Is carbon farming the most economically viable way to keep climate catastrophe at bay?
A year ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender in Queens. Now the 29-year old is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, the Democrats’ biggest rising star since Barack Obama. She has pushed a decade-old idea called the Green New Deal to the political fore, which has major implications for the food system.
The overarching goal of the Green New Deal is to develop a carbon-neutral economy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not coal-fired power plants and automobile tailpipes that emit the majority of greenhouse gases; it’s food production. Tillage, synthetic fertilizer and the manure lagoons of industrial livestock operations emit copious quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. However, agriculture also holds great potential to pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in soil and plants, just as natural forests and grasslands do. There are proven techniques to do this, collectively known as carbon farming, though it would take massive government incentives to redesign our agricultural system to become a net absorber of carbon. But there is a growing consensus that, compared to the investments required to transition to 100 percent renewable energy, electric vehicles and the like, an agricultural approach might actually be the fastest, cheapest and most practical way to dial down carbon emissions before it’s too late.
NOTE: the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers degree programs to help you move toward careers in Sustainable Food and Farming. For more information, see: https://sustfoodfarm.org/new_students/
BOSTON (THE CONVERSATION) — In this new year, millions of Americans will make resolutions about healthier eating. In 2019, could U.S. government leaders further resolve to improve healthier eating as well, joining public health experts in seeing that food is medicine?
In 2018, Congress initiated a series of actions that represent a shift away from placing the full responsibility – and blame – on individual people to make their own healthier choices. These actions also show a growing recognition that many stakeholders – including the government – are accountable for a healthier, more equitable food system. This shift in thinking reflects an understanding that government can and should play a role in improving the diet of Americans.
FRANCE — In the report, the World Resources institute suggests ways of feeding almost 10 billion people by 2050. Food demand is set to rise by over 50%, with demand for animal-based food products (meat, dairy and eggs) likely to grow by almost 70%. Hundreds of millions of people already go hungry, Farming uses around half the world’s green areas and generates a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The question of what do we mean by organic agriculture is tested here. Is it “food grown without synthetic biotoxins and fertilizers?” Or does organic agriculture include a commitment to family farms and social justice? What do you think?
October 10, 2018
BERKELEY, Calif. (THE CONVERSATION) — A University of California, Berkeley professor stands at the front of the room, delivering her invited talk about the potential of genetic engineering. Her audience, full of organic farming advocates, listens uneasily. She notices a man get up from his seat and move toward the front of the room. Confused, the speaker pauses mid-sentence as she watches him bend over, reach for the power cord, and unplug the projector. The room darkens and silence falls. So much for listening to the ideas of others.
UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change
By: Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton
The UMass Carbon Farming Initiative is the first temperate climate research silvopasture plot at the University of Massachusetts. Carbon farming is the practice of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into soil carbon stocks and above ground biomass. Silvopasture, a carbon farming practice is the intentional combination of trees and livestock for increased productivity and biosequestration.
The plot is a 1 acre silvopasture system at the Agriculture Learning Center (ALC) that integrates a diverse planting of complex hybrid chestnuts systematically arranged to ensure ease of management for rotational grazing sheep. Establishment of the initiative has been funded by the Sustainable Food and Farming Program (SFF) and a grant from the Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund (SEIF) and is managed by Stockbridge School of Agriculture Faculty Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton and SFF students.
According to Project Drawdown, a broad coalition of scientists, policy makers, business leaders, and activists that have compiled a comprehensive plan for reversing climate change, silvopasture is the highest ranked agricultural solution to climate change. Silvopastoral systems contribute to climate change mitigation both through the direct drawdown of atmospheric carbon into soil and biomass and through the reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by industrial livestock systems. With the growing demand for meat and dairy products, and the limited amount of land available it is essential that we identify agricultural practices that are part of the solution rather than exacerbating the problem.
Umass Student Farmer, Kyle Zegel gives a tour to Intro to SFF class
SFF Senior Sierra Torres and Faculty Nikki Burton show the sheep to Congressmen Jim McGovern
In order to get to down to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2, the safe amount of concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we need to have NET Zero carbon emissions and remove 300+ billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.Research suggests that silvopasture systems are capable of storing as much as 100 tons of Carbon (367 tons of CO2) per acre while adding the yields of tree crops to the existing animal systems, and ecological benefits like reduced nutrient runoff, erosion, and animal stress from heat and wind. Traditional silvopasture systems, such as the dehesa in Spain and forest pastures in Scotland, have existed for centuries but more research and development is needed for cold climate sites in the United States.
Some goals and objectives for this project are:
Establish a concrete example of carbon farming. This example will function as an outdoor classroom for SFF and related courses as well as a demonstration site for farmers and policy makers.
Trial different varieties of complex hybrid chestnuts looking for traits like climate hardiness, nut size and yield, disease resistance, and precociousness
Test market for products such as chestnuts, chestnut flour, nursery scion wood
Track financial implications of these practices such as: cost of establishment, ongoing costs, revenue streams, and CO2 sequestration per acre
Empower students as emerging leaders in the cutting edge fields of Permaculture, carbon farming and sustainable animal husbandry.
