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A sprinkle of compost helps rangeland lock up carbon

Author: Carolyn Lochhead

A compost experiment that began seven years ago on a Marin County ranch has uncovered a disarmingly simple and benign way to remove carbon dioxide from the air, holding the potential to turn the vast rangeland of California and the world into a weapon against climate change.

The concept grew out of a unique Bay Area alignment of a biotech fortune, a world-class research institution and progressive-minded Marin ranchers. It has captured the attention of the White House, the Brown administration, the city of San Francisco, officials in Brazil and China, and even House Republicans, who may not believe in climate change but like the idea that “carbon farming” could mean profits for ranchers.

Experiments on grazing lands in Marin County and the Sierra foothills of Yuba County by UC Berkeley bio-geochemist Whendee Silver showed that a one-time dusting of compost substantially boosted the soil’s carbon storage. The effect has persisted over six years, and Silver believes the carbon will remain stored for at least several decades.

The experiments were instigated by John Wick and his wife, Peggy, heiress to the Amgen biotech fortune, on a 540-acre ranch they bought in Nicasio. What began as a search for an artist’s studio turned into a seven-year, $8 million journey through rangeland ecology that has produced results John Wick calls “the most exciting thing I can think of on the planet right now.”

Spreading scraps

The research showed that if compost from green waste — everything from household food scraps to dairy manure — were applied over just 5 percent of the state’s grazing lands, the soil could capture a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s farm and forestry industries.

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What kind of chicken and eggs do you recommend?

Author: Amanda Blakenship

There is a belief among many people that we need conventional agriculture to feed the planet. I disagree completely. Corporate seed and chemical companies want us to believe in conventional agriculture so they can continue to profit off of hard working farmers. These unsustainable practices are harming people and the planet. My husband and I decided to put our background to good use by showing everyone that we can produce healthy foods using safe and sustainable agricultural practices. We are safely producing grains, hays, beef, chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, and lamb. We are benefiting the soils, animals, people and planet with our hands on management. By growing, harvesting, and milling our own feed we will be able to keep raising pastured soy and corn free poultry. In coming years we plan to add on-farm hatching and processing to further our independence. With customer support we will continue to expand our impact and help change the food system.

Utilizing holistic management and regenerative agriculture, our goal is to constantly improve the health of the soils as well as the diversity and abundance of life within those soils. The health of our soils, pastures, animals, and people are all interdependent. Our practices use far less fossil fuel than traditional agriculture and still produce at least an equal amount of food. Our regenerative agriculture practices include the use of no-till seeding, cover cropping, holistic planned multi-species animal grazing, pasture cropping, and composting. Our beloved animals help us sequester carbon and naturally fertilize our soils. Our soils also benefit from a healthy population of worms, bugs, fungi and other microorganisms that drive carbon sequestration. We never use any vaccines or antibiotics.

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Regenerating Your Garden’s Soil

Author: Tom Karwin

We have seen a surge of interest, recently, in soil regeneration as a substantial part of the global response to climate change.

Briefly, soil regeneration (or carbon farming) involves practices that reduce the loss of carbon from the soil and draw atmospheric carbon into the soil. These practices can counteract the disruption of nature’s carbon cycle caused by modern practices such as burning fossil fuels and pursuing “conventional” methods of commercial agriculture and livestock operations.

The greatest positive effects of carbon farming are realized when these practices are applied to hundreds of acres, but home gardeners also can combat climate change by carbon farming on their own patch of land.

Adopting these enlightened practices entitles the gardener to claim the status of Citizen of the Earth. But wait — there’s more. Carbon farming also improves the overall health of the garden, increases the retention of moisture, reduces workloads and avoids the costs of garden chemicals.

The basic idea is to support the vitality of the top few inches of the soil, where most of a plant’s roots find nutrition for the plant and where we have the microbiome, the vast population of beneficial bacteria and fungi that is essential to healthy plants.

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