Soil Conference, June 14, 2018, Chimacum Grange - Report and list of participants

Photo of farm soilThanks to all the people who attended the June 14 Soil Conference in Chimacum. Great people excited about soil! Most of them are, or have been, farmers. Michael and Ashley put together a delicious lunch and eating and chatting lasted till 12:30. We brainstormed a list of topics to consider. Biochar got the most air time and most topics were only briefly discussed.  Some people had to leave early. This was meant to be a first of a series of events.  We are just barely getting started.  Sorry for this short report but it is all I have time for at the moment.

Here is the list of participants:

Norm Baker,  Biochar researcher, Sequim

Steve Baker, Permaculture designer.  Jefferson County.

Al Cairns, Jefferson County Conservation District

Lowell Dietz, Biochar from straw after mushrooms. Recipe on website Red wigglers. Sequim Terra Preta

Steve Evans: News director for KPTZ Radio. Working on Carbon tithing with the local Quakers Meeting.

Kateen Fitzgerald. Compass Rose Farm and Dirt Rich Permaculture School.  Farmer, Permaculture teacher. Discovery Bay, Jefferson County.

Tyler Hess, Worked at Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm in Wisconsin. Happens to be visiting Port Townsend. A certified permaculture designer, Work That Reconnects facilitator, and Way of Council space holder, Tyler interweaves ecological and social regeneration.

Ashley Kehl, Gardener. Jefferson County.

Gary Kline, Blossom Consulting Service and former owner of Black Lake Organics store. Olympia, WA.

Myriem Le Ferrand, Economics for Peace Trust. Organic farmer, conflict resolution facilitator, real local input public decision-making.

Luke, Olympic Peninsula Regenerative Agricultural Alliance 

Heide Madden, Farmers & Gardeners Guild. Bainbridge Island.

Mike Maki, Mike has been involved with permaculture and soils since the early 1980s. Biochar researcher. Works with Pacific Gro in Raymond, Washington. Pacific Gro has been a leader in cold processed fish hydrolysate (fertilizer made by the enzymatic digestion of fish waste without use of any heat).

Michael McCurdy, Video Productions.

Ken Miller, Organic gardener for 50 years, Composter for 50 years. Biochar maker for 11 years, biochar burner builder 10 years. Backyard experimenter using various natural plants for garden use. Bullock Brothers Permaculture class of 2008. David Yarrow's part time Uber driver. 

Michael Pilarski,

[email protected] 360-643-9178

Friends of the Trees Society, Jefferson County.

Organic farming and gardening since 1972. Co-founder of Tilth in 1974. 

Jude Rubin, Northwest Washington Watershed Council, with 32 years practice of growing food organically.

Roger Short, ​Short's Family Farm is excited to integrate BioChar into its family of soil products. Magical Soil. Selling biochar. Roger has been farming since 1945.

Blaise Sullivan.  Keen on farming. 


David Yarrow, Renowned soil scientist. Currently in Washington.

A number of further events are in the works.

1) A larger soil conference this fall (tentatively in Port Townsend on November 16-18. The amount of interest generated by our limited outreach this spring indicates we would likely attract upwards of 150 people. There would be workshops, presentations, group discussions, policy meetings, etc.  How can we work with nature to create the healthiest, richest soils possible on our farmland and produce the most nutrient-dense food?  It was pointed out that this is like the Acres USA conferences (which are mainly held in the Midwest).

2) Several soil summits of the most knowledgeable people in our current circle. Aiming for 10 people at each. Invitation only event. Rotating around the Puget Sound region.

3) David Yarrow is coming to the Port Townsend area in July for a series of workshops Here are David’s proposals and he is looking for people to help organize.

1)  public lecture:  Introduction to Nutriculture:  how to grow food with superior nutrition.

2)  farmers roundtable:  a question & answer discussion with growers.

3)  outdoor garden workshop:  soil regeneration with biochar, rockdusts and microbes.

4)  soil summit:  conversation with a panel of experts.

5)  composting with biochar at Roger Short's farm; turning wastes into fertility.

6)  soil regeneration for edible landscaping at old alcohol plant, outdoor workshop & discussion.

7)  how to make & use biochar at norm baker's homestead.

8)  tour & discussion of biochar production operation at the paper mill.

#8 can be a springboard to launch a community biochar & soil initiative to support the development of a sustainable food production system.

During our June 14 meeting, David Yarrow had the idea to make Jefferson County a national model for biochar farmland. The PT paper mill produces a large amount of biochar. 3% (or less) is currently used for biochar farm applications.

