Ben Stallings

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since Mar 26, 2012
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Student of permaculture since 2004, when I sold all my belongings and hit the road on a bicycle to tour ecovillages around North America for a year. Had a 1/4 acre urban farm in Emporia, Kansas for 10 years before uprooting to move to Omaha. I co-teach the PDC at Kansas Permaculture Institute.
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Recent posts by Ben Stallings

I got a reply back from Justin West, and it turns out he contacted me a few years ago about my work developing what is now So he is a permie going back at least that far.

His answers to my questions:

We are incorporated in TN, which allows for Benefit Corporation formation without paying B Labs their fee. I believe in B Labs and will be paying that fee so we can use the words "B Corp" and their logo soon, but for now we're being extremely pragmatic financially and can't afford it.

"Master Grower" is a term I'm not excited about, but it's something we can communicate to our average customer in a simple way that this is not just a gardener, landscaper, or even Master Gardener (which would not pass our filters for ecological systems design at all). So, instead of telling customers we'll connect them with an "agro-ecological systems design and implementation expert"–and have them think a colonoscopy is part of it–we use the simple, almost nowhere else used, "Master Grower."

We have examples of past work from our partner agro-ecological experts as many of the images on our site, but we just had our first installations in the fall and won't have any of our own pictures (that are beautiful and living at least) until the spring.

2 years ago
A friend tipped me off to this site:  They talk a good game.

They claim to be "a renegade team of landscape designers, farmers, and technologists passionate about regenerative practices and permaculture. We’re working to usher in the next agricultural revolution that will feed people and wildlife, protect the planet, and create rewarding jobs everywhere. Our Master Growers are currently located in central and southern United States." I don't recognize any of the names from permaculture circles, and "Master Grower" does not appear to be a standardized certification and so could mean anything. They claim to be a public benefit corporation, but turns up no results. Better Business Bureau has no listing, their domain name registration is anonymized, and without knowing where they're incorporated I can't search state tax records.

They have no geographical address information listed either on their site or on Facebook, only an 800 number and an email address. Their chatbot ended the conversation when I asked to speak to a human. So either they are sketchy and being evasive on purpose, or they're legit and coming across as evasive by accident.

Yes, I could just call or email them. But if they're as influential as they claim, surely they've crossed paths with permies already. Anyone have experience with them? Thanks in advance.
2 years ago

paul wheaton wrote:

To make up for my error, and the cancellation of the event - which is definitely no fault of yours, I have given you access to the 177 hours of video of the 2017 PDC and ATC.

Holy cow! Thank you very much, Paul!
3 years ago
I'm confused about the state of my registration, because the October event says it is this event rescheduled, but this event says it is cancelled. I registered for this event and haven't been notified about a refund. Am I now registered for the October event? That's fine, I just need to know the status. Thank you!
3 years ago
Hi, folks! I have tickets to this event but haven't yet figured out how I'm getting to Missoula from Omaha. Paul suggested I reply here. It's a 17 hour drive, which is daunting but doable with multiple drivers; the 26 hour bus ride is less appealing at $300+. Carpool, anyone?

It looks like I can get reasonable plane tickets (on Frontier) as far as Bozeman if I don't mind spending the night in Denver, so if anyone has tips on cheap travel from Bozeman to Missoula, or wants to carpool from there, let me know!
3 years ago
Thank you for clarifying, Bryant. I had thought given the question in the topic of the thread that you were asking what humus was or that you were unclear about it. I now understand that you intended to use the thread inform us of your views on the topic, so I will look forward to hearing the rest of what you have to say.
3 years ago

David Widman wrote:So the living plant root is providing a way to photosynthesis in order to create the necessary condition, chemical transaction, or other unknown needs to make the humus?  

If I understand Dr. Jones's research correctly, the microbes that build humus do so only when they are being fed exudates (sugars, carbohydrates, and simple proteins) by plant roots. In the absence of plant roots those microbes don't live and so don't build humus. That doesn't mean the manure compost can't be a nutrient-rich soil amendment, it's just not humus per se.

