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CarbonChar & Biochar – growing nutritious food, from RIG News, Dec. 2013, Feature: Enterprising People & Projects

2014 January 3
by anthea

Ancient wisdom grows better food                      

By Karen Siepen, for RIG News, Dec. 2013 

In 2005 I embarked on a business venture to provide charcoal for the restaurant industry around Australia.  Today I make CarbonChar (high grade biochar) to help people grow healthier food and live healthier lives. 

I live and run my business Renewable Carbon Resources Australia (RCRA) 100km from the south western Queensland community of Charleville so I know all about poor food quality. I also know a fair bit about poor soil quality as well as we are on the edge of the desert country which offers fine red sand which sets like cement when it is dry and turns to slush when it is wet. The soil here is basically dead.

Like so many other remote and regional communities far from large centres, the only food available in Charleville has been grown in other more fertile locations, often gassed to stop it from rotting and may have been stored for nine months or more in cold stores before we get it.  By the time we buy it, the food has often lost its flavour and nutritional value (if it had much nutritional value to start with! as so much is grown using chemical fertilisers). The result of eating this kind of food for me was a loss of energy. My brain was getting fuzzy and my eyesight was diminishing very quickly. These are all signs of malnutrition. The food I was eating had no nutrition in it. It looked good but essentially it was water and fertilizer.

After a couple of years in the west I discovered my charcoal helped plants grow faster and better, and best of all the vegies and fruit I was growing tasted amazing. So, I was in the process of discovering what ‘real food’ tastes like, and how good ‘real food’ can make you feel – both mentally and physically. Now we are embarking on a project to help Charleville citizens grow their own healthy foods in a community garden using CarbonChar. Our business already supplies hundreds of tonnes of CarbonChar per year to Australian farmers.  However our goal next year is to work with more communities – particularly communities in distant locations – who are forced to buy food similar to that available in Charleville.

How much better would it be if people in remote locations could grow more of their own food at home or community gardens where they live? Wouldn’t it be great to use techniques and soil enhancers that work and are practical for harsh weather and poor soil conditions? How much better would it be if the food they grew was packed full of nutrients? How much better would it be if remote communities could make their own biochar or better still CarbonChar, so that the food they grow can be as healthy as possible and their communities more self sufficient?  The making of charcoal is an ancient craft but it can be taught.

This year is almost over but next year we will embark on a project to work more closely with farming enterprises, school kitchen gardens and community gardens to help get the most nutrition out of locally grown food using CarbonChar.  Will you join us?  If your community is interested, ready and willing to learn the techniques of making quality CarbonChar, and would like to use it in your local school or community garden you may like to get in touch.

Karen Siepen is from Renewable Carbon Resources Australia (RCRA). To read more about biochar and CarbonChar visit the RCRA website at

To contact Karen, email: 

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