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Background photo by Don Sylor

The first crop I tried it on was turnips. I put two rows where I tilled lots of biochar the first year I tried it. The rest of it I planted how I normally would, using compost—we do everything organic. After a couple months of growth, the difference was just astounding. The turnips were literally twice as big where I used the biochar. They came to market size twice as fast. It works on pretty much everything. I was sure there were places where it was going to hurt me, but it never proved detrimental. I started making more and more of it, and I ran into a guy at the farmers market, Peter Hirst, who wanted to make charcoal for his blacksmithing, and I told him to come over and I could show him how its done. We started working together and eventually became partners and formed an LLC.

easthamVoices-2

What really makes biochar important right now are the environmental factors—those being that it’s a carbon negative technology, and pretty much the only carbon negative technology. The plant absorbs CO2 out of the sky into the plant, and we take the plant and turn it into biochar, which is a recalcitrant form of carbon. It doesn’t break down. You put that in the soil and then it grows more plants. The carbon builds up in the soil and comes out of the sky—instead of the opposite, which is what the coal company does, by taking it out of the ground and putting it in the sky. We’re sequestering the carbon in the soil.

Art Nickerson was the famous turnip grower here for many, many years. My seeds are descendants from his turnips as well as the (Raymond) Brackett Farm turnips. Those guys went to great lengths to keep them secret. I highly respect what they did, and they’ve delivered to us a very pure strain of a very unusual plant. However, I’m much more oriented toward feeding people and getting it out there and letting everyone have a shot at it. I supply at least three other farmers with seeds. They grow all they can, and it doesn’t touch my market. I still sell everything I can grow.

I’m not much of a cook. But I always tell people my favorite way to eat an Eastham turnip is to cube it up, steam it, and put butter and salt on it. Anything else is gilding the lily.

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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