Another take on soil health from The Farm


From: Dick Gallien

More are connecting our deteriorating health with the water, air and foods we consume. Notice the expanding supermarket space for organic foods. The toxic agricultural chemical industry has had the state university agricultural schools, the USDA and politicians in their back pockets for 70 years. We survivors are saving ourselves and soils, by buying and raising organic foods, especially when “regenerating soil” with biochar, ramial wood chips, cover crops and no-till practices.

However, there is still a huge gap in the healthy cycle of life. For over 30 years, every spring and fall, Dr. Ray Faber brings his SMU environmental majors to The Farm, where I remind them that their tons of food waste, plus that from all Winona schools, except Bluffview Montessori and WSU, are trucked 75-plus miles to a Wisconsin landfill and their environmental/science professors have no voice in their schools’ decision. With the acres Winona schools own, there must be space for composting and gardens; however, if their environmental professors have zero influence in their learning institutions, what hope does that give generic graduates of knowing or environmental grads of improving the soil and human health in the communities and institutions they live in or are employed by?

I’m reminded of this disconnect each January, when Boy Scouts and honor students, with community support, dump Christmas trees at The Farm and the 35 resident goats start eating, as they have been recycling fresh brush that Winonans have been bringing for 25 years.

Civic groups, scouts and most individuals are eager to support an activity, especially when it can improve their soil and personal health. Hmong people gardened at The Farm for a dozen years. Their “slash and burn” clearing of poor, tropical Laotian soils sustained their gardens for a couple years, after which the nutrients were depleted and they would slash and burn another site, where as Amazonians lived 700 to 10,000 years on the same poor tropical soils, without moving, because they produced biochar from organic wastes, which are still five feet deep in many areas.

Biochar can last hundreds to thousands of years in the soil, providing condominiums for micro organisms. I’ve been experimenting and concluded the ideal method for community waste wood recycling are eight-foot sections of 10-foot diameter railroad tank cars, with air-tight lids.

The tank cars from the Alma, Wis., derailment ended up at Midwest Railcar, Sioux Falls, S.D., and they told me the price of scrap was so low that it didn’t pay to cut them up, but I didn’t have the money to have four eight-foot rims cut and trucked home. With each derailment, especially when they spill or burn, there is more political pressure to decommission the thousands of DOT111s, which are only 7/16” thick, thick enough however, to withstand charring and tipping hundreds of waste wood to biochar loads in this county and beyond — a potential resource that is too often torched/wasted. These 10-foot diameter tank rims could be loaned to Winona, The Farm and the Goodview compost site, where all brush, including your Christmas trees are presently torched, or anywhere in the area well-meaning groups or individuals want to contribute toward healthy, living soil.


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