4 min read

How Spore-Infused Canola Oil Supports the Forest Ecosystem

By Christopher Pepe on Sep 25, 2020 11:54:55 AM

Blogpost-display-image_Steering a forest (1)

Last year I switched to grocery store canola oil to lubricate my chainsaw bar. I add Oyster mushroom spores into the oil so that they are dispersed while I cut. This method was developed by Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti and discussed in his book Mycelium Running. There doesn’t appear to be a commercially available product; however, by making it myself at close to the cost of conventional petroleum-based bar oil (~$15/gal), I improve my forest and should have some convenient forage this fall. I am still refining the process of infusing spores into canola oil, but if you are curious to try it, I’d be happy to swap notes.

Why vegetable oil?

Available since the mid-1980s, vegetable-based bar oil usage has grown more rapidly in Europe and is gaining adoption in the US. Workers’ occupational safety and health, and environmental protection are the biggest concerns caused by the thousands of gallons of petroleum-based bar oil that is left in our forests each year.

“Petroleum-based oils are known carcinogens and medical records show that they cause discomforting eczema and oil acne. In addition, prolonged exposure to petroleum-based-oil mist can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. Environmental damage caused by petroleum-based oil spills has had extensive attention from the media.[1]”

Whereas, canola oil “has excellent lubricating properties and some studies have shown up to 40 percent reduction in consumption without sacrificing bar-and-chain life.[1]” Again looking to Europe, we see that there are 80+ brands of vegetable-based bar oil in Germany alone. Austria has gone so far as to outlaw petroleum-based bar oil. Europe has even developed a standard (CEC-L-33-T-82) that measures the amount of oil that biodegrades over a 21-day period. Within that standard, products can contain some mineral oil additives. A popular choice in the US, STIHL BioPlus, degrades 93.8% in 21 days. Commercial vegetable-based bar oils cost about twice as much as petroleum products, which has hurt adoption. But with long-term environmental concerns and sustainability driving today's business decisions more than ever before, that additional cost will be more easily justified.

Canola oil is also a renewable product. It is worth considering that conventional agriculture relies on fossil fuels, and accounts for 10% of the US greenhouse gas emissions [2]. Canola-based bar oil is still seen as a net positive as it keeps the toxins in petroleum-based bar oil out of the forests, and we have the potential to change our agricultural footprint into the future.

Why mushrooms?

Saprobic mushrooms, the decomposers, are the cornerstone of returning nutrients back to the forest. Common native fungi include oysters and Turkey tail. As tree limbs and litter fall to the forest floor, saprobes reach up and consume them. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom, invades the tree litter, brings along water, and attracts insects that feed on the mycelium. Those insects attract birds and forest creatures to tear apart the rotting wood. The mushrooms start the process, decompose the most difficult tissues (lignin and cellulose), and invite the others to continue the job. This process converts wood back into soil.

There are many functions that mushrooms serve in our world. Oyster mushrooms are known to feed on nematodes[4] and are effective water filters. They’re used by humans and other animals as food and medicine. Turkey tail mushrooms contain anti-cancer medicines, are aggressive decomposers, and protect against parasitic fungi. Many of our best medicines have come from mushrooms and many more are expected to be discovered, especially in the few remaining sections of old-growth forests. There are dozens of powerful mushrooms that humans have partnered with and countless more that we don't even know the value of yet. Perhaps they will share their stories someday.

Why use spore infused canola oil?

Mushroom spores are everywhere. In fact, you have inhaled dozens since you started reading this article. Kathleen Stutzman, VFF’s Conservation Forester, gave me the sage advice that “the forest does not need you to be healthy.” Similarly, the mushrooms do not need me to find their way into deadwood. However, the choices that I make can help steer our forest in the direction I want it to go. By preferring some species, I can speed up decomposition and quickly build the thin soil on my rocky hillside. New research suggests that species like Turkey tail will also ward off potentially destructive species like the honey mushroom[3], one of which is the largest organism to ever live on earth. While honey mushrooms likely serve a function in the forest, they also cause a lot of financial hardship for timber companies. The jury is still out on honey mushrooms in my opinion, but Turkey tail and Oysters mushrooms help decompose everything 3” and smaller that I leave behind, provide us food and medicine, and support the entire forest ecosystem.