4) Internet meetings. Something like Zoom or Skype so that we can have some high level discussions with people in far-flung locations. Steve Johnson in Australia and Dan Kittredge in Massachusetts for instance. We need a knowledgeable person to set this up.

Biochar: Prepping it for Soil

Biochar can benefit your soil, but only if properly prepared prior to application.  Fortunately, we're learning how to prepare char for optimum results in soil and on crops. Biochar research in America is hardly 10 years old, but solid research shows that properly prepared, intelligently applied biochar has dramatic effects on soil structure and plant growth at as little as 500 pounds per acre. biochar-prepping-soil/

Gary Kline, David Yarrow and others have recently formed a group with the name Nutriculture Northwest. How to go ‘beyond organic’ and have the next revolution in farming, food production and human nutrition; as well as reverse greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.”

This email list has been discussing the June 14 event and having a continuing series of soil discussions.  I am using some of them in this report. 

Soil Regeneration Email Discussion Group.

.  A new, more inclusive email listserve, or chat room of some kind? It remains to be seen what might develop along these lines.  We need a knowledgeable person to set this up. The Nutriculture Northwest email list is currently being used by some of us. Whether this will be opened up to a larger audience has not been discussed.

Some notes from our discussion:

David Yarrow showed us a sample of glacially ground magma silt from Mount Rainier. There are 300,000 tons stockpiled. Great soil amendment for remineralization.

A statement was made that the current waste stream in our urban areas  (and what other waste stream?) is enough to biochar all agriculture soils.  Who made this statement? Please clarify….

Biochar production should always seek to have co-generation with the heat, etc as part of the process. 

Norm Baker is aware of a move to produce clean-burning stoves for third world cooking that also produces biochar.  What is the status of this? Best models?

The air has all the nitrogen and carbon needed for rich healthy soils. The trick is how to get them into the soils in desired amounts.  How to increase its cycling in the soil and ecosystems.  Even with established high levels and optimum cycling there is the need for ongoing fixation of both.

The human waste stream (Manure, urine) is one of the biggest gaps in the earth’s nutrient cycling. What are the current best practices for keeping these nutrients in the system? Someone mentioned the C-Head. A urine separating composting toilet. Here is their website.

What is the sustainable limit to seaweed harvesting as an agriculture amendment? Locally (Salish Sea) and globally. 

Luke mentioned a soil scientist lady in Australia. Who was that?

If you put all the minerals needed in the soil the soils can make their own nitrogen.


Ambrosia Technology

P.O. Box 6

Raymond, WA 98577


Email: [email protected]

Soil amendment. Minerals from sea water with most of the sodium chloride removed. Mike Maki comments “Sea salt per se has its pluses and minuses. It is about balance and research. We shouldn’t eliminate possibilities from hypothesis but from practice.  For example, I love New Zealand spinach (, which has naturalized all along coastal bluffs in Northern California, a halophyte for sure.”

The pH of the soil within a plant’s rhizospere can be up to 2 points different then outside the rhizosphere.

Singing Frog Farm in California is famous for their no-till farming system.

Recommended book:

Geotherapy: Innovative Methods of Soil Fertility Restoration, Carbon Sequestration, and Reversing CO2 Increase. 2014. Thomas J. Goreau. Ronal Larson and Joanna Campe. Goreau is a spokesperson for Pacific Island nations.

Living Soil Symposiums, Quebec.

The Living Soils Symposium Montreal is a three-day bilingual event bringing together scientists, academics, food producers, students, government delegates, NGOs, activists, entrepreneurs and consumers, to discuss the crucial role of living soils in addressing some of the world's most pressing environmental and social justice issues. Gabrielle Bastien, Director, Living Soils Symposium Montreal
[email protected]

The Real Food Revolution. Tim Ryan. 2015.

Book by an Ohio congressman writing on why we need healthier food.

Ramial Chipped Wood - A Basic Tool for Regenerating Soils

Note from Michael Pilarski

“Thank you Ken Miller for the Ramial Chipped Wood reference.  I learned about ramial shortly after they invented the term in Quebec because I was reading sutainable ag magazines from Canada at the time.  I have been promoting ramial since.  Quite often the chips from urban tree trimming and powerline trimming would qualify as ramial chipped wood. I examine each truckload carefully and look at the content of "fines" as I call them, leaf, needles, small stems, bark.

