Regenerative Agriculture – The Solution to Atmospheric Carbon

If you follow our Facebook page you will have recently seen the image below. It was shared many times and sparked a lot of questions and debate so we thought it would be a good topic to cover here in a bit more detail.

carbonsoil

Soil holds carbon. Soil hold a whole lot of carbon. Other than the oceans and fossil fuel deposits, soil is the largest reservoir of carbon on the planet. “What about the atmosphere?”, you might ask. Well, soil holds more than double the amount of carbon in our atmosphere and vegetation combined. In fact, the dark color of rich fertile soil is due to the presence of organic carbon compounds. Sadly, over that last several centuries our soils have been degraded and eroded by short sighted agricultural processes. Not only has this released a great deal of carbon from soils but also reduced it’s capacity to store it.

The good news is that we can fix this issue and, among other benefits, remove excess carbon from our atmosphere and actually sequester more than 100% of current annual COemissions . The answers is adopting soil restorative agriculture techniques and then relying on a natural process you learned about in primary school: photosynthesis. Thats right, simply plants converting carbon in the air into organic molecules exuded by roots to feed hungry microbes underground.

Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University,  refers to soil restoration as “low hanging fruit” and says it can serve as a “bridge” to climate safety during the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy.  Further, the Rodale Institute has demonstrated that regenerative organic farming could actually capture carbon dioxide in quantities exceeding global emissions. So lets get down to the nuts and bolts of this shall we.

What Are Restorative Agriculture Techniques?

“Restorative Agriculture Techniques” or “Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change (Remember, don’t say climate change!) by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon draw down and sequestration. They include:

  1. No-till/minimum tillage. Tillage breaks up (pulverizes) soil aggregation and fungal communities while adding excess O2 to the soil for increased respiration and CO2 emission. It can be one of the most degrading agricultural practices, greatly increasing soil erosion and carbon loss. A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces for percolation creating much more water runoff and soil loss. Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, in conjunction with other regenerative practices, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. However, some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans, which can increase root zones and yields and have the capacity to increase soil health and carbon sequestration. Certain low level chiseling may have similar positive effects.
  2. Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures, which restore the plant/soil microbiome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients. Artificial and synthetic fertilizers have created imbalances in the structure and function of microbial communities in soils, bypassing the natural biological acquisition of nutrients for the plants, creating a dependent agroecosystem and weaker, less resilient plants. Research has observed that application of synthetic and artificial fertilizers contribute to climate change through (i) the energy costs of production and transportation of the fertilizers, (ii) chemical breakdown and migration into water resources and the atmosphere; (iii) the distortion of soil microbial communities including the diminution of soil methanothrops, and (iv) the accelerated decomposition of soil organic matter.
  3. Building biological ecosystem diversity begins with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population, structure and functionality restoring soil system energy (compounds as exudates) through full-time planting of multiple crop intercrop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects. This can include the highly successful push-pull systems. It is critical to change synthetic nutrient dependent monocultures, low-biodiversity and soil degrading practices.
  4. Well-managed grazing practices stimulate improved plant growth, increased soil carbon deposits, and overall pasture and grazing land productivity while greatly increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration. These practices not only improve ecological health, but also the health of the animal and human consumer through improved micro-nutrients availability and better dietary omega balances. Feed lots and confined animal feeding systems contribute dramatically to (i) unhealthy monoculture production systems, (ii) low nutrient density forage (iii) increased water pollution, (iv) antibiotic usage and resistance, and (v) CO2 and methane emissions, all of which together yield broken and ecosystem-degrading food-production systems.

 

If you would like to learn more I recommend checking out this Rosdale Institute’s white paper. I found The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier to be very informative and am very excited about the upcoming book Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming by Frank Holzman. And the go plant something!

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What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is simply the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). Hydroponic food production is a very effective way of growing large amounts of food, but it requires expensive nutrients to feed the plants, and periodic flushing of the systems which can lead to waste disposal issues. Recirculating aquaculture produces huge quantities of fresh clean fish but excess nutrients must be removed from the system, typically by replacing some percentage of the total water volume, often on a daily basis. However, when we properly integrate hydroponic and aquaculture systems you can capitalize on the benefits of each and eliminate the drawbacks. In fact, some of those former negatives are actually turned into assets of the system.

cycle

There are three types of aquaponic systems, which I will provide some detail on below, and they all work on the basic principles. Fish, such as talapia or catfish, are raised in a large tank. They are fed which, of course, leads to the fish producing waste (amonia and solids) and making the water “dirty”. It just so happens that this dirty water is the perfect organic food source for the plants, so it is pumped from the fish tanks into the plant beds. Once there, microbes (nitrifying bacteria) and in some cases worms go to work converting the the fish waste into forms of nitrogen that plants can uptake and use to grow. This cleans the water which is then returned to the fish tanks. Overall, aquaponics is a very efficient, effective, and sustainable method of producing large quantities of high quality organic food.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) 

