By Claire O'Connor
Agriculture is on the front lines of climate change. Whether it's the a seven-year drought drying up fields in California, the devastating Midwest flooding in 2019, or hurricane after hurricane hitting the Eastern Shore, agriculture and rural communities are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Scientists expect climate change to make these extreme weather events both more frequent and more intense in coming years.
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By David R. Montgomery
Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.
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By Lisa Schulte Moore
Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses bring the state a lot of political attention during presidential election cycles. But in my view, even though some candidates have outlined positions on food and farming, agriculture rarely gets the attention it deserves.
Cattle grazing on cover crops in Sac County, Iowa. NRCS / SWCS / Lynn Betts
By Lindsay Campbell
The San Francisco chef has a new project in the works. In January, Myint hopes to formally launch Restore California, a joint initiative with the State of California that will enlist the golden state's restaurant industry to support climate-beneficial farming practices.
By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Cheryl Angel leads a group on pilgrimage at Black Elk Peak, one of four Lakota sacred sites that were visited during the Sovereign Sisters Gathering.
Sovereign Sisters drove to Rapid City, South Dakota during the gathering to join a protest and court hearing of the Riot Booster Act, a bill introduced by Governor Kristi Noem aimed at criminalizing pipeline protestors.
Tracy Barnett<p>"We've given our power over to an entity that doesn't deserve our power," she added, referencing the modern corporate industrial system. "We must take back that empowerment of self. We must take back our own health care. We must take back our own food. We must take back our families. We must take back our environment. Because you see what's happening. We gave the power to an entity, and the entity is destroying our world around us."</p><p>Allard, June and Angel shared a bit about the work they've been doing to establish sovereignty, each in her own way, since the Standing Rock encampments.</p>
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard: Planting Seeds<p>As the woman who established the first water protector encampment at Standing Rock — called Sacred Stone Camp —and issued a call for support that launched a movement, Allard learned a lot about sovereignty and empowerment during the battle against the Dakota Access pipeline.</p><p>As the camps began to dismantle in the last weeks of the uprising, she frequently fielded the question: "What do we do now?"</p><p>Allard's response was simple: "Plant seeds."</p>
Lakota Elder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard joined a van full of fellow Sacred Stone Village residents who made the five-hour drive from Standing Rock to join the Sovereign Sisters Gathering.
Lyla June: The Forest as Farm<p>A Diné/Cheyenne/European American musician, scholar and activist, June has gravitated toward a focus on food sovereignty through her work to revitalize traditional food systems. Currently, she's in a doctoral program in traditional food systems and language at the University of Alaska, where she works with Indigenous elders around the country to uncover the genius of the continent's original cultivators.</p><p>"I think there's a huge mythology that Native people here were simpletons, they were primitive, half-naked nomads running around the forest, eating hand to mouth whatever they could find," she said. "That's how Europe portrays us. And it's portrayed us that way for so many centuries that even we start to believe that that's who we were.</p><p>"The reality is, Indigenous nations on this Turtle Island were highly organized. They densely populated the land, and they managed the land extensively. And this has a lot to do with food because a large motivation to prune the land, to burn the land, to reseed the land, and to sculpt the land was about feeding our nations. Not only our nations, but other animal nations, as well."</p>
Musician, public speaker, and scholar Lyla June on recovering traditional food systems: "What we're finding… is that human beings are meant to be a keystone species… what [we're] trying to do is bring the human being back into the role of keystone species, where our presence on the land nourishes the land."