I also till in some of this chipped wood when I do my initial tillage for my agroforestry plantings. Not a large amount but a thin spreading, I don't do this with straight chip wood but more like ramial or hog fuel, preferably already decomposing. Wood chip is definitely present.  I usually add manure to provide N to balance the C.  I have never seen any problems with N tie-up using this and am very happy with the noticeably increased fungal component in the soil.

As you mention, if you lay a mulch of wood chip material on the soil it will inevitably become a fungal mycelial mat. Almost everyone just lets the native fungi take it over but a few people do inoculation of maketable mushrooms.” MP

Some people who wanted to attend the June 14 meeting but couldn’t make it. 

To give an idea of some of the people interested in future events:

Leonard and Wanda Horst. Earth CPR Supplies, Sequim. Organic fertilizer store.

Nash Huber, Nash’s Organic Farm, Sequim, WA.

Francesco Tortorici. Biochar researcher. Visiting Italy. Port Townsend.

Simon Walter-Hansen. Permaculture instructor. “I will be in White Salmon Thursday morning giving a training with Rick Valley to the local Conservation District down there.”

Tania Issa, Issa Family Farm. “I am involved in a group called Washington Women in Food Systems. I have a 23-acre Farm in Kingston.”

Stephen Joseph, Visiting Professor, University of NSW, Wollongong U, New England U and Nanjing Agriculture University.

Dan Kittredge, Founder of the Bionutrient Food Association, Massachusetts.

Laura Llewellyn. Produce manager for the Port Townsend Food Co-op.  Liasons with dozens of local farmers.  Farms herself. Active in the Peninsula local food movement. 

Noah, River Run Farm, Sequim, WA

Jennifer Otten, PhD, RD, Nutritional Sciences Program, University of Washington

Co-Founder and Co-Director, Livable City Year. “I'm a public health and food systems researcher at UW and have been invited to bring a public health perspective to a National Academy of Sciences meeting on Soil Science in the Fall.”

Pat Rasmussen, Edible Forest Gardens, Olympia.

Ezra Sullivan, Sunfield Farm and School. Chimacum, WA. This is a Biodynamic farm and Ezra would like to bring the BD perspective to future events.

[email protected]

Email from Dylan Gillis to Gary Kline on soil after June 14th.

Hello Gary,

“Since you asked, I thought I'd give a shot at least at the broad strokes of how carbon provides the minerals plants need for good nutrition and growth. First I want to insert a paragraph that I think applies from Soil4Climate News (, about political candidates running for office who have strong messages or platforms about the intersection of regenerative soil practices and climate change action:

Arden Andersen, a physician, farmer, and regenerative agriculture educator running for governor of Kansas, recently tweeted, “Appropriate farm technology can make Kansas carbon neutral in 5 years due to carbon sequestration into soil humus.” Andersen is credited with coining the term “nutrient-dense,” used to describe food high in minerals and vitamins. Crops raised in carbon-rich soils derive all the nutrition they require for vigorous growth from bacteria and fungi working symbiotically with a plant’s root system, with no need for costly fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides.

So, yes, people do say that carbon rich soils provide plants all they need for vigorous growth and nutrient density. To start with, I would go back to something you said earlier, I believe about soil tests, that if all the nutrient elements in a soil were immediately available plants would die from the overabundance (toxicity I presume), and so soil tests just measure a percentage of them that are estimated to be the amount a plant will actually be able to access. I believe that is more or less accurate and so then I would assert, as I believe you understand and agree with, that soil life is largely responsible for how those minerals are brought to the plant and/or are made into molecular forms plants can use. This applies to everything from macro nutrients such as nitrogen, abundantly present in the atmosphere but in a molecular form plants can't use, so that most of the available forms of nitrogen in a non chemically fertilized soil come from either nitrogen 'fixed' by bacteria, or from plant and animal waste and dead matter through the decaying action of soil life; to micro nutrients and trace elements etched from the parent rock material (sand, silt and clay) by the acids and enzymes soil life produces. Since so much of the capture, storage, cycling, recycling, and transfer of nutrients in the soil is accomplished or assisted by soil life, how that soil life thrives or not is going to have a significant affect on how much of those minerals are actually present as measured by a soil test. They say "feed the soil and it will feed your plants", but what I am beginning to understand is it's not just a one way process, plants feed the soil with glucose, which feeds the soil life which feeds the plants in a positive feedback loop, symbiotically and synergistically.