Conduct research and development to support regional farmers in adopting carbon farming practices and strategies
Catalog the carcass yields of the pastured livestock
Monitor and test parasitic loads with livestock
Track rotations of sheep
For more information on the Initiative contact Lisa DePiano at email@example.com or Nicole Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org
KEENE, N.H. — Shemariah Blum-Evitts, a farmer, regional planner and project manager is now the Program Director for Land For Good, a New England-wide nonprofit that works to ensure the future of farming in the region by putting more farmers more securely on more land. Blum-Evitts will direct all of the organization’s education, consulting, and research, as well as its direct service to New England farmers looking to access land, plan for farm succession, and obtain more secure land tenure.
Supporting farmers and farmland owners around accessing and transferring farmland and farms is critical in the region. Nearly 30% of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years, and 92% of these 10,369 senior farmers do not have another farm operator working alongside them. (Gaining Insights) While this does not mean that these farmers don’t have a succession plan, it does suggest that the future of many of farms is uncertain. The 1.4 million acres they manage and $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure they own will change hands in one way or another. What these farmers do with their land and other farm assets as they exit farming will shape New England’s agricultural landscape for generations to come.
At the same time, access to land is a top challenge facing new and beginning farmers. Fewer young farm operators are getting securely on land, and they need support to determine their land access strategy, find and assess farm properties, and negotiate good agreements.
A farmer herself, Blum-Evitts was also the founder and Program Manager of New Lands Farm with Ascentria Care Alliance from 2008-2015. The program, which she initiated and built in collaboration with community partners, offered training and land access to New American farmers in Central and Western Massachusetts seeking community gardens, farming enterprises and technical assistance. Blum-Evitts studied land use and agricultural planning while gaining her Masters in Regional Planning from UMass Amherst. Her thesis developed a foodshed assessment model to map current and potential working farmland and farmland capacity. She believes strongly in the importance of working farms. Since 2004, she has been working on and managing farms in GA, TX, CT and MA. She and her husband operate their own small-scale, kosher, pastured poultry operation on their home farm in South Deerfield MA.
”Shema brings the skills, experience and that are a great fit for this position and our team. Her farming and program work on farms with diverse populations will enrich and deepen our work. We’re excited to have her – and another farmer – on our team.,” says Jim Hafner, Executive Director for Land For Good.
“Land For Good has been a resource for me – both as a beginning farmer and a service provider,” shares Blum-Evitts. “It was through working with LFG that we were confident in our lease arrangements for New Lands Farm and fully understood our options. I am delighted to be part of the organization and extend expertise and support to more farmers.”
Land For Good (LFG), based in Keene NH, is a New England-wide not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the future of farming in the region by putting more farmers more securely on more land. With field agents serving all New England states, LFG educates, consult, innovates and advocates with and for farm seekers, established farmers, farmland owners, and communities. LFG is the only organization of its kind, nationally, with a sole focus on farmland access, transfer, and tenure.
Global bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) that are directly and indirectly promoting a host of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements have created a criminal level of inequality in this world, wherein according to reports, 82% of the world’s wealth is now controlled by merely 1% of the people. Global Hunger is again on the rise, with peoples’ food sovereignty under severe threat.
The system that drives farmers into a debt trap creates malnutrition. The solution lies in shifting from a toxic, high-cost system to a nutritious, low-cost, sustainable food production model
There is no reason why India should face hunger and malnutrition, and why our farmers should commit suicide. India is blessed with the most fertile soils in the world. Our climate is so generous we can, in places, grow four crops in a year, compared to only one in most of the industrialised West. We have the richest biodiversity in the world, both because of diverse climates and because of the brilliance of our farmers as breeders. They have given us 200,000 varieties of rice, 1,500 varieties of wheat, 1,500 varieties of mangoes and bananas.
Sir Albert Howard, who was sent to India in 1905 to introduce chemicals in farming, saw how fertile the soils were with no pests in the fields. He decided to make the Indian peasants his professors and wrote An Agricultural Testament, which spread organic farming worldwide on the basis of India’s ecological farming, today recognised as
NOTE: If food justice is of interest, you might be interested in our new online class, Food Justice and Policy, being offered this summer at UMass Online!
A new book aimed at the socially conscious food activist explores how our food system can be a place for transformation through an alliance between the progressive and radical wings of the food movement.
As advocates for a just food system, most of us try to live by our beliefs. Shopping at the farmers markets: Check. Buying local and grass-fed: Check. We rail against Big Food, yet don’t dare, or bother, to look too far beneath the surface when we shop at Whole Foods or order from the organic aisle of Fresh Direct. We are walking, kale-stuffed characters out of Portlandia, better-intentioned than informed. After all, what are we really doing to change the system?
If this undercurrent of low-level guilt is one you’ve experienced, you might be a target of Eric Holt-Gimenez’s new book, A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat. The book, by and large, delivers on its goal of serving as a political economic toolkit for the food movement. It’s Capitalism 101 for the socially conscious, would-be food activist. Continue reading How Foodies Can Understand Capitalism and Farm-to-Table Justice→
According to Dr. Lili He, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “our food system is indeed very vulnerable. It can be contaminated intentionally and unintentionally by many agents. Generally speaking, there are three types of contaminants in food system, 1) microbes, including bacteria, virus, fungi, parasites, and their toxins, 2) chemicals, such as pesticides, antibiotics, adulterants, allergens, and 3) engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).”
The following is a recent article in the New York Times exploring pesticides in food
Q. Do pesticides get into the flesh of conventional fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe, apples and cucumbers?
A. Pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables accumulate on the outer peel or skin, but the skin does not form an impermeable barrier, and some pesticides are actually designed to be absorbed into the tissue of the fruit or vegetable to protect it from pests that penetrate the skin to suck out the liquid inside.