The high plains of the Rocky Mountains provided homesteaders with a profitable niche in the national livestock market when the railroad came through in the late 1800s. Meat prices, however, have not kept up with the increased cost of ranching on the high prairies. Morgan Williams, ’08, sought a way to save the ranches while also addressing the environmental need for less carbon and more renewable energy sources. He founded the Flux Farm Foundation, a 501(c) non-profit organization that gives landowners in the Intermountain West profitable, research-driven methods to use carbon sequestration technologies and produce renewable energy on farms and ranches.
The foundation supports research in the areas of biochar, biofuels and micro-hydroelectric technologies. Biofuels derived from sustainable perennials like native grasses sequester harmful carbon back into the soil, don’t compete with food crops, and can improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat if managed properly. When manure, wood, or crop residues are heated in closed containers they produce biochar, a carbon- and nutrient-rich product that can be integrated into agricultural soils. Williams says that these technologies are “ways to provide ranchers with a diversified income stream so that they can keep their land and continue ranching. As an organization, we are growing really fast.”
Williams was drawn to Warren Wilson for its sustainable agriculture program and its farm and garden work crews. Initially, he worked on the garden crew then transferred to chemistry crew. During his senior year, Williams worked on developing his foundation. “What I learned in sustainable agriculture and the physical sciences proved to be very helpful. I use a lot of the analytical skills that I learned at WWC. Both of my work crews proved to be very valuable learning experiences, particularly the garden crew. All of these skills (tractor work, irrigation) have been useful in developing and managing multi-year agronomic research trials with grasses and biochar.”
Once an interdisciplinary project is underway, Williams and Flux Farm serve as the conduit between the agricultural community and the research. “There is much left to discover.”