Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Fracking Gamble

+Gail Tverberg 's theory about the deflationary spiral of oil prices (she thinks we are locked in to a price slide that will bottom out around $20/barrel) also applies to natural gas.  The fact that Chesapeake Energy (the U.S.'s second largest natural gas producer) is headed toward junk status supports this corollary.  A lot of Chesapeake's problem stems from land speculation with the intention of drilling and fracking.  These land deals were conducted with money from bright-eyed investors who never understood the economics of fracking and are now realizing how little real value most of the shale plays held.  Chesapeake's co-founder, Aubrey McClendon, seemed to know when to leave the party, as he departed the company in 2013.

He chose the name for the company out of a liking for the Chesapeake Bay area, despite the company's Oklahoma roots.  From Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy's gas pipelines grew toward the Chesapeake Bay like a mycelium seeking humid climes to sprout its mushrooms.  After the fracking potential of the Marcellus Shale became known, the company surged further, to Pennsylvania. The pipeline assets were spun off years ago and now belong to Williams.
overall
With the current demise of fracking due to the inability of the market to support the infrastructure and loss of investor interest, many natural gas companies will go under.  The price of natural gas should rise, however, once the markets have sloughed off the non-performing suppliers.  As coal is replaced by natural gas electricity generation, demand for gas should continue to grow.  The long-term damage to prices that Tverberg expects for oil may not apply to natural gas.

While the Chesapeake Bay region may have been the divining rod for Aubrey McClendon's vision of where Chesapeake Energy should go, it is there that he met the greatest opposition over the environmental repercussions of fracking.  Fracking has emboldened the U.S. to rescind laws against oil exporting and to build natural gas export facilities, such as the Cove Point Plant expansion underway a few miles from my home.  Aside from the public outcry against fracking, there are geological limits, climate considerations for which we are now internationally accountable, and the impending economic recession wrought largely by the same commercial ennui that brought about the energy price slump.  Fracking may never come back.  Cove Point may never export any liquefied natural gas.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Future of Mass Transportation

One of Maryland author John Michael Greer's oddities (other than being an archdruid)
is that his preferred mode of intercity transportation is passenger rail.  In fact, he chose his adopted town, Cumberland, MD, partly because of its proximity to a working train station. The motivation for he and his wife's move to this Allegheny rust-belt arts-centric village was that we would soon enough become a more regionally-scaled economy, reverting from a global or national scale.  Underlying that conviction was the view that oil would not be abundantly cheap in the near future, driven by the occurrence of global peak oil. Rail travel would then become relatively more important.

It looks like JMG's move is now going to be validated, as we've arrived at peak oil. Although oil prices are much lower than in recent history, the price drop is driven by falling demand, which, along with a host of other commodities, shows that the world is entering a global recession. The fact that the Federal Reserve raised interest rates this month reduces debt-driven growth, so demand for oil, et. al., will continue to fall. Rather than a result principally of geological shortages of oil, which may have brought about a gradual decline in production, peak oil is instead being driven by incongruous financial behavior wherein increasing debt is no longer sustainable.  The interest rate rise is a signal that there will be a significant drop in worldwide oil production.  That is a synopsis of the view of Gail Tverberg, who, along with JMG spoke to us at the Age of Limits Conference in May 2013.  Ms. Tverberg points out that if there were a low-cost substitute for oil that we could deploy today, the fallout from peak oil could be ameliorated, but that appears to be years away.  Not even solar power appears to be cost-competitive enough yet to avert a premature end of the oil era.

If you haven't ridden a train or bus lately, it would be a good idea to start getting used to it.  Once airlines lose favor due to their excessive costs, shorter trips on these more economical vehicles will become the norm. It might surprise you to find out that trains still serve much of the country.  Besides AMTRAK, Maryland has its own MARC train system.  Unfortunately, due to the impending recession, I don't think Elon Musk will get the chance to speed trains up by turning them into air tube pods.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Don't Wait for the Lifeboats

The Brown- and Green-tech scenarios David Holmgren postulates are only half of the picture.  When you factor in the effects of a rapid decline in worldwide oil production, the scenarios become "Lifeboats" and "Earth Steward," respectively, with Earth Steward being the lesser of four evils. Murphy's law favors the greater of the four evils, especially as we find oil production to be past peak with no viable substitute.  Assuming oil production will decline more rapidly than our ability to power down in a controlled fashion gives us the Lifeboat scenario, where civilization fragments and humans die off by half.  If you think it couldn't get any worse than that, read Revelation or Dante's Inferno or a Cormac McCarthy novel; our capacity for suffering seems almost unlimited.  Yet, it is so troubling to plan for the Lifeboat scenario, much less act on that premise, that we are loath to even consider it.

Holmgren's solution to our predicament is to accelerate the collapse of the capitalistic system that now bewitches us in order to fail into a Green-tech future before a climate tipping point occurs, e.g. melting of arctic tundra permafrost, which would void the possibility of either of the more benign outcomes. Holmgren is Australian, which is far enough removed from our locale to make you think that it might be different for us here.  Maryland author and permaculturist John Michael Greer doesn't think so. His projections for our future are as frightening as Lifeboats.  His solution also mimics Holmgren's - Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush.

Maryland is due to update their own projections of local sea-level rise in early 2016.  I doubt they will include many of the positive feedback effects and climate tipping points that may arise in the years ahead.  This hot December is even making me wonder if we've already encountered one. While we are on high enough ground to not require a real lifeboat, it's a good thing we have access to the Navy base nearby in case we need a metaphorical one.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Climate Refugees

Did you notice the environmental subtext in the latest Star Wars movie contrasting the despoiled, brown desert world with the overgrown blue-green planet where freedom reigns?  It strains credulity to think that life could be sustained as depicted on the desert planet, while the blue-green planet offers a multitude of niches where creatures could luxuriate.  Earth is a mix of these two worlds, but with the desert gaining more ground every year.

Included in the desert are many cityscapes that are denuded of flora, paved over, serving as commons for swarms of seemingly unconcerned occupants.  This has been our direction since the time of Nimrod and the industrial revolution magnified the devastation many times over.  David Holmgren classes the two types of environment as results of brown- and green-tech.

Maryland is on course for more land "development" in the years ahead, but forest canopy cover is required to be a minimum of 40%, meaning we won't end up like the desert planet.  Other parts of our country will, namely the half west of the Mississippi (excluding the Northwest).  We and our neighboring states are sure to be the recipient of millions of internally displaced people (IDP's) coming from those deserted areas.  We will have to show them how to live a green-tech existence, e.g. forest gardening, if they are not to desertify our end of the continent, as well.

