Strange how our urban lifestyle causes us to stereotype the words “farm” and “rural.”  It conjures up images that will not support an adjective like “entrepreneurial” or “innovative.”
  Well, dear friends. Let’s take it a step further and suggest “dirt” farmer may be a future trend. Perhaps the way farmers did it thousands of years ago may be a long forgotten answer that could help us through this economic downtrend and be a formula for survival if climate change, plague and pestilence or terrorist attacks (among other catastrophes) are visited on us. And it is an idea that creates jobs.
  {mosimage}Last September I visited the great ancient agricultural centers of Peru. The Incas had built terraced fields that awed me since it was the cradle of corn and potatoes (apologies to our Native American and Irish ancestors). The terraces demonstrated wonderful erosion control. But it was what those terraced fields contained that amazed me. Terra Preta! It was the top soil (dirt) that was richer and more productive after thousands of years than the soil in the fields surrounding them. Yet it is a simple process that turns unproductive dirt into a rich organic top soil that lasts a thousand years without fertilizer and sequesters carbon. Do not scoff. Top soil is serious infrastructure that we take for granted. There is a new book on the market named Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations that documents the displacement and fall of civilizations for lack of productive topsoil (i.e. Iraq).
  Yet these ancient Inca “alchemists” knew the secret of “manufacturing” top soil. And it is so simple. The Inca farmers took “char” (wood chips are the feed stock of choice at the N.C. Farm Center) and mixed it with any organic material or waste (I happen to have turkey litter) and put it on dirt. Vuella! Rich, organic topsoil requiring no fertilizer, lasting a thousand years and sequestering carbon. I cannot repeat that enough.
  I have char on the farm that is over 200 years old and is a testament to the kilns built by our predecessors lying in the small cemetery who boiled the pitch out of longleaf pines for the naval stores industry. I would consider making char the old-fashioned way but I was cautioned by my “land whisperer,” John Ray, that young boys tended the kilns because they could run faster if the kiln decided to explode. Since I am not easily discouraged, I have located a magic machine at N.C. State University called a torrefier. Researchers at N.C. State are experimenting with using the baked wood pellets created from heat and pressure as a “green coal.” The pellets do retain 90 percent of their original energy and are a carbon-neutral source of energy. And while I value energy independence, I am acutely aware that the U.S. only has a three-day supply of food. Lately, food security and food safety have also been making the headlines. And if a global financial collapse were to create a terrible depression, urban farming in empty buildings with terra preta or even gardening in formerly barren sandy soil has appeal. I am a child of the bomb shelter age so I would suggest planting vegetables from survival seeds (not genetically altered) as the crop of choice — watered from a well with a solar pump.
  If the N.C. Farm Center is successful in obtaining one of these magical machines and we perfect the formula we will be inviting you, our community, to visit and to sample.  And it will prove my formula — the land is the link to our past and to our future.

Contact Sharon Valentine at

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