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 Brian Barth
Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn't end when cold weather comes, there's surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you'll be ahead of the game in spring.
Tool Maintenance<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4ODc1My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjgzNzk2N30.xH4pp9AuzBdEKJrjZgpKzl_SIuhLUVzAG-5kmfDPq3g/img.jpg?width=980" id="4f50f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="714609ce8150e039db3a31d74d88f286" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Hose Repair<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4ODc1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTY5ODM1Mn0.5xmze--FN2FTVco252fwsqbXc7OXJUVGOWfSCoR0Pwk/img.jpg?width=980" id="17aed" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="10e570d03c6ad7a27b840bddb82305da" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Mulching<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4ODc2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTkwNTY0Nn0._-al8MpcaDkYVQHf0M8izLo7lgR5Jjrn7zIDhvTh9Eo/img.jpg?width=980" id="ef70a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="796853ece8704090cc87f52b5447d640" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Build Something with Wood<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4ODc4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTMwNjQ2Mn0.OQWw9CNw0Ue7Afr4lNAFZdC5VYPcSyss70cbX9DSRD8/img.jpg?width=980" id="697a2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8fcecb95c81fa5a8aaf6ff9a404a1748" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Paul Brown
When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.
U.S. Sanctions<p>The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict U.S. sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilizers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.</p><p>So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban's daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organized themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.</p><p>At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilizers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.</p><p>Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324615797_Effects_of_marigold_on_the_behavior_survival_and_nutrient_reserves_of_Aphidius_Platensis" target="_blank">biological controls like marigolds</a> (where opinions today are mixed) to deter harmful insects.</p><p>By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realizing the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.</p>
Partial Solution<p>Cuba's experience of urban agriculture <a href="https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/viva-la-produccion-urban-farming-in-cuba/" target="_blank">inspired many environmentalists</a> to believe that this is at least part of the solution to <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/rainfall-changes-food-production/" target="_blank">the food shortages threatened by climate change</a>. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8 percent of the land in Havana, and 3.4 percent of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90 percent of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.</p><p>As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables — a low-fat diet making obesity rare.</p><p>Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.</p><p>Despite this, Cuba's experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.</p><p>For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba's experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable.</p>
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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.
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 Karen Perry Stillerman
An email in my inbox last month caught my attention. It was from author, environmental advocate, and Academy Award-winning film producer Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth), and it offered a preview of The Biggest Little Farm, a new documentary film David had coming out soon. "I promise you that any person that goes to see this film will leave inspired and caring a whole lot more for the planet," her note said. "I promise you it will help your organization achieve your goals!"
Soil is paramount.<p>When the Chesters first arrived at Apricot Lane Farms, their newly acquired soil was so compacted and devoid of organic matter, they could hardly break it with a shovel. "The soil is dead," John says flatly. "And we have no idea how to bring it back to life." But with the help of consultant and soil guru Alan York, they set about enriching it. "Plants build soil," Alan said as they seeded cover crops. They also installed a <a href="https://growingsolutions.com/using-compost-tea/" target="_blank">state-of-the-art compost tea system</a> and added animals (so many animals!) for their manure. And indeed, by the end of the film—which spans a seven-year period of <a href="https://www.drought.gov/drought/california-no-stranger-dry-conditions-drought-2011-2017-was-exceptional" target="_blank">historic California drought</a> followed by an <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/very-wet-2017-water-year-ends-california" target="_blank">unusually wet year</a>—the Chesters' <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/food-agriculture/advance-sustainable-agriculture/turning-soils-sponges" target="_blank">spongier soil</a> seemed to have paid off, as it held water better during dry periods and soaked up more of it when the rains fell. At a time when climate change is driving more weather extremes in every part of the country, building healthy soil will be critical to ensuring that farmers can be successful.</p>
2. Increasing a farm’s biodiversity is critical (and hard).<p>Someone recently said to me that farmers are the only manufacturers who work outside, completely exposed to the elements. There's truth in that, for sure, but the choice of the word "manufacturers" is revealing. Factories typically make one thing, over and over, day in and day out. And farming in the United States has become a lot like that—an overwhelmingly industrial process, divorced from nature and, in fact, often fighting it tooth and nail. In the film, we see Alan explaining how the Chesters must emulate how natural ecosystems work (we call this <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/marcia-delonge/the-abcds-of-agroecology-what-is-it-all-about-926" target="_blank">agroecology</a>). His mantra: "Diversify, diversify, diversify." John and Molly take this to the extreme, eventually farming 200+ crops and animals across pastures, orchards, and a large vegetable garden. A plethora of wildlife also returns, including new pests that require more creativity and further diversification to combat. Alan promises all this diversity will become simplicity, but as John notes, "a simple way of farming is just not easy."</p>