Masses of Arabs huddled around an occasional jihadist are yearning to be free of the civil wars in their desert homelands.  How able, not to mention willing, are we to rescue these refugees when there will soon be millions of our own in similar plights?  How about we settle any of these desert-acclimated migrants in the hot, dry West?  Perhaps they can show some Americans how to deal with the desert and when ours can't stand the heat any longer, maybe we will have learned how to accommodate refugees well enough to settle westerners in the florid east.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Pushing back the Invaders

There is something of a tragedy in places where natives are driven into minority status.  Who knows what the waves of climate and resource war migrations will do to Europe in terms of cultural upheaval? The wild kingdom endures its own invasions of animals, plants, and insects, driven, as well, by climate change and human exploitation.  Often, the invasive species can be predatory, as were the settlers vs. the Native Americans and certain Islamic extremists living in the free world.

As a master gardener intern, I've been trained to side with the natives in their fight to possess territory.  This sounds like a convenient simplifying precept until you start asking for native plants at local nurseries.  Browsing through the Native Plant Guide for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, I picked four ground cover plants that I decided to shop for to get the best price from nurseries as far as 50 miles away.  It turned out that price wasn't the issue, since not a single one was available at any of the half dozen nurseries shopped.

It seems that the online shopping option will be the solution to this apparent lack of conservation consciousness.  If I don't want to buy in quantities of 25 or greater from the Maryland Online Nursery, I can still buy numerous native species at Izel Plants, the Amazon.com of native plants.  Izel (meaning "unique" in a Native American language), is a clearinghouse for nurseries specializing in native plants.  Prices appear to be relatively low, and include quantity discounts.  The mid-Atlantic region is their strongest sector.

Should neither of these sources carry the plants I want, there are other listings yet to be explored.  As mentioned earlier, the local annual Master Gardener plant sale is a real good shopping opportunity, as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fruits and Nuts

The forest garden I intend to plant will consist of 25 black walnut trees and several compatible species.  That limits the field to only a few species which don't seem to mind the juglone (5-hydroxy-alphanapthaquinone) that black walnut roots secrete.  A recommended native plant guild for black walnut* from Maryland permaculturist Michael Judd consists of:

  • Goumi bush - producing a juicy, red berry in June (use 2 varieties; won't tolerate wet soil)
  • Persimmon* - delicious Diospyros (Food of the Gods) virginiana (requires full sun; dioecious {requires a male tree}; half the height of black walnut)
  • Paw paw - custard cream tropical fruit for making smoothies (full sun best; half the height of persimmon)
  • Mulberry - exotic berry flavor (tolerates shade; a bit larger than paw paw tree)
  • Currants - tart to sweet from black to pink nutritious berries (a shrub that grows well next to trees)
  • Black raspberry - (not out-of-control like blackberries)
  • Alpine strawberry - smaller fruit than commercial varieties (ground cover)
  • Elderberry* - small, juicy fruit in June/July (likes wet soil, so double up the biochar; to 12')
  • Goldenseal - flowery (medicinal) herb
Available cheap through the Maryland online nursery.  Plant one in every patch.

If there is any room left over in some of these patches, other plants might be considered for inclusion. Everything else should be planted 50 feet or more away from the black walnut to prevent juglone poisoning, which means all these patches have to be well away from my existing plantings.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Candy Store

Speaking of treasure troves, stumbling across the new Maryland online nursery has opened up a glorious new chapter in my forest gardening efforts.  Whereas, formerly, the only affordable and accessible source for me to buy native plants was the annual Master Gardener plant sale in Prince Frederick, where I would have to pay at least double the online nursery price, plants are now available online throughout the growing season and early orders are possible.  A minimum order of 25 plants is required and a minimum shipping charge of $20 applies to each order ($30 if your state doesn't adjoin Maryland).  Considering that retail nurseries charge over $150 for a young tree, and you could get 150 seedlings at this website for that price, it's a huge bargain.

This outlet is not for commercial resellers.  As the DNR website stipulates:

"Landowners who purchase seedlings from the John S. Ayton Nursery agree to:
  • Provide a planting report upon department request
  • Protect plantings as much as possible from fires, grazing animals and trespassers
  • Keep live, rooted trees in place (trees with roots attached may not be uprooted for sale as live or ornamental trees)"

If you are on the Eastern shore and want to see the farm with over 3 million seedlings, their address is:

John S. Ayton State Tree Nursery
3424 Gallagher Road
Preston, MD 21655,

(a place sure to appeal to at least one of my loyal readers ; )


Rather than rush into ordering, my focus will first be on establishing food forest patches where the seedlings can be planted throughout my property.  This process of sheet mulching requires a year for wood chips and leaves to break down before planting can begin.  My goal is at least 25 patches on my property ready for planting by 2018. 





Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Please Don't Feed the Algae



Global warming isn't the primary cause of all environmental problems, but it still plays a hand in most.  Take the Upper Middle River outside of Baltimore where, last month, 200,000 fish were suffocated by an algae bloom that led to anaerobic conditions in the water.  The algae bloomed from a combination of warm temperature and an over-abundance of nutrients in the water.  When the weather cooled, the algae died, decaying through a chain of microbial feeding frenzies that consumed dissolved oxygen and released toxins damaging fishes' gills.  Dead fish compounded the effect of dead algae. Not to say that we will suffocate from all of the die-offs occurring around us (though the oxygen concentration in our air is falling), but this is an example of how the fate of a lesser ecosystem occupant can dramatically affect higher species.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has not identified any single pollution source as the trigger for the algae bloom, but leaves open the possibility that an accumulation of nutrients (read "fertilizer") could be to blame. It will be poetic justice when, in the coming decades, the rising seas reclaim the land surrounding this Chesapeake Bay tributary away from homeowners who prized their lawns while poisoning more sentient creatures.

Yet, if cumulative small trespasses can lead to ecological disasters, abundantly small acts of stewardship may also mitigate others.  If you have forested land anywhere in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Forests for the Bay is a resource treasure trove that can help you care for it.  It takes only a 1 minute free sign up process to open up the treasure house.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Insanity Checks

Now that the COP-21 Paris climate confab has devolved into muddling over short-term economic privilege instead of the physical threat of global warming, let's see how this sharpens our focus of future first-order impacts nearer to home.  Taking at face value the effects listed in the draft 2015 Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act Plan, we can assume that the worst case is now the most likely within most of our lifetimes, since Maryland's and most other parties' minuscule contributions to the solution will be of little consequence against the outpouring of fossil fuel and peat gas emissions arising from the Far and Middle East.  Here are aspects of Maryland's inescapable future environment and some checks on future decisions that could prove insane if we follow our usual course.


