Severna Park residents Jim and Lisa Greenberg traveled to the African countries of Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania from September through October to visit field operations of Warm Heart, a sister organization of the nonprofit Biochar Life — a nonprofit for which the Greenbergs volunteer.
The couple saw firsthand how the topics of public health, greenhouse gasses, soil degradation, hunger, climate change and sustainable livelihoods intersect. Their purpose was to learn authentically from local leaders about the work so they can better support it.
Warm Heart was founded in Thailand by Evelind Schecter and Michael Shafer, a married couple who are friends and associates of the Greenbergs. Warm Heart’s initiatives include programs for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. More recently, the Global Biochar Program (GBP), which has expanded into Africa, offers smallholder farmers an alternative to crop burning.
Intended to prepare fields for planting, crop burning emits smoke that contains the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, a known health and environmental adversary. The GBP introduced biochar, a charcoal-like product produced by carbonizing organic waste with no smoke, thereby thwarting carbon dioxide emissions. What charmed the Greenbergs during their visit was the remarkable difference made by biochar when used as a fertilizer.
“What a great difference biochar makes to fertilize soil,” Jim Greenberg said. “It's also highly porous, which increases the water retention in drought prone areas.”
Lisa Greenberg noted they weren’t the only ones enthused.
“We went out into the field (to see) some people who were showing their material — and they just started dancing,” she said.
Warm Heart began teaching farmers how to make biochar with nothing more than a hoe — and its benefits spread like wildfire, particularly the benefit of feeding family members.
“Their next crops are (two or three) times as large and 50% to 60% more productive,” Jim Greenberg said. “And neighbors say, ‘Woah, what did you do?’”
As Warm Heart grew, the GBP was greeted by the complex world of the carbon offset market, an out-of-scope topic. In response, the sister organization Biochar Life was launched in 2022 with Jim Greenberg serving as chairman. His focus of their volunteer work is to build the organization's foundation that supports the verification and accreditation process required to convert farming data to carbon credits.
“I was lucky enough to be involved in work (I did as a living) that I could transfer a lot of that learning into the social enterprise,” Jim Greenberg said.
The sustainable livelihoods of farmers are interlocked with earning carbon credits. Although 75% of carbon credit sales are used to compensate local communities for manufacturing biochar, there’s a twist.
“You can’t just pay (communities) for the process of making the biochar,” Lisa Greenberg explained. “You have to make sure it’s sequestered (as fertilizer). Part of the process of verifying is to verify that the biochar mix has been actually sequestered in the soil.”
While fully committed to Biochar Life, Jim and Lisa Greenberg are no strangers to donating time and resources to organizations, nor to valuing life and purpose.
“I think we do it in part because we’ve been very blessed,” Lisa Greenberg said. “We’re grateful for what we’ve been given … there’s no point in clutching it close; you can give it away.”
Jim Greenberg has reason to feel proud.
“It's a wonderful feeling of fulfillment,” Jim said. “To know that you’re doing something for the good of others and expecting nothing in return.”
Together, Warm Heart and Biochar Life have trained an estimated 13,000 locals this year alone in Kenya and Malawi with plans to expand into Tanzania. To learn more, visit www.biochar.life.
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