A 501(c)(3) non-profit citizen’s organization dedicated to thoughtful planning and policies for sustainable growth, stewardship of our natural, cultural and historical resources and the protection of the rural character of our region.
The film Unbroken Ground explores four areas of agriculture that aim to change our relationship to the land and oceans. Most of our food is produced using methods that reduce biodiversity, decimate soil and contribute to climate change. We believe our food can and should be a part of the solution to the environmental crisis – grown, harvested and produced in ways that restore our land, water and wildlife. The film tells the story of four groups that are pioneers in the fields of regenerative agriculture, regenerative grazing, diversified crop development and restorative fishing.
Enjoy this full length feature and join us in finding a solution to the environmental crisis through food!
The Land Institute is a non-profit research, education, and policy organization dedicated to sustainable agriculture based in Salina, Kansas, United States. Their goal is to develop an agricultural system based on perennial crops that “has the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops”
The scientific, economic and anecdotal evidence to support the use of wood fuels for thermal energy is widely available, yet most Virginians are unaware that wood heat is feasible on an institutional scale. Why is that – a lack of information, misinformation, or something more?
The Virginia Community Wood Energy Program (VCWEP) explored potential barriers to increased thermal energy in rural Virginia through conversations and questionnaires with potential users operating public and private facilities. Those conversations offered the following insights to perceived barriers and potential opportunities regarding the state of community wood energy in the Commonwealth.
Individual Perception Barriers to Wood Energy:
Over the last 45 years, the real price of wood energy has actually declined. Woodchip prices have increased at less than the rate of general inflation over the decades, unlike oil and gas prices. Although few interviewed disputed the actual cost advantage of wood versus conventional heating fuels, the cost of boiler conversion and the on-going personnel costs of operating biomass boilers were recurring concerns.
The boilers needed for biomass heating varies, depending on the type of fuel. Biomass boilers do require additional storage and handling equipment compared to conventional liquid and gas fuels, but the fuel cost savings realized using biomass fuel pays for the boiler conversion costs.
Modern biomass boilers are commercially available for use in schools, office buildings, hospitals, and other institutions. They utilize automatic feed systems and advanced computerized controls to maximize the efficiency and performance of the equipment, minimizing operating costs, including personnel.
Virginia supports over 180 saw, chip, pulp and pellet mills that produce sawdust, wood chips and pellets as a primary or by-product. Even so, the reliable supply of fuel was a concern.
In fact, wood chips are a commonly sold commodity for pulp and paper production, and Virginia is currently exporting the majority of the wood pellets produced here to New England states and European countries, because the demand is there. Increased local demand would keep energy dollars local and reduce the carbon footprint associated with exporting.
Consulting foresters are available throughout the Commonwealth, who can help locate sources of fuel and negotiate supply contracts. Farm-based biomass fuels (native grasses and timber) are another growing sector of the supply market. By increasing local demand, farmers are offered an option that creates new markets and revenues, and may consequently save open land from development, in addition to keeping energy dollars local.
Concerns about potential air pollution and deforestation were commonly expressed environmental concerns.
In fact, commercial-scale boilers are able to combust biomass cleanly, with no visible smoke or odor, thanks to computer controls and other developments. Biomass combustors are permitted by Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and must meet all requirements for air quality. Woodchip boilers with modern emission controls have virtually no visible emissions or odors and emit far less particulate matter (PM) than home wood stoves.
Burning wood for energy also has a positive impact in moderating global climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2 ) buildup in the atmosphere is a significant cause of global climate change. Fossil fuel combustion takes carbon that was locked away underground (as crude oil and gas) and transfers it to the atmosphere as CO2. When wood is burned, however, it recycles carbon that was already in the natural carbon cycle. Consequently, the net effect of burning wood fuel is that no new CO2 is added to the atmosphere.
The latest research out of Virginia Tech shows that the forests of Virginia are growing at least twice as fast as they are being harvested and can support increased utilization. Using waste products from timber harvests and sawmills for wood fuel offers a productive use for low-grade woody material. Sawdust and wood chips from sawmills are a waste that must be disposed of and are typically sold. Biomass removal after harvest operations generate additional revenue from material that would otherwise be open burned for disposal or left to decay. Improving forest health through thinning, invasive species management, and wildfire fuel load reduction operations comes at a cost to landowners.