  1. Sea Level Rise over 4 feet: The U.S. Navy has new port real estate at the Solomons Recreation Center in lieu of the industrial area.  Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy can make it to their seamanship classes only if they can skillfully navigate a boat through the canals leading to Luce Hall.  All over the shoreline, beaches have become cliffs and cliffs have become beaches. The value of waterfront property declines precipitously.  Implications for infrastructure: question any decisions involving new development near the Bay.
  2. North and South Polar Ice Melts: Solomons Island is now an island, indeed.  The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has a 360-degree view of their subject matter.  Your fortunate friends who once gazed from their patios at the water are now unfortunate (former) friends who now envy your choice of more insular habitat.  The Cove Point Community that once stood up to Dominion Power must now flee King Neptune.  Broomes Island is swept away.  The 231 bridge to Benedict is gone.  The Atlantic Test Range Facilities are put to the ultimate Atlantic test. The U.S. Naval Academy holds all training now in lifeboats.  Both Baltimore and Washington, DC have soggy bottoms, but nothing in comparison to Norfolk, VA.  The U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet is nearly defunct. Implications for infrastructure: don't tear down any upland facilities of sound construction, as possible substitutes for those washed out to sea.
  3. Heavy Precipitation Events: Occasional flooding of streams and rivers endangers properties situated thereon, devaluing them, as well. Untreated sewage pours into rivers and bays, making parts of the region resemble scenes out of India.  Implications for infrastructure: higher ground is more valuable real estate, but rainwater catchment becomes critical.
  4. Heat Waves: Maryland is the lazy South. It's slow down or die from heat stroke. Traditional crops fail from daytime heat and lack of cool nights. Biochar saves the day for those with the foresight to deploy it early. Meat is a luxury as livestock are ever more difficult to sustain. Implications for infrastructure: Make solar power a priority, especially where large air conditioning demand exists.  Value trees that shade your roof. Use biochar in your garden or farm.
  5. Ecosystems shifting: Changes in climate are too extreme for many species to adapt, causing imbalances to established equilibria, leading to species extinctions, causing loss of biodiversity, spiraling into devastation of ecosystems.  Ecosystem services are no longer available.  Life suffers. Implications for infrastructure:  forests and forest gardens, linked by corridors, can prop up some of the hardier species to maintain adequate ecosystems that may resurge once the human population is sufficiently extinguished due to its own folly.
  6. Increases in pests: Winter, which often eradicates insect and microbe pests, is now mild allowing pestilence to gain strength earlier in the growing season, reducing agricultural yields. Implications for agriculture: Disease resistance and crop diversity is more important in seed selection and propagation.  Mono-cropping big ag has to give way to small-holders who are allowed to save seed.  This is a reversal from current trends in Maryland.
  7. Ocean Acidification: Crustaceans cannot grow their shells. Food chains are disrupted. Implications for Maryland: pick a new state symbol.  Crabs will be a relic (except the softshell variety).  Any sea life is probably not a good choice.
You can see it all as just weather, and say that the rain falls on the just and the unjust equally, or you can see it as Noah did and start doing something to try to save your family, or perhaps even your community, state or region.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Most analyses of the greenhouse gas emissions problem hold the precept that we cannot quickly reduce our use of energy.  Hence, the introduction of technology to displace fossil fuel usage with more sustainable sources must serve as a substitute source of energy.  Oftentimes, the substitute is nearly as polluting as the original, or of dubious marginal value since it is difficult to estimate emissions from all potential sources.

Likewise, it is difficult to estimate the contribution of ecosystems to CO2 reduction.  This is why biochar is struggling to be recognized as an important, if small, part of the solution to the problem of global warming.  Biochar is made with little, if any, production of useful energy compared to incineration of biomass, which produces little, if any, biochar.  This is why the National Academy of Sciences gave biochar such short shrift in their recent study of carbon sequestration approaches. Maryland, unfortunately, adopted this study as the basis for sequestration in their climate action plan.

In order to embrace biochar, you have to allow for the possibility that satisfaction can come through many avenues.  Power may not be any more satisfying than assurance of abundant harvests along with restoration of biodiversity and soil health.  Electricity to power an ever more computerized lifestyle may be less satisfying to millions than lungs working to be filled with fresh air, while growing crops to fuel muscles demanding a more intrinsic energy source.

Energy is more fungible than biochar, but not as much as you might think.  Biochar's uses continue to expand beyond even the 55 identified by Ithaka Institute in 2013.  How can such a useful resource be overlooked, simply because it is not a significant source of energy?

Yet, were the world economy to break down today and trade in fossil fuels slow to a trickle, what would many people resort to?  Ubiquitous small outdoor fires for cooking and cleaning would turn into a climate and ecological disaster.  There are better ways to apply current technology to burning of wood. Coupling these with the production of biochar will help insulate us from climate change, peak oil, and financial folly.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Crash and Burn

Going into the COP-21 Paris climate talks, the U.S. position is reportedly to emulate Maryland's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, bringing carbon emissions for the whole country down 27% by 2025.  I imagine this won't be very hard, since peak oil and financial disaster will force us down that path eventually, anyway.

Meanwhile, Maryland can't seem to see the forest for the trees of gas lines crisscrossing the state. Though informed in 2010 that Maryland's abundant biomass could provide a portion of the state's energy, clean power investment has favored natural gas, solar, and wind power.

It would be comforting if Maryland would ban fracking like New York did this year. Otherwise, investments in cleaner power plants, such as the PSEG Keys Energy Center being built up in Brandywine, may end up as incentives to further damage the environment.  While it may beat coal and gas export in terms of carbon emissions, natural gas is non-renewable and only sets us up for a big gap when we deplete it without adequate alternatives.  Solar and wind won't come close to providing the level of energy that we get from fossil fuels.  Wood biomass could help some, but we have to begin putting the infrastructure in place.  In addition to building new types of facility-scale power plants, we need to reshape the workforce to concentrate it on sustainable forestry.  It is time to turn the corner, even if we have to slow down in doing so.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Playing with Fire

I am proud to be a Marylander just for the simple fact that our state is a leader in the fight against climate change.  Maryland's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) rivals the plans of such progressive states as Switzerland in the rapidity envisioned for reducing emissions to fight global warming.  Since GGRA was enacted in 2009, Maryland has actually reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions faster than required by the plan, which calls for a 25% reduction of the 2006 level of emissions by 2020.  We are now at the point where an update to the plan is needed, as the Act must be reapproved in 2016.

