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A New Carbon Story: Soil Restoration, Possibility, and a Conference You Won’t Want to Miss!

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 November Issue Newsletter

By Allison Houghton

Phytoremediation: Phytoremediation Canal Cleaning Island of Plants 

On January 31, 2017, come join us for an exciting, all day conference for anyone who is interested in tackling climate change, restoring the land, and building a future of resilient and biodiverse landscapes. Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity is a conference for land managers, farmers, homeowners, researchers, and anyone who is interested in making a difference right in their own backyard.

The story of carbon is complex and yet also incredibly simple. Every living thing is made of carbon. Carbon is in the air and the soil. It is in our oceans and forests. It makes up earthworms, phytoplankton, fungi, plants, and humans, too. For the past several years, we have heard about the imbalances of the carbon cycle and its role in climate change, especially with regard to the impacts of our excessive use of fossil fuels in the last few. But there is another side to the carbon story – a story that includes the dramatic interplay of soil, water and biodiversity. It’s a story you don’t want to miss!

It all starts with plants. Plants convert carbon in the atmosphere and water into carbon-rich sugars that fuel their own growth and development. They also leak a portion of these sugars, or “liquid carbon”, out into the soil through their roots to attract beneficial bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms provide many services to the plants in exchange for those tasty sugars, which the organisms are unable to produce themselves. The carbon from these interchanges makes its way into the soil ecosystem, some of which can be stored there over time. Well-established, carbon-rich soils have the incredible capacity to hold water like a sponge, resist the negative impacts of stressors like drought and heavy rainfall, and hold onto nutrients. Life, in essence, creates conditions for more life, and continues to cycle, sequester, and build on existing carbon through the constant cycle of life and death underground.

Where there is life, there is carbon. Plants have this unique ability to jumpstart a liquid carbon pump that fuels incredible biodiversity below ground, in the soil beneath our feet. At this conference in January we hope to explore the unique opportunity each of us has to actively capture carbon in the land around us with the help of plants, biodiversity, and land management – whether it be in a garden, on a farm, a backyard, or a strip of land on the side of the road. Anyone who manages land can not only improve the health and resilience of that landscape, but also restore carbon to the soil and build a thriving and resilience ecosystem.

Find out more about the conference here at!

We have a dynamic array of speakers, each of which will bring a unique point of view, practical suggestions, and take-aways for restoring soil carbon:

White: Courtney White

Courtney White is the author of the recently published Two Percent Solutions for the Planet as well as Grass, Soil, Hope. A former archaeologist and Sierra Club activist, White dropped out of the “conflict industry” in 1997 to cofound the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, and others around practices that improve economic and ecological resilience in western working landscapes. As White explained in Grass, Soil, Hope, a highly efficient carbon cycle captures, stores, releases, and recaptures biochemical energy, mitigating climate change, increasing water storage capacities in soil, and making green plants grow. A wide variety of innovative ideas and methods that put carbon back into the soil have been field-tested and proven to be practical and profitable. They’re mostly low-tech, relying on natural resources such as sunlight, green plants, animals, compost, beavers, creeks, and more. Two Percent Solutions for the Planet expands upon what White refers to as the “regenerative toolbox” and profiles fifty innovative practices that soak up carbon dioxide in soils, reduce energy use, sustainably intensify food production, and increase water quality. The “two percent” refers to the amount of new carbon in the soil needed to reap a wide variety of ecological and economic benefits; the percentage of the nation’s population who are farmers and ranchers; and the low financial cost (in terms of GDP) needed to get this work done. Mr. White lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his family and a backyard full of chickens.

