Trees often symbolize a way to improve air quality. Though, carbon sequestration can be equally achieved in less celebrated ways, such as with soil. Noted in Discover magazine, soil expert and scientist Rattan Lal, of Ohio State University, states that global agricultural soil has the capacity to reduce CO2 levels by 13 percent. That amount sounds insignificant, but it is equivalent to erasing all CO2 emissions since 1980.
Photo by Nick Ritar and Kirsten Bradley
Small-scale change is happening. By switching back to basic farming ideals, known as regenerative agriculture, people are treating the land with the same respect as our elder farmers did in past generations. It may have a fancy name but there is nothing new about it. Some key aspects include organic farming, pesticide-free treatments, anti-chemical, composting, community based, and environmentally conscious farming.
Jerome Irving Rodale, aka J.I.Rodale, popularized regenerative agriculture about half a century ago. In 1947 the Rodale Institute was founded in order to study how healthy soil effects agriculture and its consumers. The Institute’s ongoing study since 1981—the Farming Systems Trial—has compared organic farming with large-scale chemical agriculture. The study leaves little doubt which practice has greater benefits and longevity.
Though Rodale’s farming techniques sound primitive, they merely reflect the way Earth works on its own, without disruptive technology. “The hallmark of a truly sustainable system is its ability to regenerate itself.” One project the Institute began in 2002 that reflects this philosophy is organic farming combined with no-till. A roller-crimper flattens and kills cover crops without using herbicides. Thus, a living-mulch mat remains on top of the soil as a protective layer, later to be returned to the land.
The Rodale Institute’s goal is to gain more knowledge about carbon sequestration through research. And the best way to achieve it is through better communication between farmers and researchers. Because farming techniques are not always applicable from one farm to the next, the key to regenerative farming is discovering what is right for your own land.
Teal Farm in Vermont, for example, has taken the regenerative idea beyond farmland and applied it to their entire farm ecosystem. On 1296 acres, everything is considered with renewable energy and sustainability in mind. Their goal is decentralizing energy sources while emphasizing local sustainability, which is why they have onsite wind turbines that extract energy from a man-made pond. The farm’s founders—The LivingFuture Foundation—explain it as a “future-looking farm, ecological preserve, and residence seeking to prototype perpetual agriculture and energy systems capable of meeting regional food and energy needs within the tumultuous conditions of global warming, fluctuating energy supplies, and an oil-dependent global economy.” The barn, though, does not house animals but instead renewable energy sources like solar panels, natural-heated hot water tanks, and biodiesel. This is clearly not a traditional farm like the Rodale Institute’s, but it is nonetheless making climate improvements in a regenerative manner.
On the web, large-scale RegenAG links global farmers and organizations while utilizing regenerative agricultural ideals. They offer workshops, courses and forums, though accessibility to attend may vary based on location.
Clearly some people are making positive changes for the environment, but what about the rest of us? A primary concern is getting everyone on board — not just the do-good-Reed-College-graduate types.
Our nation’s dependence on large-scale industrial farming is the major obstacle with having CO2 levels lowered. The heart of the difficulty is that industrial farming does not allow time to return to basic agricultural techniques. In order to get quick production we can’t have a small community tending the chicken coop nor can we be environmentally friendly while shipping food across the nation 24/7. At least, that is how our major food-producing companies think.
Agricultural soil is not at fault — it is the way we treat it. Naturally, soil holds a good portion of CO2 as a carbon sink. But due to ineffective farming techniques, CO2 can easily be dislodged and released back into the atmosphere. The EPA states, “Agricultural and forestry activities can both contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, as well as be used to help prevent climate change.”
We have equal power to fix the problem just as easily as we create it.
Change starts with the individual and regenerative agriculture is the best way to make change on your own land, even if it is small. If you do not farm, support regenerative agriculture by buying local.