Insofar as the real importance of Maryland's plan is not in drawing down emissions, but in showing other states how it is possible to do so while growing the economy, the GGRA is laudable. I do, however, have my reservations as to motives and the ultimate outcome.  It's not that Maryland is just so small as to have little bearing on global warming, it's that, at this point in the game (and more so in 2020, when other states might begin catching on), we cannot reduce atmospheric CO2 enough, fast enough to avoid catastrophe unless we immediately abandon business as usual (and/or put all our hopes in a "hail Mary" geo-engineering program).  By "business as usual," I include the reliance on economic growth for sustainment of the economy.  A major result of capitalistic, exponential growth is that it drives us deeper into fossil fuel dependence, while these limited resources become ever more expensive and environmentally harmful to extract.

Case in point: the Cove Point LNG export facility.  One of the most frequent concerns raised in public hearings held by the Maryland Climate Change Commission was the amount of GHG that would be induced by the facility's operations. Calculations show that this total would negate more than half of the GHG reduction progress made throughout the state since 2006 when the final results of the GGRA are tallied after 2020.  This effect was not included in the GGRA Plan Update, in spite of public input.  Even if it had, much of the effect would be masked by the fact that a good portion of those emissions are "off-shored," either to other states where the gas is shipped from, or to the end users overseas.

To be fair, it seems that Maryland is not in the least in control of whether the Cove Point expansion takes place. The climate commission considered it to be too much of a hot potato to even address it, and even climate-friendly Governor O'Malley wouldn't challenge it during his term.  This gives me little hope that the District Court of Appeals in Columbia, MD will rule favorably toward the environmental petitioners in their suit to require the FERC to re-evaluate their decision to allow the Cove Point expansion.

It's not that the powers that be really care whether Maryland's economy grows under business-as-usual, it's that they want to continue the bubble economy at the national level as long as possible, at least until it becomes apparent that we have no hope to avoid human extinction other than a "hail Mary" play.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Terror Starts at Home

The heightened level of "security" brought on by the most recent global terrorist attacks and threats will likely be evident in several ways to all Americans right where they live.  One local organization that is primed to play in this game is the Calvert County Sheriff's Department.  They have been itching to take on any would-be disruptors of our sedate rural existence, so much so that they zero in on whatever appears alien.  Out of state license plates are one clue.  Visiting for the purpose of protest is another.

A situation like the one recently at Bank of America stadium involving repellers with a banner protesting the Cove Point Plant expansion was resurrected recently when charges and counter-charges were filed over the treatment of protesters who had been arrested following the crane climbing incident early this year at Dominion's staging site on the Patuxent River.  It is not at all surprising that the Sheriff's Department would put a stop to such a stunt.  Their main concern, however, appeared to have been avoiding prolonged embarrassment from any perceived inability to control a one-off situation (rather than concern for the safety of those involved).  Hence, the degree of paranoia necessary to assertively respond to the latest scare is endemic to our county's law enforcers. In the crane incident, it will be difficult to tell whether the counter-charges by the Sheriff's Department against one of the protesters for making false statements to an officer is legitimate (unless an audio recording was made), since it will be probably be a case of several officers' words against one interloper.

I'm not into conducting acrobatic stunts for public attention, so it's a bit hard to empathize with the crane climbers (though easy to believe their rendering of the bungled "rescue" by Sheriff's deputies), but reading about a more recent incident that involved out-and-out harassment reminds one of the infamous reputation of Baltimore's cops wrought from Freddy Gray's killing and reflected on the TV series, "The Wire."  The targeted group in this case was not the urban, drug-dealing set, but the socially conscious, anti-fracking set.  It seems our Sheriff's Department is intolerable of either of those extremes and feels it is their duty to violate individuals' safety and constitutional liberties to protect Calvert County (and their own personal benefactors) from any intrusion on the speedy execution of a project voted down by local opinion.

While I think the Cove Point expansion is a white elephant and economics, rather than activism, will kill it, the picture these incidents paint of our Sheriffs make me very leery of the more permissible homeland security rules-of-engagement they will operate under going forward.  It wouldn't take much on your part to wind up under a jackboot that you once thought was your protection.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chicken Shit

Turning our gaze across the Chesapeake Bay where chicken factories are one of the salient features of the landscape, a group of activists called Food & Water Watch has raised protests against the incineration of chicken manure.  You might think, with my advocacy of using chicken litter to make biochar, I would take exception to that position.  The truth is, incineration is not how you make biochar.

F&WW seems to mainly want to make CAFO's go away, but their agitation against the Renewable Fuel Standard inclusion of manure as a Tier 1 renewable fuel is ostensibly based on increased air pollution from incineration.  A long and twisted tale leads to the current state of dissatisfaction over the way we deal with this resource.

We can begin with Martin O'Malley who, back in his days as Maryland Governor, made a deal with Exelon Corporation to fund $50 million of a project to convert chicken litter to energy in exchange for allowing them to merge with Constellation Energy.  The company that got the award to head up the manure power project, Green Planet Power Solutions, failed miserably.  Now, other players are hoping the money is still there for a more competent outfit to give it a try.

In the meantime, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has begun to assist poultry farmers with a much smaller pot of money under the Animal Waste Technology Fund.  A company called Renewable Oil International MD, LLC has been granted $1.2 million in support of developing a manure-fed energy system that makes biochar as a by-product.

The major action, however, is where a company called AgEnergy USA is talking with Perdue about making a $200 million manure-fired energy plant.

Biochar has been little but an afterthought to some of these projects, which leads me back to the F&WW argument.  Biochar is not made by incineration, but by pyrolysis, of which a particular method is gasification.  Pyrolysis involves heating material in a oxygen-deficient environment.  That means less NOx is produced and particulate matter is also kept low, depending on the speed of the process.   F&WW should like that.  I hope they do, because I think I like Food & Water Watch and would like to link arms with them to work for more local agricultural systems.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dregs

An encouraging trend in Maryland and much of the country toward more local self-sufficiency is the explosive growth of local beer brewing.  Even more encouraging is the 2012 passage of a law here that allows farmers special dispensation in order to brew and sell beer and other accompaniments. This reduces the logistics of delivering agricultural inputs to the brewers.  I noticed one such farm brewery close by that I would like to visit someday.  Calvert Brewing Company makes several types of beer, with their webpage telling you which types of hops go into each one.

