biochar –

Having wholeheartedly internalised aspirations to productivity in my youth, the inner capitalism doesn’t like to let go without a fight. Luckily, many aspects of living regeneratively provide a yield as a side effect. Just going about our day is productive, however else we may spend our time.


The thing is, conceiving of ourselves as wasteful and exploitative, a pox on the planet, really, depends on daily systems that reinforce this story through linear waste-streams. Extract, manufacture, ship, sell, consume, throw away.

Yet the compost toilet captures human ‘waste’ nutrients in the ‘waste’ product of sawdust and transforms it through nitrogen-powered heat and microbial alchemy into rich soil to nurture a thriving, water-holding garden. We are always making organic matter.

Whatever else I did today, I made more life.

So it is with biochar. The heat we seek to warm our hearth and home in the form of the wood fire produces wood ash, which we collect to feed the trees and shrubs that love its particular qualities. Sifting charcoal chips from powdery ash yields pure gold. When we bury the charcoal in the compost, or in the deep litter* in the chicken run, it absorbs rich nutrients as well as holding water and like some kind of eternal sponge, it will release them to the land for centuries to come. More alchemy.

And all we need to do is live. It’s a small shift, yet it means that who we are at a fundamental level is a productive, life-propagating, enriching part of the ecosystem.

We’d like to engage more of these ancient cycles that create more life. To wear clothing from our fibre-shed that will compost back into the earth. To eat from our food-shed of farms that yield nutrient-dense, fresh, flavourful food while deepening living soil and sustaining people with good work. To capture rainwater to fill more ponds and grow more trees. To wear a path that makes it easier for those that follow us to live well into the future.

This letter is one of many that informed the first episode of the journal of small work*, my new film series that looks at building a continuously improving, compounding repertoire of ways to live regeneratively. subscribe to the letters to support new writing on possible futures.