So, just one example: mycorrhyzal fungi form huge mycelial networks of hyphae, which penetrate plant root hairs, feed off of the available glucose as their only energy source, grow and extend out beyond the plants root system many hundreds of times more, and extend into small crevices and cracks in soil mineral particles that plant root hairs are too big for and either find phosphorous there or etch it from the surface of the particle itself with acids or enzymes (or some say, by exuding compounds which feed soil organisms who excrete these acids and enzymes) and then transport that phosphorous back to its host plant in trade for the glucose the plant gave it. Glucose, being high in carbon, then qualifies as a source of carbon in the soil which helps plants obtain enough phosphorous for healthy growth.

This is just one example of carbon feeding particular soil organisms which then thereby give the plant specific nutrients it would otherwise not have had available. There are many kinds of organisms each having different abilities to acquire, fix, or transport different nutrients in the soil. Though none may make that much of any one nutrient more available, it's the net impact of all the organisms and all the nutrients they affect that makes the reality of healthy plant growth through carbon inputs into the soil.

Important principles: carbon comes through two different pathways both of which are important and both needing different forms of management- the liquid carbon pathway I just gave an example of and the carbon from dead organic matter;

diversity is key here because no one type or species of soil life is going to do the trick and they need a diversity of plants to thrive and it takes the net impact of many, many species and types of soil life to provide the full spectrum of nutrients;

it's not just soil life, but the plants also that form a complete dynamic in the soil through their interrelationships which create this ability and since so many species and kinds of interrelationships are part of this, the system not only becomes adequate at sourcing enough nutrients for plants needs, they also provide them in a sophisticated balancing methodology with many feedback loops and thermostatic like controls so that the nutrient balance you promote is accomplished regardless of the absolute magnitudes of elements in a given soil;

there are adjunct functions microorganisms provide which play heavily into this system, from converting carbon and nutrients into highly decay resistant forms of humus, thereby holding nutrients in the soil for future use; to creating the micro and macro aggregates which make the tilth of the soil and also keep carbon and nutrients for far longer time periods than do soils with poor tilth; and these organisms are all fed by the amount of carbon in the soil, either from dead organic matter or from living plants and the liquid carbon pathway. Yes, they also need minerals, but as shown above, in your own words, the minerals are already there they just need the carbon energy to acquire and transform those minerals into forms they and plants can use.

The point being that the more carbon in the soil, the better tilth, the better nutrient and water storage of the soil and the more robust soil ecology there is to do the element acquiring and 'fixing' necessary for plants to use them as nutrients.

I believe this is the methodology and means by which people believe carbon rich soils provide the fertility needed for vigorous and nutrient dense crops. Here's a quote from an article (Improve Soil Health With Mob Grazing) from EcoFarmingDaily via AcresUSA: " Today, the pastures of Sunnybrae Farms are thriving, with over 40 types of native plant species and a variety of legumes, none of which were ever seeded. The pastures boast a very high plant density, and water is retained in the soil with little runoff. The carbon content of the soil has dramatically increased over the past two decades, along with the microbial activity. Soil warms up earlier in the spring, stays cool in the summer and produces well into the fall. Salt and mineral supplementation of the 800 to 1,000 head of cattle that call these pastures home has been greatly reduced, as the nutrient content of the forages has increased. ". All this, primarily by managing the liquid carbon pathway!”


“There’s a huge amount of research on the various forms and functions of carbon.  No wonder, it is the essential element of life. Organic chemistry is carbon chemistry by definition. It s essential, renewable, available, and yet kind of ephemeral. Thus the  role  and goal of increasing less transient forms of carbon via biochar and humic substances. I would refer us to the leafing edge work of Dr. Tan, and applaud Norm for getting his most recent book and digging in: In sum, these are exciting times in soil science, and I simply don’t have enough waking hours in the day to even follow it all. That’s where a learning community comes in, and thank you all for being part of that. Keep the cites, clues, and links coming! .” Mike Maki.

“Reinventing agriculture is an exciting business, remembering that adaptability is what will lead us to bioregional food system solutions. Fitting ourselves and out plants to the environment is the key to sustainable success.” Mike Maki.


MICHAEL “SKEETER” PILARSKI is a life-long student of plants and earth repair. His farming career started in 2nd grade and his organic farming career began in 1972 at age 25. Michael founded Friends of the Trees Society in 1978 and took his first permaculture design course in 1982. Since 1988 he has taught 36 permaculture design courses in the US and abroad. His specialties include earth repair, agriculture, seed collecting, nursery sales, tree planting, fruit picking, permaculture, agroforestry, forestry, ethnobotany, medicinal herb growing, hoeing and wildcrafting. He has hands-on experience with over 1000 species of plants. He is a prolific gathering organizer and likes group singing.