Tracy Barnett<p>June is intrigued by soil core samples that delve thousands of years into the past; analysis of fossilized pollen, charcoal traces and soil composition reveals much about land use practices through the ages. For example, <a href="https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5276203.pdf" target="_blank">in Kentucky</a>, a soil core sample that went back 10,000 years shows that about 3,000 years ago the forest was dominated by cedar and hemlock. But about 3,000 years ago the whole forest composition changed to black walnut, hickory nut, chestnut and acorn; edible species such as goosefoot and sumpweed began to flourish.</p><p>"So these people—whoever moved in around 3,000 years ago — radically changed the way the land looked and tasted," she said.</p><p>So did the colonizers, but in a much different way. The costs to the food system as a result of colonization, she said, is becoming clear, and the mounting pressure of the climate crisis is making a shift imperative.</p><p>"When did we start waiting for others to feed us? That's no longer going to be a luxury question," June said.</p><p>Besides the <a href="https://www.macleans.ca/society/how-crop-monocultures-are-threatening-our-food-supply/" target="_blank">vulnerability of monocrops</a> to extreme weather events, these industrial agricultural crops are also dependent on pesticides and herbicides. Additionally, pests are adapting, producing chemical resistant insects and superweeds.</p><p>"We're running out of bullets in our food system, and it's quite precarious right now," she said. "The poor animals that we farm are also on the precipice … so we're in a state where we should probably start asking ourselves that question now, before we're forced to, and remember the joy of feeding ourselves."</p><p>That's June's intention: to take what she's learned from a year of apprenticeships with Indigenous elders in different bioregions, then return home to Diné Bikéyah — Navajo territory — to apply it, regenerating traditional Navajo food systems in an interactive action research project aimed at both teaching and learning, refining techniques with each year.</p><p>"I'm hoping at the end of three years, or four years, we will be fluent in our language and in our food system," June said. "And we will be operating as a team — and we will have a success story that other tribes can look to and model and be inspired by."</p><p>The long-range goal, she said, is to create an autonomous school that teaches traditional culture, language and food systems that can be a model for other Indigenous communities.</p>
Cheryl Angel: Creating Sovereign Communities<p>To Angel, sovereignty is best expressed in creating community — the temporary communities created at gatherings, like at the Sovereign Sisters Gathering, but also more permanent communities, like at Sacred Stone Village.</p><p>Part of being sovereign lies in strengthening and rebuilding sharing economies, she said. And part of it lies in reducing waste, rejecting rampant consumerism and the harmful aspects of the modern industrial system, like single-use plastics and toxic chemicals.</p>
Cheryl Angel in a late-night talking circle, sharing reflections about her Lakota ancestors: "We were never into entitlement; that's why we didn't have kings. We were into revering, honoring, relating to everything around us. All of these living spirits around us… That's the system nobody is talking about, that needs to be protected."
By Kristin Ohlson
From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.
By Tara Lohan
Despite the warning signs — climate change, biodiversity loss, depleted soils and a shrinking supply of cheap energy — we continue to push along with an economy fueled by perpetual growth on a finite planet.
You refer to the age you see coming up when there’s less cheap energy available as the “Great Simplification.” Where does that term come from and what does it mean?<p>The idea for this report first came from a series of guest lectures I did for a class at the University of Minnesota taught by [energy and systems expert] <a href="https://www.postcarbon.org/our-people/nate-hagens/" target="_blank">Nate Hagens</a> [a Post Carbon Institute board member]. Great Simplification is the term he was using in his class, but it ties well to anthropological work looking at social complexity in relationship to energy.</p><p><span></span>Societies that have less energy available organize themselves differently, and so the Great Simplification is this idea that as energy becomes more dear we'll need to use less of it. And our highly complex and globally integrated societies will begin take on forms that are simpler over time. That means less complex trade networks, less specialization in jobs, less bureaucratic hierarchies.</p>
When I try to envision what this Great Simplification would look like, I think of either preindustrial society or at least pre-World War II. What does it look like to you?<p>I remember traveling through Europe and seeing the contrast between a modern European city and someplace like a World Heritage site that is still a living city, but it was built centuries ago and there never was a suburban expansion around it. And so you basically see this countryside that you can walk to from the city center.</p><p>That's how people lived prior to the industrial revolution in most parts of the world. And if you go to somewhere such as rural Bolivia, that's what it still looks like. I think that's maybe what the long-term consequences of fossil fuel depletion will look like. But what happens in the messy middle is much harder to figure out.</p><p>To think about that, the report looks at places that have already started getting abandoned in the upper Midwest because they lost the industrial clout they used to have from the steel industry and the auto industry. So you can sort of see this process unfolding already. You may have a partial abandonment of some areas and then maybe also reclaiming of them partly for food production. Big suburban houses may instead have more people living together to share expenses and share work.</p>
