy-to-implement and sustainable solution by empowering local women to produce biochar while cooking a meal from responsibly sourced material!

By using cookstoves, Art Donnelly and his crew are equipping households with the tools necessary to produce their own biochar and create more energy independence. With Costa Rica holding its crown as the largest fertilizer user in Central America, the need for fertility is drastic.

A common topic of this year’s Biochar Symposium was the idea of distributive production of biochar, as well as the opportunity to create a biochar movement in a place with less bureaucratic hoops to jump through. I believe that by empowering individuals to create a shift in culture toward a more sustainable lifestyle that directly addresses some of the nation’s greatest challenges, the Estufa Finca project is an opportunity to become a powerful exemplification of what biochar truly can accomplish.

I have started an IndieGoGo page so I can travel out to Art and the gang to share this story—it’s one well worth telling. Adam Wisneski (he did Obama’s campaign films) has agreed agree to produce the film at a large discount because he believes in this so much!! Let’s give the world this amazing story that shows biochar for what it can truly accomplish.

Thank you! And be cool to the planet.

Using Biochar in Urban Landcaping

After reading this article titled “Chicago landscapers turn to ancient Amazonian fertilizer,” I felt particularly inspired to talk about how important biochar is in urban landscapes. There are slew of benefits to having urban landscaping, but I am going to focus on water for this post.

As the article points out, carbon in the soil is essentially the bee’s knees – it makes the whole system tick (carbon being the currency of the soil). As the author points out: “Urban soils often lack carbon and struggle to sustain the diverse microbial communities that are essential to plant growth.”  As we give soil the carbon that it needs to hold nutrients and foster microbial communities, these sub-terrestrial compadres condition the soil and make it a more absorptive space. With towns and cities across the country struggling to handle storm water runoff in overwhelmed drainage systems (that drain to the city’s sewage system), the more water we can hold in the ground and not in our pipes, the better! The worms that make tiny holes in the soil, and the bacteria and fungi that increase the carbon content of the soil contribute a significant amount to the soil’s ability to hold water. Furthermore, roots increase the aeration and permeability of soil so when it rains, the water actually percolates into the soil rather than hitting the top and running off.

By adding biochar into soils, we increase every parameter of water retention in soil and let nature take care of the rain instead of our over-burdened sewage systems. Sounds pretty solid to me!

Be cool to the planet

Biochar Bob