Nutrient Film Technique is a very common method in hydroponics, but probably the least common method used in aquaponics. In NFT aquaponic systems, the nutrient rich water is pumped out of the fish tanks and down small enclosed gutters in only a very thin film. The plants sit in small plastic cups in the top of the gutters allowing their roots to access the water film and absorb the nutrients. The use of NFT is limited as it is only really suitable for certain types of plants, generally leafy green vegetables, because it does not provide much room for large root systems or any form of support for larger, heavier plants. It is, however, perfect for taking advantage of vertical space.

NFT

 

Media Based

Media filled beds are the simplest form of aquaponics making it the most common method for small to mid-sized home systems. These systems use a raised bed filled with a porous expanded clay or shale rock media. The media provides both the biological filtration (conversion of ammonia to nitrates) and mechanical filtration (removal of solid wastes) in the same system. Similar to soil based gardening, it also provides a solid foundation for larger fruiting plants allowing for the widest range of plant cultivation options.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Also called raft based growing, DWC is the most efficient method of quickly growing large quantities of food, however, it is the most technically complicated and you are limited to growing salad greens and other fast growing relatively low-nutrient plants. This makes it ideal for larger commercial-scale production which is where you will see DWC most often utilized. In DWC, the waste water from the fish tanks is pumped through a filtration system and then into large grow channels with foam rafts floating across the surface. Plants are placed in holes in the raft and the roots dangle freely in the nutrient rich water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Game Changer

Regardless of which one of these forms of aquaponic systems you are utilizing, they all share some pretty significant advantages over traditional gardening/farming.

  • Aquaponic gardening is much less physical demanding as it eliminates bending, stooping, weeding, digging, etc.. Gardening chores are greatly reduced if not eliminated entirely.
  • Small animal and most pest access to your garden is no longer an issue.
  • Aquaponics relies on the continuous recycling of nutrient-rich water, using 1/10th the water of soil-based gardening without any of the toxic run-off of hydroponics or aquaculture.
  • No chemicals, pesticides, of herbicides are used. It is a natural ecosystem that produces nutrient rich food.
  • It can be done anywhere on almost any scale! Outside, a greenhouse, your garage, or ever your kitchen counter top.

 

There are many great resources out there for those that would like to learn more about aquaponics. For those of you that like to learn via video, I enjoy and have learned a lot from The School of Aquaponics and Murray Hallam Aquaponics channels on YouTube. If you are the type that prefers to read and have a hard copy on hand, I highly recommend Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein and The Bio-Integrated Farm by Shawn & Stephanie Jadrnicek.

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Decentralized Food Production: Revolutionaries Need Gardens

“The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy, and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.” – Bill Mollison

 

If you are familiar with the content here on the blog and the Everyday Sustainable Facebook page, you have probably noticed that there is a decent amount related to food production. That is because I believe it is the key to, well, everything. Food has the power to nourish or poison; to heal or to kill; to liberate or to enslave. It has been the fuel of all life and human activity since the beginning. Chase here to talk about why I believe returning to a decentralized food production model is not only possible but imperative to ensuring a healthy, safe, and sustainable life for ourselves and future generations.

For millennia humans have lived as part of and in balance with nature. If a fruit or plant tasted good and did not seem to have any adverse effects like death, the seeds were saved and spread in order to produce more. One apple was turned into a half dozen apples trees, which turned into an orchard. Crops and trees were propagated and traded across continents. These essentially free living means of production were recognized and employed as replicable systems.  Human kind rose to preeminence fueling itself with food that could literally be picked up off the ground.

But over the course of the last 150 or so years, much of human kind has collected into or around urban centers and moved from a production based society to a consumption based society. Rather than spending our time doing things for ourselves (self sufficiency) and have taken jobs doing things for other people so we can have money to pay other people to do things for us. This has lead to the centralization of knowledge and skills vital to our existence (dependency). Don’t get me wrong, there are both positive and negatives to this. However, being dependent on industry and/or government for you basic physiological needs not only places us in a position to be manipulated and controlled but also potentially puts our health and lives in danger.

grocery

Decentralization allows us all to disconnect from the fragile and violent systems of centralized politics and finance run by corrupt politicians, international bankers, and monopolistic global corporations. Not everyone can put away a couple million dollars, invest it properly, and one day retire on passive income. But anyone can put in time, effort and resources today to supply their basic food needs and enjoy a passive income in the form of delicious healthy food for decades to come! And when you build a system around permaculture, you get something truly amazing. Automated food production. This is the future. Every individual will once again be closely involved in their food production. People will either grow and forage for their food themselves, or know the person(s) who does. I’m certain of it, because it’s just a better and more resilient system for long term success and health.