It seems like today in the United States very few people know much about farming or producing food in general. How do we start to close that knowledge gap?<p>I feel like we have two kinds of threads going right now. On the one hand, there are a lot of school gardens and farms taking off and there's more being done for horticulture programs, shop programs and home economics. There's a bit of a skills revival happening. But on the other hand, there's also a big focus on teaching every kid how to code, or kids being on their personal entertainment devices all the time instead of getting outside in nature.</p><p>Part of what I hope the report does is to make people aware of this skills gap and try to prioritize learning not just about self-sufficiency but how communities can work together.</p><p>I don't expect the people reading the report will suddenly perform voluntary simplicity and try to find a commune to live on somewhere. But what I do hope is to inspire people to become change agents — to be ready for when the energy system forces a transition and start setting up systems that are pre-adapted to an energy-scarce world.</p>
What are some of the ways that people can support this kind of transition work and re-localization without being an actual farmer or food producer?<p>If you're a rural landowner there's a big opportunity. Farmers on average own only half the land they use. So, if you own that land, who do you choose to lease to? Are you actively trying to find a farmer who's oriented towards more regenerative, more organic, more local and regional systems?</p><p>If you have money there are also lending clubs that can help support local food systems and entrepreneurs. Then there might be people who are politically connected and know folks on the city council or in the planning department and can push for changes in codes or policies, like for instance, if there's a local law that doesn't allow you to capture rainwater or have a front yard garden.</p><p>Maybe you can support the local soil and water conservation district or the local conservation group that's trying put biodiversity back on farmlands. Farms are full of amazing habitats that can be great places to rebuild ecosystem services, protect watersheds, get insect, bat and bird populations back up — that will serve food production in the long run.</p>
It seems like these kinds of changes that you’re talking about could seem scary to a lot of people. What are the parts that inspire you the most or you think will be most exciting about re-localization?<p>I think that these coming times of great challenge and stress will force people to work together in ways where they have a shared sense of purpose, [like the veterans] at the American Legion Hall who had some experience together 40 years ago when they were in their 20s that bonded them and they know deep down that this person sitting next to them is someone they can trust.</p><p>Even though it's going to be difficult, we will find tremendous meaning in our shared experience that could be wonderful. And that's something people are missing right now.</p>
By Karen Perry Stillerman
What's for breakfast? Maybe it's a bagel and cream cheese, or toast and coffee, or eggs (or not). For millions of Americans, though, cereal is a breakfast mainstay. There's a mind-boggling array of ready-to-eat cereal brands on offer, and everyone has their favorites.
By Elizabeth Henderson
In February, a dairy farmer friend sent me a note confiding that a few farmers she knows are living on cereal until their milk checks arrive. Yet, the recently released census of agriculture shows that the number of young farmers is growing even as the average age of farmers also increases, and there are uplifting articles about young black farmers connecting with the land and enjoying the self-empowerment that comes with being an independent farmer.
Graphic source: Agricultural Economic Insights (used with permission)
In addition to a long list of incredible benefits for farmers and their crops, regenerative agriculture practices help us fight the climate crisis by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the ground.
How it Works<p>In short, regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more. It is a method of farming that "improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them," <a href="https://rodaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/rodale-white-paper.pdf" target="_blank">according to the Rodale Institute</a>.</p><p>A great deal of emphasis is placed on looking holistically at the agro-ecosystem. Key techniques include:</p><ul> <li>Conservation tillage: Plowing and tillage dramatically erode soil and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They also can result in the kind of bare or compacted soil that creates 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 and more carbon where it belongs.</li></ul><ul> <li>Diversity: Different plants release different carbohydrates (sugars) through their roots, and various microbes feed on these carbs and return all sorts of different nutrients back to the plant and the soil. By increasing the plant diversity of their fields, farmers help create the rich, varied, and nutrient-dense soils that lead to more productive yields.</li></ul><ul> <li>Rotation and cover crops: Left exposed to the elements, soil will erode and the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth will either dry out or quite literally wash away. At the same time, planting the same plants in the same location can lead to a buildup of some nutrients and a lack of others. But by rotating crops and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can infuse soils with more and more (and more diverse) soil organic matter, often while avoiding disease and pest problems naturally. Always remember, bare soil is bad soil.</li></ul><ul><li>Mess with it less: In addition to minimizing physical disturbance, regenerative agriculture practitioners also often seek to be cautious about chemical or biological activities that also can damage long-term soil health. Misapplication of fertilizers and other soil amendments can disrupt the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots.</li></ul>