Therein lies my interest; not so much in the drinking, but in the ingredients.  A few weeks ago, I introduced myself to the brewmaster at The Ruddy Duck Brewing Company in order to inquire as to the chances of relieving him of some of the spent grains used in making his beer.  He was happy to oblige.  I now bring him a 30 gallon container every week, which he fills with wet hops and grains out of one of his tanks.  He also gives the stuff away to a couple of local farmers.  They use it as a feed supplement.  I use it in compost (my dog won't eat it).  I do the same thing with 5 gallon buckets of coffee grounds that I get from the local doughnut shop.  Starbucks will give away big plastic trash bags full of spent grounds, so you don't even need to leave a bucket - just ask whenever you visit.  All this collecting activity is incidental to other errands nearby - same with the horse manure and the bags of raked leaves I grab from friendly neighbors who would otherwise pay for their disposal.

Of course, I collect my own leaves, coffee grounds, and dog manure (see previous post), but the volume is an order of magnitude higher with these other sources.  If I ever start home brewing beer, I will also be using the mash for composting, or perhaps for feeding chickens. As a first step, I will try growing some of the varieties of hops used by The Ruddy Duck or one of our other local breweries, in case they would like to buy them from me.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

(Sh)it's All Good

Avian flu is not the only disease that might come from raising chickens.  The common concern is e.coli. Some 60,000 cases of e.coli infections get treated every year in the U.S. and a few deaths do occur, but, though those rates are low, who wants to be sickened by some nasty bug?  Nasty, because the main source is animal excrement.

I could say "shit," but that's not what it is to me.  I treasure it and all other excrement because, in a display of nature's alchemical capabilities, crap can be transformed into black gold through the phenomenon of composting. There are several types of dung I currently collect. We have a backyard chicken owner in our church who lets us take their droppings to our community garden for fertilizer. I regularly visit a riding stables about 3 miles away to fill bags with horse dung and cart them home for composting.

Anyone who has pets can also compost their caca with a little forethought.  I bought a cheap, versatile Geobin composter for the sole purpose of composting the dog mess I clean up weekly. I now look forward to making those weekly rounds, especially with the handy, lightweight poop scooper my wife got for my birthday present. The warnings you hear about keeping pet poo out of your compost bin are valid.  However, once the segregated pet droppings undergo thermogenetic composting at 140 F or higher, and then remain in a pile for a year, they are safe to use in ornamental gardens.  It's this short heat and long cure cycle that keeps the risk of e.coli and numerous other pathogens low. In order to keep the pile from reeking, I simply layer sawdust on top of each week's deposit. I also add meats, fats, and bones from our kitchen scraps to the middle of this bin - another no-no for general composting.

The same approach can even be used for humanure, which requires more planning, preparation, and particularity.  The bins should be built to higher standards, a collection system is needed, and odor control must be thorough.  I'm not there yet, but am headed there.  It's not just about making better soil, it is also about protecting the environment.  Our current sewage systems don't do a good job of this.  Less is more when it comes to giving doo-doo the treatment it deserves.

Maryland's big business-friendly governor doesn't make those Eastern Shore farms compost chicken fecal matter before spreading it on the land.  Yet, another way to deal with pathogens from poultry litter is to make biochar out of it.  There is actually some governmental funding being applied to building up this capability for the sake of the Chesapeake Bay.  Biochar has also recently been ascribed the ability to sequester not only carbon, but e.coli as well.  Simply adding biochar to the soil can protect crops from carrying such pathogens.  It seems that combining thermogenic composting of any form of manure with only 10% biochar by volume would make the resultant product quite safe and result in a double win for the environment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Chickening Out

If there is one food species other than crab that Maryland is known for, it is chickens.  Purdue, Tyson, and others run vast chicken farms on the Eastern Shore.  If one wants to raise chickens in their backyard, however, that can be problematic.  The state only requires that poultry keepers register in case of an avian flu outbreak.  Counties have their own rules.  Calvert county only limits the number of birds you can have if you are raising them as pets, rather than for production.  The hangup occurs with homeowners associations.  A good number of homes are part of HOA's, including our own.  I have searched the rules for several of Calvert county's HOA's and found that one thing they have in common is prohibition of poultry and livestock.

In a state that prides itself on supplying a good deal of the country's chicken meat, this is singular. The reasons may be that odor could reach neighbors, or noise, or disease.  These rules are not in step with the times, however, since cities these days commonly allow backyard chickens.  The list of concerns can be addressed with rules similar to the one concerning barking dogs - if a neighbor complains, the burden is on the purported offender to make it right.  Disease is only a concern insofar as a neighbor or their pet comes in contact with an infected bird.  This would not be a problem since the chickens would be fenced in. I think the real reason chickens aren't allowed is that HOA's still think they live (as the Monkee's put it so long ago) "in status symbol land."  Get over it!  Suburbia, (much less exurbia) was a huge mistake and a trap if you persist in the notion that you can escape the problems of the world by commuting out of it.

My daughter-in-law's parents in Greece claim to be ready for the difficulties ahead, in part because they raise vegetables and chickens.  I envy them.  They may fare better than us unless our HOA or future municipality wakes up to the very real possibility that these "good times" won't roll forever.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Civics

Our house is in a homeowners association area known as the Chesapeake Ranch Estates (CRE).  The census designated place of Lusby, MD is inland and adjacent to our neighborhood.  We, and all but two other places in Calvert County, are beholden to the whims of the Board of County Commissioners for managing our tax dollars.

A petition has been submitted to the county government to allow our neighborhood and the adjoining commercial district to incorporate into a municipality, which would allow us to decide where some of our tax dollars are spent and to apply for grants and loans from state and federal agencies. If approved, our rural village will be known as Calvert Shores and, though late in coming, the change is a step in the right direction.  It would allow stronger enforcement of local rules, which have proven difficult for the HOA to maintain due to the enormous size of CRE.  It might also allow our village to begin the transition to a more resilient community, able to adapt to financial turmoil and natural disasters.  I think the name Calvert Shores is ingenious since FEMA may be more inclined to grant monetary relief from hurricane damage to a "shoreline" community.

