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Connor Stedman to present in Soil Carbon and Climate Track at 2014NOFA Summer Conference

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2014 July/August Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson, NOFA/Mass Education and Executive Director

Connor is an ecological designer and environmental planner with a background in small scale diversified farming. He specializes in agro-forestry and multi-productive forested landscapes on farms and conservation properties, combining work on food production, conservation, and re-integrating people into the natural world. He has an M.S. in Natural Resources from UVM’s Ecological Planning program. He resides in Montague, MA and works throughout the Northeast.

As a part of the Soil Carbon and Climate Track at this year’s NOFA Summer Conference, Connor will lead the Carbon Farming workshop, concentrating on agriculture and land management as a response to climate change. Much of the conversation around climate change is about emission reductions – on a policy and treaty level, and as personal and corporate response. Increasingly, people are beginning to talk about adaptation, such as the conversations about flood resilience that have developed in the Northeast since Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Rarely, though, are people looking at re-sequestering carbon. When they do, it is often about large, expensive, resource and technology-intensive geo-engineering projects, such as re-storing carbon in deep geological structures or highly speculative weather control technologies. These methodologies tend to be unproven and are generally very resource and technology intensive.

“There is a strong critique to make of geo-engineering,” says Connor. “It certainly looks like a form of disaster capitalism - an effort by the existing economic elite to funnel ever more resources and control of the world into their hands. And, it’s very risky - we just don’t know that these geo-engineering ideas will work. What’s rarely talked about is sequestering carbon in farms, landscapes, forests, ecosystems – in a bottom up way, bioregion by bioregion, all around the world. This approach has the advantage of not requiring any new technology, and of simultaneously addressing other global crises – desertification, land degradation, food insecurity.”

In his Carbon Farming workshop, Connor will talk about this very strategy – regenerative agriculture practices that store carbon in soil and in perennial plants (especially trees). Also to be discuss are integrating tree crops into pasture, grazing in woodlands, planting fruit, nut, and timber crops into pastures, and developing multi-crop agricultures that mimic natural savannas.

Connor will discuss productive riparian buffers in a second NOFA Summer Conference workshop, Agroforestry for Riverlands and Beyond. Agroforestry and perennial crops in flood plains and river ways are sequestration and climate adaptation strategies, mitigating flooding and runoff from heavy rain events that continue to increase in severity with climate change.  

One of Stedman’s colleagues and collaborators is Eric Toensmeier, and a lot of his thinking has been shaped by Eric’s work. Connor also likes the work of Holistic Management International and other planned grazing experts, including Ann Adams, Kirk Gadzia, and Greg Judy (our 2015 NOFA/Mass Winter Conference Keynoter).  Restoration ecologist Dennis Martinez is another influence. Based in northern California, Martinez is of O’odham and Chicano heritage and works to bring traditional ecological knowledge into sustainable land management. Connor admires how Martinez bridges worlds between Western science and indigenous land care knowledge. Most of the carbon farming practices Connor will present about are rooted in very old traditions of land care, agriculture, and forestry practiced by indigenous communities around the world.   

Stedman is an organizer of the February 2015 Carbon Farming Course in Red Hook, NY, a 3-week training in carbon-sequestering agriculture techniques. The course is a series of 1, 3, and 5-day workshops by many different trainers, which people can attend individually or come for the entire training.

Connor consults with farmers and landowners in a variety of ways. The majority of people are interested in habitat and forest management, or in bringing tree crops or agroforestry into their farms. He also works with AppleSeed Permaculture in the Hudson Valley, doing design, planning, and consulting for larger scale farm and forestland projects. AppleSeed is currently supporting the development of two new farm incubator projects – the Hudson Valley Farm Incubator in New Paltz, NY, and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub in Kingston, NY.

I asked Connor to give some advice to the following constituencies about what folks can do to support carbon sequestration:

For consumers: “If you buy coffee or chocolate, buy it from organic, shade-grown companies. Those farms are doing a lot to keep wet tropical forests in tree cover.  There are many different producers who do shade-grown - look for it on the label.”

For gardeners: “Build the organic content of your soil and bring trees and shrubs into your food gardening. Dacha small farms in Russia and tropical home gardens all over the world include diverse, perennial, back yard gardens – which are significant to local food security. The Victory Garden movement in this country was an example of this too. It really is possible for people to grow diversified food in their backyards using perennials.”

For annual farmers: “For annual vegetable producers and grain producers, the biggest carbon storage win they can get is around introducing tree crops: alley cropping, or inter-planting rows of trees among annual production. It’s a well-developed practice from around the world that needs development in temperate climates. Additionally, undersowing, mulching, organic no-till, cover cropping, compost, always keeping cover on the soil - there’s a whole basket of techniques that store carbon in the soil. These are really just the best practices of organic farming – what’s good for the soil is good for the climate as well.”

For graziers: “Moving from fixed paddock to management intensive grazing is important. The carbon loss from overgrazing is significant. Managed, intensive grazing can rebuild soil in ways that a fixed paddock can’t, because grasses are evolved for disturbance and rest rather than constant pressure.”

You can contact Connor at connor@appleseedpermaculture.com

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