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Educate yourself on soil carbon restoration at 2017 Winter Conference - early bird deadline 12/15!

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

By Caro Roszell

2016 Winter Conference Workshop

November was a time of fevered distraction for most of us, as we watched an administration change take place in our country that is expected to call into question all current national efforts toward climate mitigation.

We must now refocus. We must redouble our efforts on a personal and community level to reduce carbon emissions, sequester carbon, and support sequestration efforts.

There are many things we can and should all be doing, such as carpooling or taking transportation alternatives, eating lower on the food chain, avoiding industrial meat entirely, air-drying clothes, composting – the list goes on.

But a critically important part of addressing climate change is soil carbon sequestration, or “carbon farming”, which is increasingly attracting the attention and support of organizations in the US and across the world.

Please join us for the upcoming NOFA/Mass Winter Conference (January 14 at Worcester State University) where we have developed a robust track of workshops on soil carbon restoration for all levels. The conference can get you started on this topic, or take you deeper into the wealth of research on the mechanics, practices, and practical benefits of “carbon farming.”

Locally, of course, NOFA/Mass has a program devoted to soil carbon restoration. The Marin Carbon Project (CA) and the Quivera Coalition (NM) have been active in the west and southwest, and there is also a new cross-sector project devoted to coalition building called The Carbon Underground.

France, in partnership with the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has set an ambitious program called the 4 per 1000 Initiative, and encourages all nations to participate. The initiative is a voluntary action plan under the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) which aims to generate an annual 4% increase in soil carbon sequestration.

Australia is a world leader on carbon farming initiatives, allowing farmers who sequester carbon to participate in carbon trading via the Australian government-supported  carbon market (ie receive funding from carbon credits, similar to the way that the renewable energy credit (REC) market works in the USA) since 2011.

Internationally, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a webpage dedicated to soil carbon sequestration. The webpage acknowledges that “the development of agriculture during the past centuries and particularly in last decades has entailed depletion of substantive soil carbon stocks. Agricultural soils are among the planet's largest reservoirs of carbon and hold potential for expanded carbon sequestration.” The FAO goes on to state that, while current carbon sequestration practices under the Kyoto protocols focus on reforestation activities, “in the post-Kyoto negotiations efforts are being made to give due attention to the huge carbon sequestration potentials in rangelands.”

If you attended this year’s NOFA Summer Conference you had the chance to see the keynote address on climate change and carbon sequestration by Andre Leu, President of the IFOAM, Organics International. In his address, Leu informed us that the tipping point of carbon in our atmosphere for life on earth to begin to change drastically is 450 PPM.  Presently, it is projected that if we proceed as we have been for the past century, we will reach that number sometime between 2030-2050.  This will mean dire consequences for all life on earth.

If none of this is new information to you, then you are well on your way to understanding the role that farmers, gardeners, land managers and consumers can play in global climate change.

It is only in recent decades that scientists have begun to more thoroughly understand the mechanics and roles of mycorrhizae, root exudates, humates, glomalin and other aspects of the soil ecosystem that are now central to our understanding of organic growing and soil nutrient cycles.  Likewise, it is only recently that soil and climate sciences have converged in their progress to reveal the connections between destructive farming practices and climate change; it turns out that abusive soil practices like tillage and chemical applications not only reduce the capacity of the soil to grow healthy food—we now understand that such practices also intensify the effect of drought and flooding, damage regional watersheds, and turn soil carbon into atmospheric carbon. Farming practices that support soil carbon sequestration also can seriously mitigate these effects. 

At the 2017 Winter Conference, you can learn from and meet others who are working on this issue. Here is just a small selection of the topics in the Regenerative Land Management & Soil Carbon Restoration Track:

Microorganisms: the Unseen Workers of the World with Didi Pershouse: The microbiome of the soil quietly provides essential ecosystem benefits related to flows of water, carbon and nutrients—all related to climate resiliency. If you understand the principles for keeping those tiny workers happy, you can develop unique carbon-farming practices to meet your own goals, and improve the health of your customers, your watershed, and your world.

No-Till Crop Production with Compost/Biochar Blends with Dan Pratt: Learn about systems for growing crops with minimal soil disturbance. Following Elaine Ingham’s seminal work on the soil food web and intrigued by the potential for building long-term fertility with the use of biochar, I will share the good, the bad and the ugly of our first two no-till seasons. Outline of techniques, harvest data and a list of suppliers provided.

Ghost Acres & Carbon Sequestration with Brian Caldwell:How can we determine whether a set of farming practices actually increases the amount of carbon subtracted from the atmosphere and added to the soil? Net carbon sequestration means including the carbon balance of all inputs to a field, plus any changes in the amount of carbon present. This workshop will be a discussion of how to usefully and accurately account for soil carbon.

Practical Ways of Building Soil Carbon & Farm Viability with Jack Kittredge and Julie Rawson: We will discuss the latest techniques, tools, and methods for growing annual vegetables in ways which build soil carbon and are practical for small farmers to adopt.

Intensive No-Till Vegetable Production with Bryan O’Hara: Learn methods for intensively growing vegetable crops without disturbing the soil through tillage or cultivation. Bryan will present the techniques he uses: multi-cropping, mowing, solarizing, weed-free composting, mulching, broadcast seeding, and weed control. This system has been commercially utilized at his Tobacco Road Farm for more than five years.

Carbon Farming: A Roundtable Discussion with Dan Bensonoff, Jack Kittredge and Casey Townsend: Are you working toward or actively implementing practices that increase soil carbon sequestration? Farmers Jack and Casey will kick off a moderated, participant-driven discussion with a focus on practical strategies for on-farm tillage reduction. Other topics may include cover-cropping innovations, ways to integrate mulches, and other ideas.

I invite you to get involved, to deepen your understanding, and to inform others of this critical issue. Please invite your friends and family to accompany you to the conference this year. If you bring your colleagues, you can qualify for group discounts. Either way, don’t wait, because you don’t want anyone to miss the Early Bird discount—prices rise on December 16th so please, share widely and register early.

Additionally, please consider extending your conference experience and deeply engage with the NOFA community by joining us for an intimate post-conference dinner and speech.  A strong NOFA supporter, chef Rich Perna and his staff at WSU are planning a delectable local organic meal for attendees to enjoy with other NOFA members, staff and board, and keynoter Paul Kaiser and his wife, co-farmer and co-teacher, Elizabeth Kaiser. This is your opportunity to extend the day’s learning through conversation, set to live music, and reinforced with a private address by our keynoter.  All proceeds from the dinner support our mission to expand the production and availability of nutritious food from living soil for the health of individuals, communities and the planet. Together we are deepening the roots of organic agriculture in Massachusetts. We sincerely hope you will join us.

See the workshop schedule and register for the Winter Conference at www.nofamass.org/events/wc.

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