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Carbon Sequestration

Do you ever wonder whether you are building your land’s best possible soil health? Have you thought about the relationship between your farm or garden soil and the excess carbon in Earth’s atmosphere?

Beyond the typical mineral analysis of soil there is the question of soil life and vitality— which is a very good “proxy” for soil carbon. In most cases if you have lots of soil carbon you are going to have lots of soil life, and vice versa.

Do you ever wonder whether you are building your land’s best possible soil health? Have you thought about the relationship between your farm or garden soil and the excess carbon in Earth’s atmosphere? Beyond the typical mineral analysis of soil there is the question of soil life and vitality – which is a very good “proxy” for soil carbon. In most cases if you have lots of soil carbon you are going to have lots of soil life, and vice versa.

1) Young cover crop planted on 18” space at end of onion bed

It’s been a great growing year, so far, and we’ve had an abundant harvest of delicious vegetables. The apple and pear trees are loaded with fruit soon to be enjoyed. Every year our soil becomes richer and healthier, yielding more nutritious and delicious food while removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering carbon in our soil. This is a continuous cycle of life creating and sustaining life.

I’ve been preparing a presentation about this biological growing technique (No-till and Cover Crops for us gardeners) for both a NOFA/Mass webinar and a workshop at the Summer Conference. If you are interested and missed these talks, you can view the YouTube video of the whole talk.

My most dominant takeaway from the conference is how precarious this moment is – before the mainstream adoption of the concepts of soil carbon sequestration and their codification into policy – for those in the world who have less power than the first-world policy makers and thought leaders. While there was consensus that practice must begin before the science is perfected, there was a divide on the meaning of “practice”. Does “practice” mean creating national or international subsidies or even carbon markets that incentivize carbon sequestration on agricultural lands? Or does “practice” refer to a global grassroots movement by farmers on the ground – supported by farmer organizations like NOFA –teaching each other to improve soil health (and thereby increase its carbon stocks) and educating their customers to value such practices?

Ray Archuleta speaks to crowd at July 2016 "Cocktail Cover Crops: Trials and Techniques" workshop

NOFA/Mass encourages me to do things that both feel good and are good.

Here are some examples:

  • Gathering with fun and interesting farmers, gardeners, homesteaders throughout the year to share and learn how I can grow better food on healthier soil
  • Considering my farming practices in terms of the larger ecosystem, seeing myself as an integral part of that global picture
  • Experimenting with my farming systems, trying new things
  • Being creative in the use of materials and resources on my land and in my home
  • Working with my neighbors to promote greater food security in my city

Jen Salinetti farms with her husband Pete in Tyringham, MA in the Berkshires. They have been farming for 16 years together, the four years spent on their almost 5-acre farm. In recent years they have not been using tillage to grow their vegetables. Jen feels that by not disturbing the soil they have a considerable positive impact on carbon sequestration on their land. They have experienced a significant increase in quality and yields which has enabled them to create a viable business on a small amount of land.

“Pete and I started experimenting with no-till 13 years ago, and we are now going into year 11. Our initial experimenting began when we were looking to increase greenhouse production. We started looking into ways to do prep without the tiller. We saw some really great results after the first season. And then we expanded it out to our market garden. Through the process, we were able to set up permanent beds and maximize our earnings and outputs through proper spacing of plants. It was right around when our son Diego was born. We wanted to commit to farming, to be available for family life and to be home.”

Green Team staking the tomatoes in test plot #1

Though the word “farming” is in its name, NOFA does more than just work with rural farmers. Much attention is paid to ways more traditional, production farmers can use techniques like cover cropping and mineral amendments to enhance their yields, but there are few resources and little knowledge for using these tools on smaller scale and urban sites.

NOFA/Mass is partnering with The Trustees Boston Community Gardens and Groundwork Somerville on a three-year project to improve the fertility and production of compost-based soils, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Compost is often free and used-widely by many city growers. Though considered non-toxic and safe for growing in, compost does not provide all that soil needs to produce healthy and sustained crop growth.

Doug Wolcik studied farming in the Sustainable Ag program at UMass with John Gerber. After that he went to Northern California for two seasons and to gain practical experience with the scientific practices that he learned in college. He learned a basic knowledge about farm layout, planting techniques, greenhouse management, cover cropping – but nothing extremely cutting edge. He came back East pretty poor, and with college loans. He had farmed full time for $100/week in CA along with room and board. He then worked for the Department of Conservation and Recreation on the invasive species team searching out the Asian Longhorned Beetle. He saved enough money to be able to take a huge pay cut and get back into farming. He started working with Gaining Ground and is now in his fifth year there.

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser were keynoters at 2017 Winter Conference

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, California, were the keynote speakers for the 30th annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. On January 14 at Worcester State University they spoke to 800 farmers, gardeners, soil scientists, extension agents and others involved in New England food systems.

They came with a message – that agriculture has been one of the greatest contributors to climate change in human history, but it is also our best hope for mitigating climate change. The Kaiser’s assert that by adapting their practices to sequester more soil carbon, farmers can simultaneously improve the health of their crops, soil, and finances.

2016 NOFA/Mass Staff and Board at Annual Retreat

2016 NOFA/Mass Staff and Board at Annual Retreat

A new year has begun at NOFA/Mass, and it has started very nicely. 800 folks attended the 30th Annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser shared their success with their family-size no-till farm in Sebastopol, CA. There were plenty of good takeaways for anyone who grows vegetables and wants to improve your farm ecosystem. Thanks to the presenters of the other 70 workshops and the 70 or so exhibitors who shared their expertise and wares with participants. And also a hearty thank you to Worcester State University for being such quintessential hosts to us. They make conference arrangements easy!

At the conference we welcomed two new staff members to NOFA/Mass. Marty Dagoberto has accepted the role of Outreach Coordinator. He will replace Sharon Gensler in this role. We sent Sharon off with the NOFA/Mass Person of the Year award for her oh so many years of service to us. She has truly been the face of the organization. Marty most recently worked with MA Right to Know GMOs and many anti-gmo organizations in the state and region in our unsuccessful coalition bid to get a GMO labeling bill passed in Massachusetts. He brings a wealth of contacts, energy and savvy for organizational collaboration to the table. He will also be putting new energy into The Organic Food Guide to make this a more vibrant publication of organic food in our state.

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