The stereotypical cornfield might stretch for as far as the eye can see, under the flat blue sky of some Plains state. But a West Seattle cornfield – more like a cornpatch – is generating attention, information – and hope. Under a not-so-flat gray sky, a closely watched harvest began Wednesday morning at the SeaChar Carbon Garden site on the south side of the South Seattle Community College campus on West Seattle’s Puget Ridge. While it may look like an unremarkable plot of corn, the difference lies beneath- some of the corn was grown in soil amended with biochar, defined here as the result of “a 2,000 year-old practice that converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.” The same site declares biochar is no less than “a powerfully simple tool to combat climate change.” But no one’s making those claims without research, here in West Seattle and at other test sites around the globe:
In our video, that’s Jim Grob talking between samples while working yesterday morning with daughter Olivia – getting quite the education on a day off her Pierce County school – and Steve Tracy. While another group started to harvest corn a few rows south, this trio was sampling soil that’s headed for a federal lab in Idaho. The corn was planted in early June. (It’s just yards away from the future Community Orchard of West Seattle, as mentioned yesterday in our story about the collection of donated cardboard at that site for future sheet mulching.) And the biochar story doesn’t just include the farming side – it also includes the creation side – people here and elsewhere are working to get clean-burning, biomass-producing stoves to people who otherwise are cooking over polluting, health-endangering open fires; read more about that here.