References

  1. https://www.fs.fed.us/eng/pubs/html/98511316/98511316.html
  2. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/climate-change/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPeBYnGwo4Y
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBWzrlCBhCM
Topics: carbon-footprint green-team
5 min read

Improving Our Soil's Health Through Regenerative Practices

By Suze Treacy on Apr 24, 2020 9:15:00 AM

2020 Blogposts_Sinking Carbon Through Regenerative Soil Practices2

The world is changing. As we battle global warming, we face 42 years of above-average global temperatures, a 46% increase in carbon in the air since the 1800s, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events (1). Because of the threats that climate change presents, there has been a mindset shift - whether it's from an environmental perspective, a health perspective, or simply from personal knowledge - people have become more conscious of how they treat our planet and want to do better.

 

In this journey to do better for our world, do you realize the importance of the ground we walk on?

Made up of a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and billions of living organisms, soils are a basis for life. A natural passage for plant growth, an estimated 95% of our food comes from soil! (2) And when soil isn't feeding us, it absorbs water to drain, help plants, and recharge underground water; it maintains both the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles; it offers stable ground for our construction; it acts as a carbon sink, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into the soil's organic carbon. Simply put, soil is amazing, and human life literally depends on it; we can't exist without it. 

How Soil Impacts The Carbon Cycle & Climate Change

I'd like to talk some more about the carbon cycle and the role soil plays. The carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and geological deposits. Plants in our soil absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, water from the soil, and sunlight to make their own food and grow through photosynthesis. The carbon becomes part of the plant, and thus, when animals eat the plant, carbon moves along the food chain. As animals breathe, some carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. When plants and animals die, dead organisms are eaten by bacteria and fungi in the soil, and carbon in their bodies is returned to the atmosphere as even more carbon dioxide that hopefully plants absorb and put back into the soil. In 2018, Columbia University estimated that the Earth's soil contains about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—that’s more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals (3).

Unfortunately, activities such as deforestation and large-scale, intensive, toxic, and chemical-heavy agriculture techniques lead to soil erosion. Consequently, we are quickly destroying our soil at such an intense rate that in 2014, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reported that we only have approximately 60 years left of growing crops (4). A terrifying statistic when you consider the impact on our food supply alone. The way we treat our soil also impacts our planet, as it affects our soil's ability to fight global warming. These degradation processes result in carbon being released into the atmosphere as well as decreasing the soil's ability to store carbon. A damaging cycle ensues: exacerbated carbon losses from the soil leads to increased carbon in the atmosphere, accelerating climate change, thus intensifying downpours and further decreasing topsoil. 

 

Regenerative Soil Practices Give Us Hope

As we seek out more ways that we can contribute to a healthier planet, regenerative soil practices offer hope for positive change through the rehabilitation and enhancement of ecosystems. There are so many ways we can regenerate our soil. The Climate Reality Project outlined some of these key soil regeneration practices (5):

  • Plant Species Diversity: Different plants offer a range of diverse properties, releasing different carbohydrates through their roots. Various microbes feed on those carbohydrates, and, in turn, return a variety of different nutrients back to the soil, creating rich, nutrient-dense soils. These soils both more crops and improve their ability to absorb carbon.
  • Rotation and Cover Crops: By rotating crops and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can infuse soils with additional and more diverse soil organic matter. This helps to avoid disease and pest problems naturally, all while improving biodiversity, and, you guessed it, improving soil's ability to absorb carbon.
  • Conservation Tillage: Plowing and tillage dramatically erode soil and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as creating a hostile environment for important soil microbes. By adopting low- or no-till practices, farmers minimize physical disturbance of the soil, and over time increase levels of soil organic matter, creating healthier, more resilient environments for plants to thrive, as well as keeping more carbon where it belongs: in the land. 
  • Cleaner agriculture decisions: Harsh chemicals can damage long-term soil health by disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots. Utilizing cleaner products, along with regenerative agriculture practices, is crucial in preserving soil health and maintaining the soil's ability to absorb carbon.

 

How You Can Get Involved

The great news is that these regenerative practices are becoming more popular, more accessible to people, and now, you can get involved too. You can support farmers by shopping at local farmers' markets and buying organic as often as possible. Talk to your local supermarket about how you can support farmers who employ these good practices. 

For the more green-fingered among us, how about starting your own garden and have a shot at growing your own food? If you're short on space, you could also try container gardening or join some fellow gardeners in your local community garden. And fear not, if you're not ready to take the leap into the gardening world, there are also a number of organizations working hard to improve soil quality, and they offer ways for you to get involved. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Kiss The Ground, an LA-based non-profit, is inspiring people to get involved in soil regeneration, with a bold goal to transition 5000 farmers and train 20,000 leaders by 2025.
  • Roam Ranch, a multi-species regenerative ranch in the Texas Hill Country working to heal the ecosystem through regenerating their land and creating nourishing food.
  • Farmers Footprint, a coalition of farmers, educators, doctors, scientists, and business leaders aiming to expose the human and environmental impacts of chemical farming and offer a path forward through regenerative agricultural practices.