The Climate Connection<p>The health and vitality of soil everywhere, from the smallest backyard garden to the largest Midwestern farm, plays an integral role in food production — and it's threatened by the climate crisis.</p><p>In addition to rising temperatures that are themselves changing where and how things can be grown, the climate crisis has fundamentally altered the water cycle around the world. The result is shifting precipitation patterns and increased evaporation that causes more-frequent powerful rainfall events and more severe droughts. In many areas, rainfall has become either increasingly abundant or in desperately short supply, relative to longtime averages. It's a classic case of feast or famine.</p><p>Extreme downpours can lead to polluted runoff and erosion because the ground simply isn't able to absorb the precipitation at the rate it's falling. And at a certain point of inundation, plants can drown. On the other end of the spectrum, less stable precipitation together with increased heat is causing more and more drought, and in extreme circumstances near-desertification, leading to a complete loss of farm production in some areas.</p><p>So, when it comes to agriculture, climate change is doing what it does best: exacerbating existing problems to the point of crisis. But if a farmer is using regenerative methods and not disturbing the soil, he or she is instead mitigating climate change effects by building organic matter. And the more organic matter you have in the soil, the more water-holding capacity you have.</p><p>Not only does adopting regenerative agriculture practices help farmers deal with current climate change impacts by making their farms more resilient and adaptive to what is happening around them now; it allows them to take action to fight it long-term by being part of a larger solution to the crisis, through carbon sequestration.</p>
Farms Are Making the Switch<p>Regenerative agriculture allows farmers to play an active role in mitigating an existential threat to their livelihoods.</p><p>"We don't have to wait for technological wizardry: regenerative organic agriculture can substantially mitigate climate change now," <a href="https://rodaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/rodale-white-paper.pdf" target="_blank">Rodale Institute writes</a>.</p><p>When plants photosynthesize, they take carbon dioxide from the air and — using the sun's energy, water, and nutrients from the soil — transform it into carbon the plant uses to grow leaves, stems, and roots. The excess carbon created through this process is transported down the plant and is stored in the surrounding soil, sequestering the carbon in the ground. This carbon in the soil is known as soil organic carbon and it feeds microbes and fungi, which in turn provide nutrients for the plant. Soil organic carbon is the main component of soil organic matter, providing more structure to the soil and allowing it to store more water.</p><p>Carbon can remain stored in soils for thousands of years — or it can be quickly released back into the atmosphere through farm practices like plowing and tillage, where soil is prepared for planting by mechanical agitation methods such as digging, stirring, and overturning.</p><p>For farmers, regenerative agriculture is thus a win-win — it's an approach that leads to better, more resilient crops grown using sustainable methods that at the same time fight a crisis that presents a threat to all agriculture.</p><p>And that's why some of the biggest brands in the world are going all in.</p><p>General Mills, makers of some of your favorite cereals, granola bars, and other foods, is <a href="https://www.generalmills.com/en/Responsibility/Sustainability/Regenerative-agriculture" target="_blank">taking a multipronged approach</a> to its support of regenerative agriculture. They've partnered with other organizations to develop resources and training to help farmers work toward the widespread adoption of soil health practices, including plans for "2 and 3-day soil health academies where famers will receive education from leading technical experts" and a verified regenerative sourcing program for some of its brands that will "allow consumers to easily identify food that has been sourced from farms verified to increase water, soil, and climate health."</p>
Learn More<p>In the end, <a href="https://modernfarmer.com/2018/04/practicing-regenerative-agriculture/" target="_blank">Modern Farmer sums it up best</a>: "This is how land should be taken care of and food should be grown – with benefits for the environment and the consumer."</p><p>It's just that simple.</p><p>Read more about the climate crisis' effect on the health of our soil – and the future of our food – by downloading our free e-book, <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/content/right-under-your-feet-soil-health-and-climate-crisis" target="_blank"><em>Right Under Your Feet: Soil Health and the Climate Crisis</em></a>. In it, we get you the facts on:</p><ul> <li>The impact of climate change on soil health.</li></ul><ul> <li>What's at stake.</li></ul><ul><li>What you can do to support a world where we can provide people with fresh, healthy food grown in a sustainable soil ecosystem.</li></ul><p><a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/content/right-under-your-feet-soil-health-and-climate-crisis" target="_blank">The climate changes, <em>but these facts don't</em>. Download our free <em>Soil Health and the Climate Crisis</em> e-book now</a>.</p>
By Courtney Lindwall
Growing your own juicy tomatoes or crisp peppers sounds idyllic. But in practice, backyard farming can be daunting. Many gardeners dealing with pests, weeds and unpredictable weather quickly find themselves questioning whether they are working with nature or against it.
John and Molly Chester
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