The sticking point for approval of the petition appears to be whether the business owners outside of CRE would prefer to be part of the municipality.  If they will have to pay additional taxes as a result, my guess is that they will lobby with the county commissioners to reject it.  From what I've observed about our recent coteries of commissioners (one of whom owns a business in the area affected) businesses receive treatment as persons, while individuals receive treatment as subjects.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Calvert's Dirty Little Secrets

A worst-case scenario of a fire at the aforementioned Cove Point LNG plant is that a major leak could ignite and carry a fireball along the surface of the Chesapeake Bay up to 5 miles.  That is not the scenario that prompted the expenditure of $31 million at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant for a fifth layer of emergency back-up gear to avert a repeat of the disaster at Fukashima, Japan. A reciprocal scenario is the possibility of a large aircraft crashing into the nuclear plant resulting in an explosion that gets compounded by more explosions from the LNG plant.  Let's hope Murphy's Law doesn't evince itself by demonstrating the unintended linkage between these two contiguous facilities.

More likely, Calvert Cliffs will, like hundreds of other nuclear power plants, prove to be a financial mistake because of the cost of decommissioning and disposal.  Nuclear power is costly in so many ways that the U.S. has been practically in a nuclear plant construction moratorium for the past few decades.  Not as well known is that adding nuclear power is a poor solution to global warming since a great deal of greenhouse gasses are released in the process of mining uranium fuel.  Other forms of nuclear power, fusion in particular, are gaining substantial interest among deep-pocketed investors as a possible remedy to these issues.

In spite of all of that, I am interested in seeking employment at Calvert Cliffs.  I am nuclear-trained and experienced, the money is good, and someone's got to do it - at least until it becomes manifestly too expensive.




Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We're Not Your Dumb Minions

It's disconcerting how energy issues have a way of intruding on stuff that's important to us.  In my own life, energy has come to the fore so often that I could count myself as a professional in some ways.  My naval career pulled me reluctantly through the nuclear power pipeline in both military, and later, civilian capacities.  Soon thereafter, I worked for Puget Sound Energy.  My next job involved power to the Internet, but that ended quickly after Enron's shenanigans were exposed.  My year in Iraq once again thrust me into the energy arena as part of the Energy Fusion Cell in Baghdad.

Even when energy isn't our unintended profession, it can get in our face.  So it was last night for viewers of the NFL Monday Night Football match in Charlotte, NC.  Right in the middle of their most important pastime, hundreds of thousands of fans had to stop and take notice of a couple of anti-fracking activists with a giant banner repelling down from the roof of the stadium.  Like the Wizard of Oz desperately urging his audience to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, the NFL soon tweeted that such a stunt was probably the most bizarre thing you will ever see at an NFL game.  The NFL shouldn't worry about their fans, though, because the protesters were cunningly seeking a much larger audience, not really the type of people who devote a major portion of their free time to watching a ball being squeezed out of opposing steroidal masses.

This is another instance of an energy issue being in my face, or close enough that I see it everyday that I drive out of my large residential development.  After you pass the gaggle of lofty crane booms half hidden behind a wall of trees on Cove Point Road in Southern Maryland, you soon find yourself looking at the Chesapeake Bay where an assortment of about 90 homes are arranged on a sandy flat near the water level. You are in the tiny, quiet Cove Point community which is spearheading this campaign, all out of proportion to their size, to shut down work on the Dominion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export facility.  Note that this LNG facility has been in place for decades, but adding exporting capability will take two more years of construction and cost up to $4 Billion..., which takes us back to those protesters.

Their banner said Dump Dominion, and is aimed at Charlotte's darling Bank of America for their financing of the project. Investors should pay heed.  I have suspected since two years ago, when I spoke out publicly against the project to the Calvert County Board of Commissioners, that this whole effort is a shell game that is a part of the larger fracking Ponzi scheme.  We may have punished a few of the perpetrators of the Enron episode, but where did all the rest of the willing beneficiaries end up? Many, I assume, are still trying to squeeze money out of the ground.

My main reason for considering this particular project to be poorly conceived is that fracking has not proven to be nearly as productive over the long run as advertised.  Wells peter out quicker than Piccolo Pete on the 4th of July.  The $4 Billion will have been spent on standing up a white elephant in our remote part of Maryland when the company comes out with the news that, "Oh my, there is not enough natural gas, especially at these fallen prices, that will justify all of our sunk cost.  Government subsidies are the only way we will be able to carry it out and maintain good relations with our Japanese and Indian trading partners."

Originally a NIMBY campaign, the anti-expansion activists have begun to see the same issues just mentioned.  They have much more factual support for this view on the Dump Dominion page. In addition, just because it is natural gas, don't count on it being better for the environment. Methane is 25 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, so leaks are a big risk. When you add in the energy to transport, compress, and deliver the gas, it ends up being worse than burning coal.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Physical Reality

STEM seems to be the focus of many parents' desire for their children's educations due, in part, to the sponsorship of Bill Gates of educational programs including common core standards.  Whatever it takes for the kids to be admitted to college is what most parents are willing to aim for, and with the new standards, it takes a lot more technical ability than before.  What parents need to realize is that a college education is going to become ever more unattainable as the economy devolves into a less energetic state.  People power is what is going to be more valued in the near future as the consequences of peak oil play out.

For that reason, we shouldn't fret over the dismally low scores of many minority groups in Maryland showing that 95% of them aren't ready for college when they should be.  On the one hand, it does not serve the fight against discrimination for their cohorts to be left behind those of whites and Asians.  On the other hand, many whites and Asians will be less prepared than these less brainy youth to take on the physical demands of the new-old world of work.  Fewer and fewer of them will be able to enter or complete college due to costs.  Many of those that do finish college will be no better off than their less educated peers due to their debt burdens.

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep pushing the tech envelope, and science offers hope of discovering keys to our continued occupation of the planet, but if you happen to fall short in intellectual or financial capacities, you can still look forward to having a role to play in the economy we are entering - just don't fall short in phys-ed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Future Reedy

Calvert County's school district, like over 2,000 districts across the country, took a pledge recently to support the Future Ready initiative that attempts to level the digital playing field for students while enhancing the payoff of technology-based learning.  Half of Maryland's school districts have taken the same pledge and almost all are sure to follow suit, since parents and corporations are quite concerned about youths' ability to deal with the work challenges of the future.