 

As we close out Earth Week, I hope that this post provides you with valuable information and inspires you to join us in taking better care of our world. At Praecipio Consulting, we have team members that are passionate about the planet, and they have taken up activities like composting and gardening. It's never too late to start!

 

References
(1) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/04/21/earth-day-2019-climate-change-humans-global-warming-weather-rising-water/3507125002/

(2) https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/ten-things-know-soil/

(3) https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/02/21/can-soil-help-combat-climate-change/

(4) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

(5) https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/what-regenerative-agriculture

 

Topics: do-good carbon-footprint green-team carbon-neutral regenerative-practices
5 min read

The Green Dream Update

By Christopher Pepe on Feb 19, 2020 9:15:00 AM

I wanted to give you an update on our climate response progress and evolving position. My belief is that burning oil and planting trees to offset it cannot be considered a net zero action because essentially, we increase the amount of biologically available carbon that will impact the climate. This is because it moves long-sequestered carbon into available storage that is easily accessible. I believe that in the future, humans will be remembered as the liberators of carbon that made that world possible. Perhaps, we'll even still be around to take credit.

We cannot realistically eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels today, but we can start to reduce it. Praecipio Consulting is an atom within a droplet inside the entire ocean of human influence, so what carbon we directly reduce has very little effect on the planet. Because of this, we have implemented initiatives that invite our employees and peers to change the way they think and act towards the environment and our communities. We believe that a change in behavior ensures that some carbon will never be unnecessarily liberated and that effect will multiply through the years. Our thinking is that this will have a larger impact over time, even more so than the promise of direct offsets based on $1 trees. We may fall short of our goal of becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2020, but with each passing year, we will drastically reduce the amount of carbon that we release as a company.

How Praecipio Consulting Will Multiply Carbon Reductions Over Time 

Let me use two examples to demonstrate, and please poke holes in my logic. First, the frequency of flooding has increased as a result of climate change, which has affected both communities and their resources. In order to help prevent flooding, Praecipio Consulting has contributed to land conservancy, which will "forever," at least for the long-term, protect the river-adjacent, tilled farm land that once regularly flooded. Because of our efforts, the field's riparian buffer is being restored with native shrubs and trees. These plants help to slow down flood water and provide a number of benefits. Downstream communities now suffer less flood damage, the land absorbs the water that causes the river level to go down, and the buffer receives river silt, which fertilizes the land (to the tune of 0.5 tons of carbon per acre per year "forever"). Additionally, these shrubs and trees help clean the flood water, making life easier on its resident wildlife, like our beloved trout. For this project, we spent the absurd amount of $500 per ton of carbon. However, with each passing year, we will spend $0 per ton, not to mention that we simultaneously support riparian restoration, protect native species, and reduce the effects of climate change on downstream communities.

Second, we have promoted and encouraged at-home composting, which several team members have taken up. Composting at home makes people more aware of the food that they consume and helps them produce less waste. It also keeps food out of landfills, where it does considerable harm by converting to the potent greenhouse gas, methane. In fact,  40% of of the food in America ends up in landfills. To me, this is one of the most shameful realities of our modern world. If we simply stopped wasting so much food, we would be able to address food shortage, reduce oil usage, increase national security, prevent climate change, and more. Composting is something everyone can do, and collectively, we would make a huge impact. I have also written other articles on food composting, which you can check out here:

The Green Team Influence

"I'm a system administrator and love computers. Until recently, I was content to sit inside, watch TV, play video games, and worry too much about system maintenance going horribly wrong. Then I bought a horse farm with my wife and was introduced to gardening and composting, thanks to Praecipio Consulting's Green Team. Over the past year, we have put in a six-bed garden and grown various different vegetables and flowers, including tomatoes, squash, various peppers of different heat, spices (basil, thyme, etc.), kale, sunflowers, lavender, mint, etc. We’ve started composting and will be using that in the garden this spring when we start planting again. We have an improved Meyer lemon tree on the way that we are excited to see fruit harvest from in a couple of years, in addition to a new adventure in beekeeping this spring. A two hive apiary is in the works, and we look forward to seeing what it grows into. Other future projects will include an orchard with various fruits and continuing our off-grid cabin, which already has a composting toilet and will get a solar power upgrade soon. Now, I find myself outside more often and feel more relaxed and creative, so when that upgrade fails miserably it is easier to find a way to move forward."

