This is part one of a two-part series on this issue. Click here to view part two.
This article was submitted to Thurston County for consideration in the land use chapter of its Comprehensive Plan update, Thurston 2045.
Just about everyone deplores and bemoans the sad state of rural America. Local, small town economies are in deteriorating condition, people are moving away, businesses in small towns are shutting down, the family farm is almost a thing of the past.
Less than 2% of the nation’s population are in farming and most of those farmers are beyond middle-age with their offspring seeing no future in farming for a living. Bigness, cheapness and convenience have almost mortally wounded rural America.
The situation is desperate and becoming more so. But what is being done about it? Not much that I’m aware of. However, I have a plan, actually two plans, that could turn this around and there are very compelling reasons having to do with the nation’s food security, reversing our nation’s downward health spiral through more nutritious diet, providing rural jobs and making serious contributions to environmental restoration – and all as a very doable and viable package deal.
A Revival of Rural Life
When I was a young boy growing up in Des Moines, Iowa the word “revival” had a particular meaning. I have a very clear memory from around age 11 of a revival meeting coming to town – the Billy Graham Revival. Yes, Billy Graham, more than 65 years ago; and he died only a year or so ago. It was a big deal and I knew there were many who were excited to attend. Not me. Even at that age I knew enough to have feelings of aversion about it and figured there must be something wrong with people who were so frenzied and so taken in by it all.
So “revival” is a word tinged with a kind of hypocrisy and hucksterism. But that’s not the kind of revival I’m calling for here. This is a wholly legitimate and realistic proposal about which we can all be excited. It is about a model designed to invigorate and revive local economic activity and enthusiastic living in and around small towns and farming communities, plus raise the interest and capabilities of home gardeners. Lots of other benefits would flow from these two activities and they could spread all over rural America.
A Plan to Revive the Family Farm – Make Farmland Accessible to New Farmers
The first plan I have is called “Project Rebound,” which presents a path to bring back the family farm and pave the way for beginning farmers to get on the land (without buying it) and engage in advanced methods of alternative agriculture for producing the highest quality produce, livestock and dairy products. The nation has a dire and urgent need for more farmers; however, most young people eager to farm and grow ecologically compatible and nutritious food do not have the means to buy the necessary land. It is well known that tenant farmers seldom have incentive to steward land that is not their own. At the same time there are many idle acreages where the owners are retiring or have given up farming. The day is coming when all such land will have to be pressed into service.
My plan calls for contractual arrangements with stipulated land management procedures that allow farm owners to stay put but make their land available to new farmers in exchange for property tax reductions and other compensation from local and state governments. In addition, new farmers would receive start-up funding for basic equipment and proper initial fertilization in accordance with an approved farm program that includes professional soil testing and prescriptions for natural fertilizers and also the incorporation of biochar. These funds would come from federal programs also designed to encourage quick transition to organic and sustainable practices. We need to get there ASAP.
Operation Bootstrap – an Eco-Village whose Products Benefit the Land and Community
My second proposed plan, Operation Bootstrap, embodies aspects of a village industry and an eco-village, in concept, but is broader and more fully integrated with making and using biochar as central to its diverse operations. Soil mineralization is a second key component in the rural redirection and resurrection envisioned. Often the needed minerals are available inexpensively from nearby gravel crushing quarries.
It begins with setting up a model in a selected rural locale to demonstrate the several innovative components that would utilize local resources, provide meaningful jobs and help take the country and the planet into a necessary era of genuine and vibrant sustainability.
Biochar Production to Enhance Soils, Produce Energy and Support Community
At the heart of Operation Bootstrap is a biochar-making operation coupled with a sizeable super-composting operation. It would start out at a small scale and progress to a medium scale “industry” as experience grows and efficiencies are worked out and as component functions get added. Neighborhood and community scale biochar kilns would be employed using supervised youth crews to gather fuel and feedstock materials (logging slash, roadside tree and brush trimmings, scrap lumber, etc.), bring them to the processing site, and feed the kilns properly to achieve pyrolytic “burning” that is arrested at the proper point to retrieve the charcoal and prevent the feedstock from burning down to comparatively useless ashes. In some cases veteran retraining candidates and homeless persons could also be worked into the project.
