Reaping the Harvest and Sowing Seeds of Tomorrow
In this month of abundant harvests, the coming of tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, corn, onions, and more to the gardens of New England, let us do as Wendell Berry encourages and “say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.” Invest in the millennium. Because even as our gardens bring so much joy and nutritious fulfillment into our lives, let us think beyond them and tend to this wild and tumultuous world we are living in. How can we ensure that we are tending the harvests of future generations, sowing the seeds now for successful sustainable food production into the climatically-changed future? We home gardeners are needed right now, and let us heed the call to action.
As many across the country jumped at the opportunity to start their own home gardens as part of their personal response to the COVID pandemic, let us be reminded of some of the motivation behind the home gardening movement: seeking to reconnect with nature, perhaps providing for one’s family or community with fresh and healthy produce, endeavoring to “do something” positive and productive when so much agency and connection was taken away.
In this month of bounty, it is a perfect time to recall the roots and seeds of such vegetative delights. First and foremost, say a big thank you to the soil. Let this be a month of gratitude and appreciation and forward thinking. The theme of this post is soil and carbon sequestration, an ode to the powerful community of microbes, fungi, bacteria, and organic matter that ensures the successive fertility of your garden and, incredibly, holds part of the great key we need to turn to unlock climate mitigation and adaptation globally.
Soils, and their capacity to store and cycle carbon (that originated as atmospheric CO2) as a beneficial and multifaceted element driving life, health, and resilience, have captivated me ever since I started farming and gardening 6 years ago. Think about all that CO2 up in the atmosphere, wrecking havoc on Earth’s climate systems, and then think about all the plants and trees that are working to suck up that CO2 and transform it into beneficial carbon-containing compounds below ground, that then become critical nutrients in our food supply. It’s a truly impressive orchestration of Sun-powered Nature at work.
If we as home gardeners can learn a bit more about the specific practices that aid in increasing our soil’s capacity to store carbon (therefore also storing and holding water more efficiently), and advocate for more gardening and farming operations to do the same; if we can organize and communicate to our elected officials that we want to see an American agriculture that incorporates soil carbon sequestration as a key focal area unlocking both climate resilience and a healthier food supply; if we can be part of the grassroots soil solution to the climate crisis, we will have contributed greatly to the challenges of our time from within the confines of our bountiful, abundant, tomato-laden plots. What are some of the carbon-sequestering practices? Add compost. Don’t till or disturb the soil. Cultivate green manures in the winter season. Rotate crops. Use legumes (beans, peas, etc.) to fix Nitrogen and provide fertility to other plants. These and other soil health practices are summarized in a recent video I made for an online climate school, Terra.do, to teach adult professionals about carbon sequestration via regenerative agriculture.
There is also a great article from Civil Eats back in January about black farmers who are leading the way towards implementing climate-friendly practices, written by the amazing Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm in upstate NY. Cited in the article is this factoid from the recent book The Carbon Farming Solution: “for every 1 percent increase in soil organic matter, we sequester 8.5 tons per acre of atmospheric carbon.” The article continues, “If all of us were to farm like Jenkins, Diggs, and Cameron, we could put 322 billion tons of carbon back in the soil where it belongs. That’s half of the carbon we need to capture to stabilize the climate. As Larisa Jacobson, co-director of Soul Fire Farm explains, ‘Our duty as earthkeepers is to call the exiled carbon back into the land and to bring the soil life home.’”
The best part? Storing carbon in the soil is fundamental to building healthy soil and growing healthy plants, so if your garden is healthy, you’re probably already doing your part for carbon sequestration