-Kris Hall, Platform Reliability Engineer

"We all know that I'm not an outdoors person. I tried twice before this past year to grow tomatoes and it never went well.  But I have always wanted to learn new ways to reduce my carbon footprint, especially regarding food waste.  Jess did a presentation about composting and it sparked my interest in the topic.  She started talking about worms, and I was certain that this was the end of my composting dreams.  During that time, I started collecting certain scraps and throwing them into freezer bags. We turned those scraps into cooking stock, and as an avid cook, homemade stock makes an impressive difference in a risotto.  I continued researching composting and found the bokashi container, which didn't require worms and could be stored in my house.  This was a perfect way to continue my goal of reducing food waste.  For my birthday, my husband bought me a keyhole garden, which not only requires less water, but it also has a space dedicated to composting.  I could take the funky mess from the bokashi container and layer it into the keyhole.  Our garden was amazing. It was so successful that it eventually became overcrowded, and we had to draw up a plan to expand this year's garden. And I can now grow tomatoes."

-Shannon Fabert, Principal of Managed Services and Hosting

"During the fall of 2019, I really started to pay attention to the green initiatives that the company champions. Prior to this time, my family was making sure to put cans and bottles in our recycling bin, but that was about it. Now, not only are we much more aggressive with recycling, we are starting to make purchasing decisions based on packaging and its impact on the environment. I know these are baby steps, but I’m happy about where we’re headed as a family. Who knows, maybe composting, gardening or rainwater collection is our next step. For now, what I do know is that we will continue to take steps improve our carbon footprint and influence our neighbors as much as we can."

-Larry Brock, Sr Technical Architect

 

Topics: do-good carbon-footprint green-team carbon-neutral
2 min read

Tree Planting with Praecipio Consulting, TreeFolks, and Austin City Parks

By Christian Lane on Nov 26, 2019 11:37:00 AM

Praecipio plants trees, planting trees, volunteer planting trees, tree planting

On Friday, November 22, 2019, Praecipio Consulting co-hosted a tree planting event with Austin City Parks and Recreation Department (Urban Forestry Division), and TreeFolks at Civitan Park. TreeFolks’ mission “is to empower Central Texans to build strong communities through planting and caring for trees” and has also “engaged thousands of volunteers to plant more than 2.8 million trees” over the past 30 years. They have been involved in community-building events centered around pillars such as reforestation, education, and growing the urban forest. Their name tells you all you need to know about their fervor for making the Earth happier and our climate more stable by planting one tree at a time. 

Planting Trees

Despite the cold and wet weather, our volunteers (with the help of the Parks and Recreation Department Urban Forestry Divison), planted new trees and mulched existing trees in the park. Volunteers consisted of 20 Praecipio Consulting employees alongside 17 friends from Atlassian and the Atlassian Community. We planted 35 trees and helped spread 8 cubic yards of mulch throughout Civitan Park. In addition, Praecipio Consulting donates to TreeFolks to help support other tree planting events around the city of Austin, such as their Tree Adoption program NeighborWoods, which donates trees to homeowners to plant in their yards. Donations to TreeFolks goes a long way; 90 cents out of every $1 goes directly to planting trees.

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Aligning our Partner Values

If anyone wants to understand the long-lasting impact an organization like TreeFolks has on a community, one does not have to look any further than TreeFolks’ own Development Director, Margot Piper, who shared a heart-warming story with volunteers at the park. “When I was seven years old, my parents and I planted our first tree with TreeFolks. To this day, my parents and I still have picnics together under that very same tree,” she says with an enormous smile. It is refreshingly clear how much the organization and its mission mean to Ms. Piper. That level of affection is one of many reasons why our company chose TreeFolks as a partner.

Our Carbon Dioxide Contribution 

Praecipio Consulting beliP1210336eves in encouraging and enabling others in our ecosystem to amplify our efforts. By inviting the Atlassian Community to join our event, we hope to raise awareness of this noble foundation and hope to see future collaborations. “The goal of our green works program is to get out there and do the most good possible,” Praecipio Consulting's Christopher Pepe says passionately. “We could have just sent out a press release stating that we purchased a set number of carbon credits to offset our business’ activities, but that doesn’t lead to a change in our lifestyles,” Pepe continues, “We commit to these strategic philanthropic partnerships which, in turn, enables our team to get involved—get their hands dirty—and do the most good possible for our community.” 

If you'd like to learn more about TreeFolks and their purpose, we invite you to join their next event NeighborWoods 500 Tree Adoption at Austin Discovery School on December 7, 2019, from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. 

                               

 

Topics: do-good treefolks carbon-footprint

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