Bioneers Pulse – updates from the Bioneers Community
Photo courtesy of Jan Mangan
Greetings fellow Bioneers!
Climate change is arguably the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced. Even in its early stages, we have seen its tragic consequences in New Orleans, Houston, and Puerto Rico, in the historic droughts and vast fires in California, and in catastrophic climate disasters across the globe. While there may seem to be a dearth of practical solutions, harnessing the nation’s agricultural prowess and adopting carbon farming practices in large-scale operations around the world could mitigate climate change. In this newsletter, you’ll hear from farmers, ranchers, scientists, food systems activists and ecologists who are developing a deep understanding of how to replenish the earth through carbon farming to create a more fertile and sustainable landscape.
Want to learn more about carbon farming? Explore Bioneers’ dynamic new media series of all things related to carbon farming and the people who are working to harness the practice as a way to save our planet. The series will be updated regularly, so keep checking back.
Greenhouse gases are the root cause of our planet’s climate change woes—from steadily increasing temperatures to the incidence of more and more severe natural disasters. Though the burning of fossil fuels, and global deforestation are routinely cited as the primary drivers, according to the EPA what other American industry—regularly a concern of animal rights activists—creates dangerous methane (CH4) emissions in equal amounts to coal mining? (Read to the bottom of this email to find the answer.)
“For me, local governance—the participation of us as citizens with our assemblymen, mayors, board of supervisors—this is the scale within which we can actually change the world. This is our community, and working within our community, with each other, we maybe can actually address this issue of otherness.”
Carbon Farming: Agriculture’s Answer to Climate Change
Video to Watch: Solving Climate Change Through Carbon Farming
Ranchers, farmers, scientists, and food system activists share solutions, practices and the latest research on how carbon farming can play a preeminent role in addressing climate change and ensure food security by stewarding working landscapes to sequester carbon.
This Week on Bioneers Radio & Podcast
Vice to Virtue: From Carbon Crisis to Carbon Farming: How does a virtue become a vice? How does a basic building block of life turn into a threat to life? And how do you turn that vice back into a virtue? In this half-hour, we visit with two unlikely pathfinders who are helping to revolutionize farming. Calla Rose Ostrander and John Wick of the Marin Carbon Project are taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back where it belongs: in the soil. In so doing, they’re also revitalizing the soil, conserving water, and building agricultural resilience. Scaling up these revolutionary regenerative methods can offset the climate destabilization, which that threatens to confound agriculture and endanger our food supply.
Ariel Greenwood, a self-proclaimed “feral agrarian” who formerly worked on a large research preserve in the Mayacamas mountain range region of Sonoma County, discusses how she uses holistic management practices when grazing her herd of cattle to better understand the landscape and restore its ecosystem.
You said holistic management is how you manage yourself. How has that informed how you go about your work?
Something I discovered through this is that I really love working with large animals specifically. I’ve never been as excited about sheep or goats as I am cattle. It’s not even the fact that they’re cattle. The fact that they’re large and they can do a lot of damage or a lot of good depending on how you manage them is very exciting to me.
There’s a whole part of my mind, that really comes online when working this intimately with nature, with phenology, with weather, with animals, soil and so on. There are levels and layers of intuition and instinct that, at least in my life, that I’ve not had the opportunity to emerge until I began to engage with this work. That’s been very humbling and exciting at the same time.
How do you read your landscape? How do you go about understanding what the landscape is offering in all of its dynamics?
It kind of depends on the questions I’m asking. If I’m standing at a knoll on the preserve and looking across at an area I might graze, there are a few things I’ll notice before even posing any questions. One is where the shade points might be, because shade matters to the herd when it’s hot. This time of year, the grass is shifting from its growth period to its senescence in dry period. I’m looking at how much brown there is, how much green, what species are growing in different places, because that tells me a lot about the soil, the hydrology of the given acre that I’m staring across.
I’m often asking questions like: Where can I run fence lines? Where can I move cattle without fence? Where can I run water pipe? Where will I need to put in vents for my water pipes? How can I bring material on the ATV or on foot? How much time is it going to take to do one thing versus another, and what will most achieve my goal? I’m looking for wildlife, signs of deer activity, because if there’s deer activity I won’t put my fences up so far in advance, because I’ll just confuse them or they’ll get caught in it or mess it up. I’m looking at wildlife corridors, hard-wired fence lines and seeing if they need to be repaired.
The most implicit overarching question is just simply how does this need to be grazed and am I able to pull that off. Some hill sides need a lot more restorative, sensitive grazing, others can take a lot more impact. Time of year matters significantly in that respect. How dry is the ground? How wet is the ground? All of these questions in anticipation of moving 120,000 pounds of animal across the area.
Bioneers is seeking a Development Coordinator and a Youth Leadership Program Coordinator. Check out our career opportunities page for details.
What We're Tracking
On June 13, after a decade of local grassroots efforts, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos and to require that agrochemical companies alert residents when and where they use restricted-use pesticides. (Lisa Held via Civil Eats)
Moreangels Mbizah, a researcher tracking lions in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, is one of the few female scientists working in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite double standards and the daily challenges facing women in the field, Mbizah powers on to further conservation efforts. (Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar via National Geographic)
Architecture firm Y8 Studio’s founder and principal architect Jordan Wyatt is bringing his knowledge on sustainable home improvement to the masses by offering a free online course on how to conserve energy and save on your next utility bill. (via B the Change)
As part of its efforts to help mobilize citizens and communities and give them the tools and know-how they need to make a difference in their communities, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has hosted Democracy School around the country for more than a decade—and for the first time ever, it’s now online. (via CELDF)
A partner at Full Belly Farm in California’s Capay Valley, Paul Muller has been farming organically for 33 years. One of the goals at Full Belly Farm is to maximize the amount of life present in every acre of land, from plants and microbes to insects and animals. In this article, Muller explains how he accomplishes this through carbon sequestration and no-till practices, and why it’s important to farm responsibly in order to preserve diversity above and beneath the ground.
Don’t Miss It: Healthy Soils, Economic Justice and Climate Change Mitigation
Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soil, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It also increases soil carbon storage, which is both a buffer against climate change and can reduce the dangerous amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Join us for a session on Regenerative Agriculture: Healthy Soils, Economic Justice and Climate Change Mitigation at Bioneers 2018, during which we’ll visit Singing Frogs Farm, a highly productive and profitable organic vegetable operation in Sebastopol, CA. Thanks to its practice of regenerative agriculture, the farm has experienced improvements in its soil and a drastic increase in biodiversity.
The Big Question, Answered: Waste Not
If you guessed that cattle farming is the cause of methane emissions equal to that of coal mining, you guessed right. Cows emit a surprising amount of methane in their manure, and a habit of overgrazing only worsens the industry’s effect on our environment.
In an effort to put cattle waste to use while also mitigating the effects of climate change, researchers like Dr. Whendee Silver, a Professor of Ecosystem Ecology at U.C. Berkeley who is conducting research on carbon sequestration for the Marin Carbon Project, tested manure as a soil amendment (what Silver calls a common practice in California). They found that excess amounts directly added to soil do more harm than good by releasing high amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. But they also found that by first introducing the manure into a well-managed compost mix and then using it to amend soil, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced dramatically and soil fertility improved over time.
Learn more about Dr. Whendee Silver’s work with the Marin Carbon Project here.
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