By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

Chris Williams and Leandra Hill launched Whole Earth Lawn Care in May 2017 with a desire to create “a good business model that does a lot of good.”

Williams says he’s developed an effective and natural lawn care program that eliminates the environmental and health impacts that chemical fertilizers potentially have. Williams and Hill are interested in living spaces that are safe for human and pet health.

For the main component of their program, they mix biochar into their customers’ soil. Biochar is an agricultural-grade charcoal-like substance made from animal waste, mill waste and crop residue. It’s a byproduct of heating organic matter with little or no oxygen, a technique called pyrolysis.

This method of mixing charcoal (or carbon) into soil is based on an ancient technique used over 1,500 years ago. Scientists studying riverbanks lining the Amazon discovered that areas where charcoal was used for crop production have some of the richest, most fertile soil in the world.

Now, this ancient and simple farming technique is being looked at as a solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and curbing world hunger by increasing crop yields. Carbon holds onto carbon dioxide remarkably well—some scientists believe for hundreds to thousands of years. Carbon also helps replenish poor soil, enhances plant growth and root development, and requires 20 to 30 percent less watering in some soils.    

Williams is quick to point out that his goals aren’t quite so lofty and biochar isn’t a magic bullet, but he’s a firm believer in its sustainability and ability to improve soil fertility. “Nature has its own ways of being efficient and creating multiple wins,” he says.

Strategically adding biochar to soil creates a home for bugs, fungi and microorganisms. These microorganisms release waste and provide nutrients like nitrogen, thereby reducing fertilizer requirements. Furthermore, biochar seems to be able to hold onto the nitrogen that is added to soil in chemical fertilizers and releases nitrogen to the plant it’s feeding more steadily, thus reducing nitrate pollution to rivers.

Williams and Hill are keen on shifting landowners’ perspectives on how they grow and care for their lawns. “Traditionally we have used chemical products because it’s what has been marketed to us—it’s cheap and easy,” Williams said. “While the biochar program can cost a bit more, it has great value.”

They plan to grow their second company, Whole Earth Soil Catalyst, with an eye toward creating more sustainable golf courses and urban areas.

This got me thinking about the environmental impact of golf courses on our watersheds. I contacted Big Sky’s four golf course superintendents for information about their grounds keeping practices. To my delight, each is taking strides to reduce impact to our water supply and said they’d be happy to meet with Williams to learn more about biochar. Stay tuned for more on those conversations in the next edition of EBS.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the biochar program, visit wholeearthlawncare.com.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant and public speaker. Contact her at Jackie@corehealthmt.com.