Wood fuel markets can generate additional revenue from timber harvests for landowners, or at the very least offset the cost of forest health operations, thereby incentivizing landowners to actively manage their forests and to keep their forestlands as forest. Rather than causing deforestation, the sustainable removal of biomass can improve overall forest health and reduce the incidence of uncontrollable, devastating fires.
Systemic Barriers to Community Wood Energy
Since wood has been a source of heat for generations, most everyone is familiar with domestic wood heat, and many understand that biomass is a viable energy source for institutions and public facilities. Facility managers interviewed were generally aware that modern technologies allow for boilers to deliver safe, efficient and reliable heat. However, many public officials were unaware of the potential for biomass energy to improve community wellbeing through the creation of sustainable, local jobs that consequently contribute to healthy forests and diversified wildlife.
Institutional wood energy is a multisystemic, community-based alternative that impacts local economies, ecology and society. Everyone is understandably interested in utilizing fuels that save on the costs of heating; however, the economic benefits of keeping energy dollars within the community through sustainable jobs that also protect our environment strike chords throughout the community, including municipal planners and local leaders. Although the stable cost of wood per BTU over the past 45 years alone offers fiscal incentive, the added value created when wood energy is viewed systemically adds significantly to the overall savings.
Community systems begin with people – the systems reflect the needs of the people and once created, systems impact the lives of citizens within that system. Energy is often viewed as an external, uncontrollable cost, and energy choices are often a reaction to current although volatile markets and supply availability. Once energy consumption is viewed as a conscientious measure taken to improve the overall health and wellbeing of local citizens, environment and economy, the benefits are more than economic and indeed redefine costs/savings systemically.
A primary barrier to the increased use of thermal energy in rural Virginia may then be our incomplete picture of this community resource within the context of community systems. Perhaps we need to “re-package” energy as it relates to the whole community. For instance, while community planners are focused on generating jobs to boost local economies by adding businesses, sustainable jobs may be a natural byproduct of their energy systems. However, planners are typically not involved in discussions and decisions regarding local energy options. Likewise, county administrators are charged with managing multiple systems within a community, but may not play a major role in determining the heating systems for their schools. School superintendents typically defer to facilities and maintenance managers to recommend the best options for their schools, but they may not be charged to take into consideration how that system impacts the larger community.
The benefits and savings of modern thermal energy run deeper than the traditional analysis of cost per BTU. Communities are multisystemic – energy is yet another gear within a system that generates community well-being. Thermal energy offers more than an economically stable energy source. Sustainable jobs, healthier forests, cleaner air and a more diversified wildlife may be welcomed side-effects that not only reduce costs but contribute to healthier citizens.
“Our true destiny…is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places.” David W. Orr
“It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to…the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility…and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.” Robert F. Kennedy
Betty J. Dixon
Social Science Consultant
Virginia Community Wood Energy Program
A Program of the Center for Natural Capital – a 501(c)(3) charitable organization
130 W. Main Street
Orange, VA 22960
(540) 672-2542 (office)
The Center for Natural Capitol provides consulting and commercial services spanning four channels – energy, rivers, landscape, and people. Brian Becker is the Program Manager of the Virginia Community Wood Energy Program. Betty Dixon is a Social Scientist Consultant to the Program. Frank Kilgore is an attorney and conservationist in St. Paul, VA.
“A strong democracy needs an electorate that’s informed and engaged to make wise, thought-out decisions, whether when voting for a city council seat or a seat in Congress.
One of the easiest ways for candidates for office to reach out to voters, to speak with them and to them about the issues they consider important is through unstaged, unscripted debates and public forums.
Think of it as a job interview that culminates each Election Day, regardless whether the job applicant is a newcomer to the process, a freshman undergoing his first “performance review” or a veteran connecting with longtime constituents.” -News & Advance Editorial Board
Wednesday, Oct. 5, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
898 Woodberry Forest Rd.
Woodberry Forest, VA 22989
The evening’s moderator, Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, PhD., is professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington. He is a former Canada-U.S. Fulbright Research Chair in Public Policy at McGill University in Montreal and a former chair of the political communication section of the American Political Science Association. The author of five books, Farnsworth received a Ph.D. and an M.A. in government from Georgetown University, a B.A. in history from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and a B.A. in government from Dartmouth College. Before becoming a professor, he worked for 10 years as a journalist.