Bryant, I would ask you to consider the "humus is a house" analogy again. Suppose an alien watched the construction of a stick-frame house from a series of snapshots taken from orbit. First there are trees standing. Then there are logs (decomposing organic matter). Then there is milled lumber (further decomposed organic matter). The stick frame disappears from view as the roof and siding are put on the house. Finally, after all the lumber is cleared away from the site, what remains is the house. Meticulous scans of the site reveal no trees or lumber remaining in view. Should the alien conclude that the house is not organic matter, since it is what was left after all the trees and logs and lumber were cleared away? Or should it conclude instead that the house has been made out of lumber, and that's why lumber is no longer visible?

It is my understanding that humus is made out of organic matter just as the house is. While the initial steps in its formation are decomposition, the final steps are construction. The reason humus fails some chemical tests for organic matter is not because the organic matter is absent, but because it's been built into a form that is stable and not chemically reactive.

If you think humus does not contain carbon, I would question why it is black (like charcoal) and why it burns (like charcoal).
3 years ago
Hi, David. If Dr. Jones is correct that humus is only created in the presence of living plant roots, then you would need living plants in the manure pit in order to create humus there. Is that the case?
3 years ago
Hi, Chris. If Dr. Jones is correct that humus is only created by the plant microbiome, then a "tea" made from plant leaves is unlikely to contain any humus. However, it can be rich in nutrients, fiber (prebiotics) and microbes (probiotics) that will assist in humus production once it's back in the soil.

And if Bryant's friends are correct that humus is insoluble, then it's unlikely that aerated compost tea, worm "juice," or anaerobic compost extract contains humus either, just because an insoluble substance by definition won't dissolve in water. But they can still be great for stimulating the soil life that will create more humus.
3 years ago
Bryant, thank you for this thread. I have to say I find some of what you've said confusing, particularly

"If you want to find humus you have to look for it in a laboratory setting since out in nature it disappears almost as quickly as it forms.
... Once humus is created, it immediately binds with those molecules and atoms that make up the inorganic parts of soil at that instant, humus is gone."

I am not a soil scientist myself but I've been attending conferences and classes and reading on the subject for over a decade, and what you said above seems to fly in the face of other definitions that humus is the most stable form of organic matter and can last for centuries. Your assertion that humus is not organic matter because the organic matter has decayed away is nonsensical, since organic matter is defined as being created by life processes, and decay is a life process. If decay were what created humus, then humus would by definition be organic matter.

However, I've attended half a dozen lectures and classes by Dr. Christine Jones ( who discovered what she calls the "Liquid Carbon Pathway," namely that humus is formed exclusively in the presence of plant root exudates and not from decaying organic matter. She did an experiment that, as I recall, involved radioactive carbon in the form of CO2 that got absorbed by living plants and passed by them into the soil, but when those radioactive plants were cut down and placed in a chamber with fresh soil and no living plants, the radioactive CO2 went back into the air as the plants decayed and not into the soil. Unfortunately I'm not able to find a description of this experiment to cite; I just remember it from her lecture.

She likened humus to a house that is built intentionally by microbes for storing nutrients and for living in; far from being "gone" when it binds with nutrients, that is when it fulfills its function. It is a product of decay only in the same sense that a stick-frame house is a product of the decay of forests! Yes, the trees break down into lumber before they reassemble into houses, but it's not a passive decay process, it's an intentional construction process. Being like a house, there is no precise chemical formula for building humus, just a general specification that can be met by thousands of different arrangements of chemicals.

The microbes that build humus can also live in the honeycomb structure of biochar, which is why adding biochar to soil (along with living plants and their microbiomes) causes an increase in humus: the microbes live in the biochar temporarily while they are constructing humus to live in long-term.

In more recent lectures Dr. Jones has advocated preserving organic matter with anaerobic lactobacillus fermentation (basically making silage) instead of aerobic composting, so that the carbon stays in the soil until plants' microbiomes can convert it to humus and other stable compounds, rather than escaping into the atmosphere.

I agree that there is a lot of misinformation about humus, and I admit I may be repeating some myself, but I suspect you are not immune from this either. Thank you again for the conversation.

Ben Stallings
PDC instructor
Kansas Permaculture Institute
3 years ago