Eric Toensmeier is the author of the new book, The Carbon Farming Solution. In this groundbreaking book, Toensmeier offers a Big Idea: That agriculture, often blamed as a major culprit of our climate crisis, could be harnessed as part of a global solution to avert disaster, heal our planet, and provide real food security. Toensmeier (also author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables) argues that “carbon farming” has the potential—when combined with a massive reduction in fossil fuel emissions and in concert with adaptation strategies to our changing environment—to return our atmosphere to the “magic number” of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Carbon Farming is a suite of agricultural practices and crops that sequesters carbon in the soil and in above ground biomass, which includes modifications to current cropping systems, the use of perennial crops, new approaches to animal grazing, agroforestry, and more. Toensmeier is an expert on the useful perennial crops of the world, he has taught about permaculture and perennial food production systems in multiple languages and countries. His current project is promoting perennial farming systems, including agroforestry and staple crops, while restoring degraded lands.

Eric FleisherEric “T” Fleisher is the Director of Horticulture at Battery Park City Parks Conservancy in lower Manhattan. A national leader in the field of sustainable horticulture, soils, and environmental restoration, Fleisher has brought this 36-acre oasis of public parkland on the Hudson River to the forefront as the first public park space in New York City to be maintained completely organically. Hidden beneath the subtle beauty of Battery Park City lies an ecologically sustainable system of gardens and biodiverse soil that Fleisher and staff created with the help of community-wide food-waste composting. Fleisher’s horticulture staff cultivates the compost to create a healthy soil teeming with microbiological life including fungi, bacteria, protozoa and other microscopic life. A 2008 Loeb Fellow and “Organic Landscape Program Developer” at Harvard University, Fleisher continues to develop protocols to help landscapes recover from the 20th century’s chemical interventions.

Chip OsborneCharles “Chip” Osborne has 35 years of experience as a professional horticulturist and over 10 years of experience in creating safe, sustainable, and healthy landscapes and athletic fields through natural turf management. Osborne’s personal investigation, study of conventional and organic soil science practices, and hands-on experimentation led him to become one of the country’s leading experts on growing sustainable, natural turf. He is a board member of Beyond Pesticides and Chairman of the Marblehead, Massachusetts Recreation and Parks Department. Osborne co-founded The Living Lawn Project in Marblehead, MA, one of the country’s first natural lawn demonstration sites. It is a nationally-recognized, living example that beautiful, healthy grass can be grown without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Paul WagnerPaul Wagner  is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist; Certified Nursery Professional; and Certified Pesticide Applicator with more than 25 years of experience working in the horticultural industry.  Mr. Wagner has spent many years focused on insect, disease, and weed management and has assisted vineyards in Long Island and Massachusetts to set up successful trials managing foliar diseases with compost tea. Mr. Wagner’s primary focus most recently is on soil management, and he has successfully developed, implemented, and managed organic plant health care programs.  He worked with the first plant health care company on Long Island to utilize a commercial compost tea brewing machine. Currently he runs the New York Soil Foodweb Laboratory, and has been working with soil expert Dr. Elaine Ingham for several years.

Bruce FulfordBruce Fulford is owner of City Soil & Greenhouse LLC., a Boston consulting firm that provides composting technical assistance, environmental remediation, and intensive crop production methods and technologies. He has worked extensively with federal and state agencies on research, development and implementing technologies and best practices for composting, sustainable agriculture, storm water management, and bioenergy during his 35 year career. Bruce is a leading proponent of integrating commercial scale composting with bioenergy recovery, greenhouse facilities and on-site horticultural applications that reduce sources and mitigate the effects of climate change. He founded Boston’s first commercial composting business in 1993 at the Franklin Park Zoo. He produces and distributes locally-produced composts, mulches and amended soils to a broad client base. Mr. Fulford is a member of Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Statewide Council and its Climate Change Committee.

Bryan O’Hara has been growing vegetables on Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon CT for 25 years.  The farm uses intensive farming practices for three acres of vegetables, four seasons a year, which has provided a living for Bryan and his family. After many years of organic soil building practices Bryan fully transitioned to no-till in 2012 with good success so far. The farm mainly sells to the Willimantic Food Coop and also at the Tolland and Storrs farmers’ markets.








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