The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

Growing Organically Since 1982

Building Long-Term Fertility with Biochar

July 17, 2016 - 10:00am to 4:00pm
Astarte Farm
123 West Street
Hadley, MA

NOFA/Mass Member - $60 (walk-in cost $65) Non-member - $ 75 (walk-in cost $80)

Pre-registration is recommended.  For more information contact Dan Bensonoff, Education Events Organizer, at or 860-716-5122.

Limited scholarships are available for new farmers (those growing 10 or less years) who are active NOFA/Mass members. To apply please click here.  


For centuries, biochar has been used throughout the world as a natural and easily-obtained soil amendment that builds microbial communities and long-term fertility in soils. Created through a process known as pyrolysis, biochar adds stable carbon to the soil, functioning to sequester atmospheric carbon, retain moisture, sweeten soil, and build rich habitat for microbes, nematodes, and fungi that aid in plant nutrient availability. 

Dan Pratt of Astarte Farm will discuss how, when, and why they incorporate biochar into their diversified vegetable farm. Dan will show trials on their farm that compare biochar/compost amended soils with a control. He will also discuss many of the other innovative systems on their farm, including no-till, pollinator habitat islands, and more.

Dr. Emily Cole, assistant professor of soil science at Westfield State University, will share the results of her multi-year research project on biochar. Her research focused on how soil biota changes in response to biochar. She will share best practices and talk us through creating our own on-farm trials.

Hugh Mcloughlin, owner of Nextchar, an Amherst-based biochar manufacturer, will also be on hand to talk about different types of biochar and answer questions about the manufacturing process.

About the Instructors:

Dan Pratt, Astarte Farm manager, has developed his methods of organic soil improvement over the last 45 years. Starting in 1971 with Robert Rodale’s basic principle, “feed the soil, not the plant,” he progressed through a wide variety of farming enterprises ranging in scale from 3 to 1,700 acres. In 1999 he purchased the land for Astarte Farm in Hadley, MA, a human scale market gardening farm that sells direct to customers and wholesale. Dan has also written a series of articles for Growing for Market magazine in 2009-10 detailing his organic growing and selling experiences.

Dr. Emily Cole is professor of soil ecosystems and environmental education at Westfield State University. Her research focuses on the complex soil ecosystem and its response to disturbance by anthropogenic means. She is interested in the remediation of contaminated soils, improvement of soil health and overall sustainability in agroecosystems.

Hugh Mclaughlin, PhD, has a professional consulting practice in Chemical Engineering. He is an expert on the properties and production of chars, created by pyrolyzing biomass, and the subsequent conversion to activated carbons. He has published extensively on biochar and biomass derived heat production, including co-authoring “All Biochars are not Created Equal and How to Tell them Apart” (2009) and “U.S. Focused Biochar Report: Assessment of Biochar’s Benefits for the United States of America” (2010).

Click here to register online now or click here for a mail-in registration form

More Info:

There will be a potluck lunch from 12 PM - 1 PM on the farm. Please bring something to share.

For information on our refund and inclement weather policy, click here.

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