3. Few farmers can go to the lengths the Chesters have. But most don’t need to.<p>The 76 varieties of stone fruit trees John and Molly now tend is…probably a bit much for most farmers. And without access to investors like they recruited, few farm startups can afford fancy composting systems, miles of new irrigation line, and the costs associated with repeated trial and error. It is never clear, in the film, how much up-front and continued investment was necessary to do what they did at Apricot Lane Farms (though we can assume it was a lot). Nor do we know at what point in the saga that investment was fully recouped, if it has been. But recent research has shown that even more limited and lower-cost efforts at diversification on farms—for example, expanding <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/food-agriculture/advance-sustainable-agriculture/rotating-crops-turning-profits" target="_blank">from two crops to three or four</a>, or planting <a href="https://www.nrem.iastate.edu/research/STRIPS/content/what-are-prairie-strips" target="_blank">prairie strips</a> around the edges of crop fields—can have substantial benefits. And <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/marcia-delonge/the-bipartisan-2018-farm-bill-brings-some-consequences-cautious-optimism-for-conservation" target="_blank">federal farm programs provide help</a> (though not nearly enough) for farmers to do such things.</p>
4. One way or another, the ecological debts of our industrial farming system must be paid.<p>Apricot Lane Farms required substantial upfront investment not only because the Chesters had ambitious plans, but also because they needed to pay down an enormous ecological debt racked up on that piece of land over the years. Industrial agriculture has been <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/25012019/climate-change-agriculture-farming-consolidation-corn-soybeans-meat-crop-subsidies" target="_blank">called an "extraction industry"</a> because it takes nutrients from the land without replacing them, allows precious soil to wash or blow away, and sends rainwater running off the surface rather than percolating down to refill underground aquifers for later use. Due to decades of short-sighted management, this is the situation on farmland all across this country. And while John, Molly, and their investors had the means to take on Apricot Lane's ecological debt, it's not fair or realistic to expect farmers to make up for the damage caused by industrial practices and the public policies that have incentivized them. Rather, "The Biggest Little Farm" shows once again why shifting agricultural policies to help farmers diversify the landscape and rebuild their soil and is a smart investment in the future.</p>
5. Nature is breathtakingly beautiful.<p>The film's message is in line with what the science tells us about farmland diversification and healthy soil, and it comes at a time when legislators in <a href="https://soilhealthinstitute.org/resources/catalog/" target="_blank">many states</a> and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/karen-perry-stillerman/farmers-are-excited-about-soil-health-thats-good-news-for-all-of-us" target="_blank">in Congress</a> are looking to expand policy supports and public investments to help more farmers advance soil health. Even though Apricot Lane is just one farm, and a unique one at that, my hope is that this film adds to the conversation. But you don't have to be an advocate for healthy soil policy to appreciate the movie, which above all is visually stunning and brimming with optimism. You'll marvel at the ways John Chester's cinematography captures the beauty and devastation of nature and life on a diversified, ecologically-based farm—from aerial footage of painstakingly designed orchards to images of playful lambs and terrifying wildfires, infrared footage of nocturnal predators, and superslomo shots of the hummingbirds and beneficial insects who return as part of the farm's renewal. If you like <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fmhdx_kRd-w&cid=wwa-us-kwgo-iphone-slid---+iphone++commercial-b&mtid=20925d2q39172&aosid=p238&mnid=sONjxlDdV-dc_mtid_20925d2q39172_pcrid_343878260391&anonymizeip=set" target="_blank">that iPhone commercial</a>, you'll find this film equally appealing.</p>
By Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz
Oil spills don't stand a chance against the cleansing power of mycelium.
PeopleImages / DigitalVision / Getty Images
By adopting three practices—no-till farming, cover crops and diverse crop rotations—farmers worldwide can help preserve the world's soils, feed a growing global population, mitigate climate change and protect the environment.
This was the key message of a presentation by David Montgomery, professor of geology at the University of Washington, at the Iowa Organic Conference in November.
Adam Hester / Blend Images / Getty Images
The climate needs your help, the water needs your help, the land needs your help. In 2019 be part of the solution. The soil you walk on and grow food in holds a secret to some of the biggest problems facing the planet today.
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Planting a garden has the power to change the world. Regenerative gardens can help reverse global warming by restoring soil health. We're bringing victory gardens back. This time, it's for the climate.
By Jeff Turrentine
Sometimes enlightenment arrives as a flash of epiphany: a gravity-obeying apple that falls from a tree, for instance, or a blinding light that freezes you in your tracks on the road to Damascus.
Other times, though, it's more of a process. That's how Gabe Brown came to regenerative agriculture. About 20 years ago, Brown nearly lost his 1,760-acre farm outside Bismarck, North Dakota, which he had taken over upon his in-laws' retirement in 1991. Just as his wife's family had done since the 1950s, Brown continued to till, fertilize, graze and chemically treat the land—all of which were considered best practices at the time.