Regenerative agriculture is the only savior remaining for modern civilization and many plant and animal species. Rebuilding the soil will save us by reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Why do I say that?
Because, rebuilding the soil is key for carbon sequestration, controlling erosion and runoff, increasing groundwater retention, slowing down sea-level encroachment, reducing chemical usage, and producing nutritious, calorie-dense food to list a few reasons.
Our civilization will suffer harmful effects, and many plants and animal species will cease to exist if any one of those reasons fails. If more than one fails, then the consequences and suffering will be worst and occur sooner.
The Soil Will Save Us
As I write this article, there are 17 books on my end table (don't judge, lol). The topics include garden pests, natural pest control, fungi remediation, composting, vermicomposting, regenerative agriculture, organic vegetable gardening, lean farming, and homesteading.
In all of those books, the one common task is to increase organic matter in the soil. In effect, adding and sequestering carbon in the ground.
When we sequester carbon in the soil by creating humus we:
- Remove CO2 from the air.
- Increase water retention to reduce soil erosion and keep it from the oceans.
- Improve the health of growing plants making more nutritious and calorie-dense food, as well as increasing the plant's natural pest defense mechanisms.
- Increasing the health of plants reduces the need for chemical inputs (fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides).
- Increase soil microbiota that will remediate petroleum-based chemical residues.
An excellent book that focuses on how the soil will save us is named just that.
The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
Ohlson's writing encourages me to do my part in improving the soil. Such as garden more responsibility and generate compost from all of my waste streams.
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We Are Still Losing Soil At Alarming Rates
Even though many farmers have stopped drinking the conventional farming Kool-aid, and use more soil retentive or accumulating practices, the majority of farm acreage is still sprayed with chemicals, ladened with fertilizer, and left bare after harvest.
The chemicals and fertilizer used in conventional farming harm or kill beneficial soil-building organisms. Those that survive starve once the crop is harvested due to the lack of organic matter in the soil.
Poor soil management, compaction, wind, rain, spring run-off, exposure to UV light, and plant uptake is destroying or removing fertile soil at alarming rates.
Organic matter makes up less than 1% in many farm fields, while farms utilizing soil building practices are approaching 10% organic matter in their fields.
Carbon Dioxide Retention in Soil
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased by 25% since the late 1950s.
It doesn't matter if you believe in global warming or not, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is dangerous. In the book, The Sixth Extinction, the author explains how carbon dioxide and the rate of its increase is changing the soil and water chemistry on Earth.
What I didn't know was how much carbon dioxide can be retained, almost permanently with proper care, in soil.
Farmers that stopped using conventional farming methods, like Gabe Brown, who wrote the best seller Dirt to Soil, have drastically improved their farm's soil by using regenerative practices to create carbon-rich humus.
At his farm, a metal rod can be pushed four feet into the ground by hand. Try that in your yard.
So what does that have to do with anything? Soil that's that loose allows oxygen and plant roots to extend deeper into the ground adding more soil life and thus sequestering humus and carbon from the atmosphere.
Soil Life Matters
The softness and tilth created by Gabe on his farm is a boon for soil life.
The increased soil life improves his crops yields, grass that feeds his cattle flourish. The soil retains moisture all summer keeping his pastures and crops green while the neighboring fields whither to brown.
The soil life is also beneficial to life above ground. Brown's farming practices have increased plant, insect, and bird diversity on his land. Diversity is natures way of saying you're doing a great job.
Increasing soil life and capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and converting it to humus and humin affect more than his farm. The processes also affect regional systems such as raising the groundwater table, cooling the air, and decreasing transportation of mobile nutrients to waterways, to name a few.
Healthy soil life is the start of healthy ecosystems.
"I'm a big fan of nature. Nature has about 3 billion years of research and development.
I try to mimic in the lab what nature does outside"
Rick Haney - USDA Soil Scientist
As a scientist, but not an academic scientist, it's hard for me to understand why the agricultural colleges and universities aren't experimenting more with the methods used by non-conventional farms.
These farms are producing as much or more product using fewer or no chemicals and fewer cash inputs than their counterparts.
I forget that agri-farm corporations and chemical companies have embedded themselves into the university politics and financially support and sponsor programs.
Grants will not be awarded to those that try to buck these companies agendas. The studies don't occur, and any that are funded by other sources are labeled as partisan.
I don't want to get into it here, as I'm not well versed in the nuances of lobbying. Or even how it works, but The Soil Will Save Us does an excellent job of explaining how lobbyists have changed the way farmers run their businesses.
It's a shame how seed and chemical companies have most farmers over a barrel.
Allowing the patenting of organisms and genetic material needs also to be revised.
Government Farm Subsidies & Crop Insurance
Subsidies are another subject I don't know well enough to discuss in detail, but it appears that the majority go to farmers that don't need them.
Yes, the way the bill is written, the farmers are eligible, but many don't need the money to survive. They work the system to their benefit.
I don't think that was the original purpose behind create farm subsidies.
The same goes for crop insurance. It appears that the process is being misused.
For more information on these four subjects, read Ohlson's book and references listed in The Soil Will Save Us.
Why Does Funding, Lobbying, Subsidies, and Insurance Matter to You as a Gardener?
As far as our small little gardens are concerned, none of those topics matter to us as gardeners.
However, it can affect how we think about purchasing some products, where we buy products, and what ingredients are used in products. Do we support companies with our hard-earned money that manipulate our tax dollar spending and in effect, force farmers to buy their products?
Vote to Your Beliefs
It may seem I've gone off on a tangent here. But remember, big agricultural business is dictating which research projects are funded and where others are published to their own benefit.
The funding, lobbying results, subsidy payouts, and the rightful purchasing of crop insurance aren't benefiting farmers interested in cutting equipment costs, eliminating chemicals, and building soil.
For these reasons, we need to know how the system works so we can share our beliefs (whatever they are for you) to other people interested in sustainable agriculture.
We can change the process by voting for the right people in the primaries and on election day.
Here's Where We Can Help - The Tipping Point
Have you heard of the tipping point?
The tipping point is how many people, usually expressed in a percentage, it takes to change the views of social convention.
The study reported in Science (linked above) says that if as few as 25% convert their views that the balance starts to tip in their favor. It's as if the converts carry a momentum that shifts the majorities view.
Read the discussion in The Soil Will Save Us and digest the information and come up with your own viewpoint.
Research your elected politician's stances and express your views to them. This also includes your town or village planning board members. Some zoning is crazy and out of date.
For instance, in my town, to raise any animals outside, even goats and chickens, you need own 3-acres in the most rural residential zoning.
To get farm market status and sell as a farm market you need to own 5-acres. Crazy rules!
Think about Curtis Stone and Charles Dowding that make a good living on veg markets on less than an acre.
Anyway, I digress, your vote counts so express your views by voting for the right people.
Sequester Your Own CO2
Next, read one or more of the five books shown below and incorporate some of their methods into your own gardening. Click the image to expand it for easier viewing.
These five books provide methods to improve your soil by creating humus and sequestering CO2.
Regardless if you're a farmer that grows crops and has livestock, or plant a small 200 square-foot garden, one or more of these books provides methods that will improve your soil
If you plow or rototill your garden every year, pull the plants out by the roots once they've finished for the year, and leave your soil naked to the winter, the views and gardening methods in these books will seem odd.
But give the methods a try, even if it's a small portion of your current garden. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Below are Amazon links to the six books. The prices are for the paperback version (if available).
Have you read any of these books? Let us know what you think about any of them or the views outlined in this article, leave a comment below.