Rural Madison is very grateful for the generous assistance of our host and partner Woodberry Forest School for arranging Dr. Farnsworth’s participation, as well as providing the venue for this year’s forum.
The event is free and open to the public, and will be simulcast by WFSPN for those who cannot attend in person. For more information or to submit questions for the candidates, please email MCCandidates@ruralmadison.org.
“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be believe,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”
As we’ve written before, the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results…
A Practitioner’s Guide to GAP Food Safety Certification & The Food Safety Modernization Act
Free Webinar Tuesday August 2, 2016
1:00- 2:00 PM EST
For produce growers, now more than ever food safety certification is a major hurdle to entering and staying competitive in the wholesale marketplace. More and more buyers are requiring 3rd party audits and frequently farmers are left to find their own way through a confusing and complicated food safety landscape. Add to this the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and you have a perfect recipe for dismay and misinformation. In this webinar we will attempt to demystify the mysterious, find out what questions farmers and buyers should be asking each other, and answer some of the burning questions about FSMA and food safety audits:
Why produce food safety and why now?
What is GAP certification?
What questions should I ask? – As a farmer or as a buyer
What is a food safety standard and how do I know which one to choose?
When is a 3rd party audit necessary? Who is qualified to provide the audit?
What training do I need?
Who has to comply with FSMA and what does it take?
What will all this cost me in time and money??
Who can I trust?
Lindsay Gilmour is the owner of Organic Planet LLC and plays two roles: as a personal chef, and as a food systems consultant. Ms. Gilmour has over 35 years’ experience in the food industry as a chef and adult educator, and 13 years in Value Chain Coordination working with farmers to develop efficiencies and systems to meet the demands of the wholesale marketplace. Her current focus is assisting farmers with food safety compliance. Ms. Gilmour has trained in Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standards, is qualified as a USDA internal auditor for the Harmonized Standards, is a qualified trainer for the FDA Produce Safety rule, a “qualified individual” under the FDA Preventative Controls for Human Food regulation, and has trained as an internal auditor for ISO 9001-22006 quality management systems for agricultural enterprises. Ms. Gilmour has a particular interest and experience in helping farmers work together to achieve food safety certification. From 2013 to 2015 she managed a Group GAP Pilot in Pennsylvania for Fair Food Philadelphia, successfully shepherding more than 120 Amish and Mennonite farmers through USDA Group GAP certification. She is currently managing a project in Mississippi for the Wallace Center at Winrock International, creating a USDA approved ‘single-entity management’ food safety model as a viable solution for under resourced, small farm cooperatives. She continues to work with farmers and orchardists, individually and in groups, helping them overcome their trepidation and develop food safety programs that make sense for them.
Lindsey Lunsford gathers peppers at TULIP’s community garden. Photo by Wil Sands.
For decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against Black farmers, excluding them from farm loans and assistance. Meanwhile, racist violence in the South targeted land-owning Black farmers, whose very existence threatened the sharecropping system. These factors led to the loss of about 14 million acres of Black-owned rural land—an area nearly the size of West Virginia.
In 1982, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights extrapolated the statistics on land loss and predicted the extinction of the Black farmer by the year 2000.
They were wrong. While the situation is still dire, with Black farmers comprising only about 1 percent of the industry, we have not disappeared. After more than a century of decline, the number of Black farmers is on the rise.
These farmers are not just growing food, either. The ones you’ll meet here rely on survival strategies inherited from their ancestors, such as collectivism and commitment to social change. They infuse popular education, activism, and collective ownership into their work.
As you know, Rural Madison, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit citizen’s organization dedicated to thoughtful planning and policies for sustainable growth, stewardship of our natural, cultural and historical resources and the protection of the rural character of our region.
We ask that you consider making a donation to Rural Madison during The Northern Piedmont Community Foundation’s annual Give Local Piedmont fund drive for local non-profits on May 3rd. Your donation will allow us to continue to be involved in important activities such as the Stone Soup Project, The George Washington Carver Food Enterprise Center, The Community Garden and the recent Madison County Green & Clean Day, to name just a few.
Thank you for all you do to help preserve and protect the natural beauty of our mountains, woodlands and farmlands, and to improve the well-being of our people, environment and economy!