In Calvert County this year, there was a lot of anguish over the 2016 budget squeeze which resulted in possible cuts to many extracurricular programs.  Nevertheless, the march of technology is going to require more funds, some of which will have to be paid by the school district.  It will probably mean that students will have fewer opportunities or incentives to become athletic and will be more encouraged to become geeks.  This is an unrealistic plan since the energy-deficient future these kids will face will actually require of them more physical strength and endurance than their parents had.  High school represents the best opportunity for most people to grow into strong adults.  Confidence in one's abilities and perseverance gained in those years can carry on through life.  The challenges faced by one generation are not going to be the same for their offspring.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Getting Smart

Higher education holds out some promise for getting us away from the canyon our economy is stumbling toward.  Canyon is an apt metaphor since the easiest way to stay or get out is orthogonal to the slope that you might tumble down.  When the direction that worked for awhile leads to danger, maybe there will be enough smart people around to understand that we need to change course.

Such critical thinking is rare and difficult to engender with many of the higher education programs currently available.  Non-traditional education and online groups may be better.

Here in Southern Maryland, they are pressing on with business-as-usual in the groundbreaking for a new community college campus in Hughesville, central to our tri-county area.  With the higher education industry in crisis partly due to overleveraging their student portfolios with debt slaves, many colleges will be unable to continue as before.  Community colleges will suffer less than many of the 4-year schools, but even they are at risk when they buy into poorly conceived estimates of strong economic growth such as the Bureau of Labor Statistic's projected > 20% increase in demand for construction industry trades over the coming decade.

I hope the College of Southern Maryland's new Center for Trades and Energy Training will turn 90 degrees before we tumble down the canyon and that they will prepare our workforce for building smaller, renewably energized, and resilient accommodations for a future that includes a lot more time in the outdoors.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cultivating the EcoMind

STEM extracurricular programs seem to be all the rage these days, but the environment gets a modicum of educational attention on our continent by way of an annual Envirothon.  Engineering (the 'E' in STEM) includes consideration of the context directly affecting the artificial system of interest.  One aspect of these contextual influences is that associated with the natural environment.  Some understanding of the environment is essential, therefore, to design of engineering systems, but the engineering perspective typically assumes that we can surmount or circumvent environmental forces by adjustments in the system's design. However, an environmental perspective of our human systems' contexts would lead to designs more harmonious with nature.  (Have you ever noticed that Environmental Engineering is usually all about how to clean up the messes we make on our planet?)
I am, therefore, pleased to note that the environmental literacy standards that Maryland instituted for its childhood education programs just won Silver in the 2015 Future Policy Awards of the World Future Councilthe Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UNICEF.  These were the first such standards adopted by any of our states and serve to counter the narrowing of curricula caused by the No Child Left Behind law.  Other states are taking notice and coming along as well. 
If, by wild chance, Martin O'Malley becomes our next President, I hope he won't forget to carry with him the environmental legacy endowed to Maryland by his governorship.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall Undertakings

Though wood chips are available here year-round, a more compostable product of nature is offered only once a year.  When the leaves fall in the Fall (get it?), we have some choices to make.  Are we going to blow or rake them off to the side? bag them? shred them first? and then what?
Any of those three options are fine, it's the "then what?" that makes the difference.  If you leave them on the ground off your lawn, they will eventually decompose and nourish the soil there.  If you bag them, then add a little rich soil or compost, slash the bags in several places, and plan on turning them every month for a year, you will then have leaf mold that can be used as a mulch or compost input. If you shred them, then use the shreds as mulch or as a compost input.
Speeding up life and death's natural rhythm always takes exertion, as I demonstrated yesterday at Double Oak Farm when I made 25 gallons of biochar during the Calvert County Farm Festival.  In our area, the most prominent exemplar of leaf composting is found in the two counties immediately north where they make Leafgro from leaves and grass clippings.  It makes a good soil amendment, but you can make better if you include food wastes and biochar in the compost you make yourself.  After my exertions at the demo yesterday, I am glad to know that some people are getting the biochar bug along with me down here in Southern Maryland.  Maybe someday, we can get enough interest to mass produce a biochar compost product to rival the popularity of Leafgro in this region.  One company has actually beat us to market and are beginning to penetrate our area with it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mycoforestry

Today I found what appears to be a bunch of clustered wood lovers fruiting on dead roots near my "farm."  I'm assiduously verifying the identity because this little brown mushroom has some deadly near-look-a-likes.  If they are hypholoma capnoides (aka clustered wood lovers), I might try to cultivate some - on wood chips.
Mr. Hanners, our local mushroom mogul, gets his thousands of logs delivered by tree service companies for a fee.  One thing the innumerable tree service companies are happy to drop off at no charge are fresh wood chips.  We had a pile conveniently dumped in our driveway early this year and now I have decided that several more are needed.
A byproduct of portable, powered equipment, and thus destined for near-term decline, wood chips are usually made from ramial wood, i.e. less than 4" diameter branches, in order to save on hauling or to avoid creating brush piles.
I have a solution to both of these problems.  Not only is hauling of bulky branches unnecessary, but forests would also benefit if wood chips were left behind and used as mulch for saplings.  My second solution is that, once we reach the point where it is too expensive to chip wood, purposefully constructed slash piles make an instant low-emissions biochar-generating burn opportunity.  Again, the biochar could be used to amend the soil for young plants in the vicinity.  Since biochar needs an initial charge of microbes and nutrients, the rich soil under the previously laid mulch beds would be good places for spreading biochar.
Along with these two measures, the forests subsequently benefit from the proliferation of various saprophytic fungi that break down the wood chips and leave a profusion of exudates, chitin, and complex carbohydrates that nourish trees and their soil buddies.   Mycorrhizae also flourish in biochar-rich soil.  The resulting humus is a living, networked organism that emerges much more quickly than over the natural cycle time.
The most well-known wood chip gardener example is Paul Gautschi in Washington.  Maybe I can help bring some of that attention to Southern Maryland.  I have a plan to combine wood chips, biochar, and gourmet mushrooms in commercial quantities.  Don't hold your breath though, when you are dealing with wood chips, it takes a year or so to get an end product.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mushrooms Mushrooming

The message from Paul Stamets' book, Mycelium Running, is that mushrooms can help save the world.  They do this, in part, by helping to recycle organic material, often in the form of wood.  That would make the gentleman we met today at the farmers market a real hero.  As the main local supplier of gourmet mushrooms, Mr. Hanners vouches to maintain 10,000 mushroom logs on his farm in central Calvert County.  He has been raising mushrooms for 40 years and seems to have an untiring passion for all things mushroom.  In contrast, I have managed to inoculate 25 or so logs in this, my first year of growing mushrooms.