The metal kilns can be made from 50-gallon barrels and recycled propane tanks or manufactured to specifications for a large, sloped trough that is transportable in a pick-up or trailer. Such kilns could be manufactured as a village industry and sold, as well as being used to provide a profit-making service.
Additionally, exhausted gases can be captured for heating water to use in bathing, water distillation, or other purposes. Eventually larger and more efficient units would be employed which may be transported on flatbed trucks or railroad cars to reach remote sources of feedstock and to distribute the biochar. Another option would be to make biochar in place for application to forest lands while cleaning up undergrowth and wood debris that poses a fire hazard.
In the making of super-compost biochar is a very important component at perhaps 20% by volume. Clay and soil are also valuable ingredients at about 10% mixed into various kinds of organic matter (leaves, grass clippings, peat moss, livestock manure, shredded yard trimmings, “clean” food scraps, crop residues, etc.) and, importantly, a wide variety of animal and plant meals, marine wastes and natural rock minerals and powders would be used. Such fortified composts make an ideal soil enrichment material and solve odor and other annoying problems associated with separately supplying those materials to soils in a random fashion.
When this superior mineralized compost is produced on a medium to large scale volume it would be sold to nearby farms and to city gardeners or could be used on-site on farmland and in greenhouses and hoophouses within the revival project which would grow produce for the project and for the surrounding community. Such food growing operations, as well as biochar manufacturing, could serve to train and educate participants for the operation itself and for future careers in agriculture. A number of other functions (such as workshops, vermicomposting and castings and aquaponics) could be incorporated in these eco-village operations geared to community and individual self-sufficiency; thus the Operation Bootstrap title. Did I mention the very significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
Awareness and research about biochar is rapidly accelerating – just in time and not a minute too soon, in my view. Also, there is a rapidly building awareness of the importance of high nutritional quality in food and the primacy of that quality in achieving and maintaining optimal health. Thus, Operation Bootstrap plugs right into the advancement of major emerging trends and socio-economic needs, including “medical”. Let’s put some money where our mouths are.
Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People
In June of 2018 I sent out an article on “The Mineralization Dilemma”, which contains a paragraph and sentence that bear repeating in this context:
“There is every indication that the mineral content of vegetables and fruits has declined dramatically over the past century and this is mainly attributable to agriculture, but going back into history subsequent to the cultivation of grains and vegetables and to the domestication of livestock – – – . A dramatic rise in degenerative diseases accompanied mineral losses. I have long argued that pervasive malnutrition will not be alleviated until we get mineralized produce and livestock into the food supply on a long-term basis. To do that we must replace soil minerals lost from continual crop removal, from simplistic, imbalanced ‘chemical’ fertilization, and from erosion and minerals ending up in the world’s oceans. Furthermore, those minerals must be put into balance, a very specific formulation for correct ratios.”
What I have just described above characterizes the new (and ultimate) agronomic system I initially named Nutriculture, but which is now being called Carbon-Smart Nutriculture. If you have not already done so, I invite you to go to BlossomEra.com. If you see merit in my “Project Rebound” and this newly presented “Operation Bootstrap” plan, I implore you to contact governmental officials and agencies and forward these meaningful proposals for a better future.
© 2018, Gary L. Kline
All Rights Reserved
P.S. – House Joint Memorial 4014, sponsored by 25 Washington State Representatives (bipartisan) and passed on January 10, 2018 for consideration as a formal bill contains this statement: “Whereas, the production, placement and benefits of biochar can enhance rural economic development and employment – – .”
This three-page memorial goes to the legislature, governor, state and federal agencies and Washington representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress. It is an excellent overview of the many features and benefits of biochar. Everyone should read it.
It occurs to me that biochar production and enhancement should be made part and parcel of any forthcoming infrastructure program to come out of the U.S. Congress.
We all need to get behind this revolutionary, giant step into the long-awaited era of agricultural and societal sustainability. The time to clamor is now.
Gary Kline is President of Clean Black Lake Alliance
This is part one of a two-part series on this issue. Click here to view part two.