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What Is Biochar Gardening?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The mayor of Minneapolis and the chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux signed an agreement Tuesday that promotes the use of biochar.

Jim Doten, Minneapolis' environmental services' supervisor, says it's a product similar to cooking charcoal that's used for gardening.

"They really increase the soil fertility, it increases crop yields, it reduces the amount of inputs you need, the amount of fertilizer you need," Doten said.

Biochar is typically made from waste wood which is heated to 500 degrees in a sealed container. The resulting product is very porous, so in garden soil, biochar holds water and nutrients.

"It will be in the soil for hundreds, up to thousands of years, rather than breaking down and being released into the atmosphere," he said.

Some beautiful veggies are growing in a garden near the Indian Health Board Facility in Minneapolis. It is one of five biochar demonstration gardens in the city.

The idea, according to organic farmer Christina Elias, is to grow more food on smaller plots, near communities that need fresh produce.

"We moved in 47 tons of soil," Elias said. "It's strong in Native American practices, and we have Oneida corn, we have the black turtle beans, Cherokee trail climbing beans."

The biochar for these gardens is mixed with compost at a Mdewakanton organic recycling facility in Shakopee. This all-natural blend takes the place of chemical fertilizers.

"I think fresh produce is important to every community, and I think fresh produce that is organically grown and we know what's in the produce is extremely important," Elias said.

Biochar helps the atmosphere as well. Traditional burning of waste wood creates carbon dioxide -- a greenhouse gas which contributes to atmospheric warming.

The making of biochar prevents this harmful emission by keeping the carbon in the ground.

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