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How Biochar is Pioneering Agricultural Sustainability in This Small Bay Area City

Author : Kaylynn Bittle


Hi! Nice to meet you!

Hello Everyone! My name is Kaylynn Bittle, I’m a 17-year-old high school student from Brentwood, California in the East Bay Area. Growing up, I was never sure what career path I wanted to take or what even interested me. Deciding what to do for the rest of my life at age 18 seems crucial to my future, and I just wanted to make the right decision.

I knew that I wanted to make some sort of difference in the world and had a passion for environmental science, but I had no idea where to start. I felt so inadequate in the impact I made that I began to give up and settle for smaller goals. My mom began to worry about both me and my future because she knew I was meant to do something better and bigger than settle for the easy route.

My uncle, Luis Agurto Jr., President and CEO of Pestec, could see how concerned she was. Since Pestec offers environmental services, he offered me a job with my cousin part-time. This is where my journey of environmental awareness started.

Getting started

Through working for Pestec, I was put in touch with Sergey Litvinenko, who helped take my career path in a 180... maybe without even knowing it.

Sergey is the VP of government relations for Chemists Without Borders. Working with him over the summer, he had my cousin and I build up a 100% recycled planter box. We filled it with yard scraps, leaves, branches, and pigeon manure to start the soil regeneration process. We made a second planter bed and created a wall to retain soil in a small dirt area on the property. Other than what was already at the site, we didn’t purchase anything while making this.

Photo: Wooden pallets that will be used to building the planter boxes.

Photo: Luis Agurto III building the planter boxes from the wooden pallets.

Photo: Kaylyn Bittle getting the soil prepared for the introduction of biochar.


Since Pestec provides services to manage pests to preserve property, they wanted to sponsor an unutilized space in Antioch. We wanted to start our own non-profit, a publicly benefiting garden. This way, we can give back to the community since so many food banks need fresh food in this current public health crisis.

Sergey taught us that wanting to change the world is great, but it’s most important to be realistic because you can only do some much for 7 billion people. He made me realize that if I really wanted to make an impactful difference, I should start with the very community I live in.

My uncle, Sergey, and I went out to Fremont to visit a friend of Sergey’s who runs Local Ecology & Agriculture Fremont (LEAF), a non-profit organization that grows food for the local food bank. Seeing the functioning, flourishing garden in person inspired us and showed that we can do this, and it is not something as abstract as it sounds.

We plan on creating this on a smaller scale and replicating it for Antioch and surrounding cities. I was even able to get our first four student volunteers to come out and help build. We already have community members interested in helping out, which inspires us more to keep making this a reality.


Plan of Action

After constructing beds and doing what we can with the given space, we will incorporate biochar into the soil. Biochar is a charcoal-like substance of organic matter that safely stores carbon in the soil. This is one of the many recycled inputs we have going into this project. The biochar was donated to Pestec and The Healthy Soil Alliance. The Healthy Soil Alliance is a non-profit organization that solves humanitarian problems by mobilizing the global chemistry community and its networks.

Photo: Up close look at biochar.

The biochar was also donated from a producer by using the leftovers of agricultural production- walnut shells. They donate biochar as a test while feeding the community. Their goal is to work on small-scale soil projects to improve problems we have with our climate by sequestering carbon back into the soil.

When you put biochar in the soil to help the plants, you are at the same time keeping the carbon from going back to the atmosphere making the Earth warmer and changing the climate. Coming back full circle to what I am most passionate about; improving and protecting the environment I live in.

Why We Should Care About the Future of Agriculture

I find it extremely important to educate the upcoming youth on the problems we are currently facing environmentally. Incorporating hands-on science where they can grow their own plants and teaching them how to minimize their carbon impact on our planet are a few factors that could make all the difference.

Pestec does these very things by donating beehives to schools in San Francisco to provide educational opportunities. The Fremont Garden I visited not only grows food for the city but offers educational experiences to unify their community further.

Local needs are opportunities to get engaged, make an impact where it is felt, and grow personally. I think offering something like this at the Antioch site would be super impactful. I have always had an interest in solving problems within our society, like not optimizing what we can do to slow down our carbon footprint, but I never knew how to get started.

Working with Chemists Without Borders has taught me so much. They even had me participate in a youth summit with kids just like me all from around the world doing the same thing that I am doing here in my community. It was great to see and hear about other youth’s interests and experiences. It gives me hope for the future going forward.

Moving Forward and What You Can Do to Help

Although we have been unable to fully complete this project due to externalities, there are big plans coming in the future. So far, with the base structure built and a team ready to work together, the garden will be using the biochar in the beds.

As we continue the push for The Healthy Soil Alliance we are hopeful to expand to a property in Oakley (East Bay) that we now have access to. Oakley and neighboring cities are heavily involved in agriculture and community gardening already so it will be interesting to see how the people react and become involved. We intend to keep bees, compost, and donate all food produced to the Contra Costa County food bank.

Wanting to get involved?

  • Contact us and learn how you can help or volunteer.
  • We are open to donations of unutilized gardening space, tools, and cardboard.
  • Also if you have any questions or ideas we would love to hear from you.

    You can connect with us on our socials for more information and status updates on the garden!