Chespeake's Bounty is also planning to begin mushrooming on a commercial scale.  At the Mother Earth News Fair last month, the number of people taking an interest in the mushroom growing vendors and lectures was surprisingly large.  Mr. Hanners also told us about the excellent potential of finding morel mushrooms in our area - a quest that I had abandoned.

In addition to logs, I have been growing mushrooms on wood chips and plan to begin growing some oyster mushrooms indoors on spent coffee grounds and next year some Almond Agaricus mushrooms on compost.  Aside from the health benefits of eating various mushrooms, I expect my gardens to benefit from the residue left behind by the extra abundance of mushrooms in our domain.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Secret Garden

After attempting to grow vegetables in my backyard, which receives less than 4 hours of sun per day, I shifted those efforts to the front, where the sun shines up to 8 hours per day.  I can grow things there, but not as well as those that come from my plot in our community's garden area.  Now, I am going back the other direction.  Rather than concede my remaining undeveloped 0.6 acres to the forest, I'm beginning to turn it into a forest garden.  Ironically, this entails removing a good number of trees for reasons just mentioned.
The thing is, a forest garden is not the type of forest that we find most places.  It is a place where selected plants are allowed to successively develop together, as in a new forest, but does not result in an overstory that shuts out the shrubbery from the sun.  My first tree removal authorization comes with the stipulation that I plant a new tree for every 5 that I cut down.  In my area, that is probably a good ratio to build a forest garden by.  The trees I cut down will either end up as biochar or as hosts to some of my gourmet mushrooms.
My forest garden will be a secret garden since my undeveloped land is mainly in a ravine not visible from the road.  Plants growing on slopes tend to be smaller than those on level ground, so I may be able to get away with planting a larger range of plants, while keeping their sizes down to garden scale.
Since forest gardens are an attempt to restore our surroundings to something approaching the Garden of Eden, I thought I would start with one of the trees reputed to having been there - the fig (contrary to what you may have been led to assume about Eve eating a forbidden apple).  Along with that, we picked up a gooseberry bush from Edible Landscaping on our last swing through Virginia.  They are positioned well to be the premier supplier of forest garden plants in our area as this idea catches on.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Local Radicals

The transformation that forest gardening will make to our lives, if the Forested vision comes true, is radical.  Radical means "related to, or proceeding from, a root."  In that sense, any change that stems from a "grassroots movement" is, by definition, radical.  There are a number of these upstarts in my local area which I will be posting about in the future.  The most relevant to the matter at hand is one I will be assisting this coming weekend - Chesapeake's Bounty.

I had long taken this farmstand to be not much more than a mini-farm with a good location.  Later I learned that they bring in wholesome food from all over the local area.  They also give classes on topics that match my interests, e.g. mushroom cultivation, and other permaculture subjects.  More recently, I discovered that they are planning on planting food forests across much of their 40 acres.

This is just the beginning, but it is mind-boggling to imagine being able to wander through acre after acre of planted perennial patches ranging from ground-level shrubs to canopy trees, each serving some beneficial function.  Twenty-four acres of food forest is probably a record, and might be a spark to emulation, both locally and throughout the eastern states.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Vision for the Eastern U.S.

At the Mother Earth News Fair we recently attended in Seven Springs, PA, we were privileged to listen to Lincoln Smith of Forested, LLC give some practical advice about food forest gardening. Forested runs a training center in Bowie, MD where they seek to enact their vision, which reads,

Our 50 year vision is for forest garden ecosystems to sustainably supply
a large portion of all the things people use in the eastern United States.

Considering that the portion of forest garden products in what most people here currently use is approximately 0, Forested's ambition is on a scale as that of Amazon.com.  Smith speaks with certainty about the need for forest gardening to replace the mono-culturated crops that presently supply most of our food, fiber, and a little fuel.  Edible Forest Gardens - Volume One: Vision & Theory by Dave Jacke elaborates greatly on Forested's vision, and may, indeed, be the source of it.

Let me quote excerpts of the scenario that Jacke lays out to give you an idea of what life may look like in the Forested future:

  • Fruits and nuts swell on trees everywhere
  • ...foods grow along your path - you even know all their names and how to use them
  • Flowers bloom all over the place
  • Some of these forest gardens approach farm scale as they grow 
  • Cottage industries ... have sprung up
  • fishing got better
  • Previously isolated forest fragments linked to each other
  • Our human habitation started looking, feeling, and acting more like a natural ecosystem
  • Agriculture as we knew it was transformed
  • we felt healthier, more alive, more connected... than we had for generations

The week after the Fair, I had a conversation with the new director of the American Chestnut Land Trust (topic of my previous post) in which he asked me if I had any involvement with agroforestry (synonymous with Forest Gardening).  The fact that he has an interest in this concept is crucial to the chances of ACLT achieving their vision for Calvert County, since forest gardening is going to redefine life all around us if Forested's vision comes true.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Vision for Calvert County, MD

The grass can often seem greener in other pastures, but I found a kindred spirit in the American Chestnut Land Trust (ACLT) here in my county, so I may need not search far to find my chosen community. Below is an excerpt from their strategic plan.  How would you like to have this be your county?
Our goal is for Calvert County to be a national model for environmental stewardship balanced with a healthy economy. We hope that in 2018 our landscape will be characterized by forests, fields and farms and well-planned and diverse communities, surrounded by a healthy river and bay. Additionally, we envision a future where citizens are educated and active stewards of the land and their daily living is enhanced by the abundance of natural areas.
The ACLT is a grassroots organization started back in the last century with pushback against developers potentially destroying the natural beauty of this part of the western shore of the Chesapeake.  It now manages over 4,000 acres of semi-wilderness in the central part of our peninsular county.

A recent project of the ACLT is the Double Oak Farm which is now run by volunteers, especially local Master Gardeners like myself.  I'm going to give my fifth public demonstration of biochar-making there on October 18th as part of the Calvert County Farm Festival.  This ought to have many more onlookers than any of my prior demos.  It would be nice to get others interested in making biochar, but I've become reconciled to being the only local char maker for the time-being.  At least it will be another opportunity to make biochar familiar to prospective users.

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