You don’t have to take my word for it. It’s already a reality in some places on this planet. The rest of us just have some catching up to do.

In this tiny suburban back yard of only 640 square feet you will find:

  • 80 medicinal plants
  • 30 fruit trees
  • 22 varieties of berries
  • vertical growing spaces
  • annual yields of 154 lbs of vegetables and 355 lbs of fruit

How many suburban homes have empty lawns? Lawns they spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on every year to keep green and sterile, when they could spend that money to build a real asset that would pay dividends for years to come.

lawn

How many apartments have patios or balconies that are empty save for a rarely used folding chair or two?

balcony

How many urban buildings have flat roof top not being used for much other than absorbing and later radiating solar heat?

roof

These are all opportunities and the realization that anyone can do this anywhere should give us all a powerful wake up call.

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.” ― Bill Mollison

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Your Guide to Sustainability Documentaries on Netflix

One thing I may have missed in our post Baby Steps Towards Sustainable Living is the importance of self education. There are an endless number of outstanding books and videos on YouTube, both of which I am sure to address in the future, but today I will share some of my favorite documentaries you can stream on Netflix.

What The Health

After this article was initially posted, I had multiple posts on social media asking why this film wasn’t included. The answer was very simple: I hadn’t seen it! Now that I have, I completely understand. “What The Health” is the follow-up film from the creators of the award-winning documentary “Cowspiracy” that exposes the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars, and keeping us sick. It is a great companion film to the next documentary on our list, “Forks Over Knives”

Forks Over Knives

I start off our list with Lee Filkerson’s “Forks Over Knives” because this one has inspired change in our family’s diet. This film examines a study by researchers Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn that found that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. This film might just save your life.

 

More Than Honey

In “More Than Honey,” Oscar-nominated director Markus Imhoof provides an inside look at the industrial apiary business across the globe. This movie is a cinematographic masterpiece that explains the crises our pollinators are currently facing.

 

Fed Up

Did you know that there are 600,000 food items in America and that 80% of them have added sugar? Did you know that our current generation of youth is the first expected to live a shorter life than their parents? That’s insane. Katie Couric and Stephanie Soechtig’s film, “FED UP,” is an examination of America’s obesity epidemic and the food industry’s role in aggravating it. It may just change the way to eat.

 

Minimalism

This is another film that inspired change for our family. Is asks, how might your life be better with less? “MINIMALISM: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS” examines the many flavors of minimalism by taking the audience inside the lives of minimalists from all walks of life—families, entrepreneurs, architects, artists, journalists, scientists, and even a former Wall Street broker—all of whom are striving to live a meaningful life with less.

 

Food Inc.

Another great film. “Food Inc.” is a perfect illustration of F. William Engdahl’s book ‘Seeds of Destruction‘, which explains how international agribusinesses are trying to monopolize vertically and horizontally food production on a world scale. Unfortunately at the cost of our health.

 

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What is Permaculture?

Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple. – Bill Mollison
The quote above is from one of the fathers of permaculture, Bill Mollison. In 1978 he and David Holmgren coined the term as a contraction of the words “permanent,” “agriculture,” and “culture”. Heavily inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming philosophy, Mollison and Holmgren recognized that the cultural element was missing from the equation in Western society. People had come to somehow perceive themselves as separate from nature rather than part of it.
Mollison described permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”.

Permaculture is based on 3 core ethics and 12 design principles.

Permaculture ethics are the foundation of the entire philosophy. The three core ethics of permaculture are:

  • Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
  • Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
  • Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness.

While still broad, the twelve design principles provide more detail on how the ethics are put into action. They are:

  1. Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder
    By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines
    By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a Yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach
    Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation
    We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course
    Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine
    By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees
    By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work
    By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race” or “The bigger they are, the harder they fall
    Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
    Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path
    The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be
    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

The beauty of permaculture it that it can not only be applied to gardens but also entire farms, homes and buildings, neighborhoods, and even cities. If you would like to learn more there are many great books available. The two I would definitely recommend are linked below, but there are many others.

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability

Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual

There are also many great videos on YouTube and permaculture design courses are available all around the globe.

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Baby Steps Towards Sustainable Living

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Whether you just want to take small steps in your current lifestyle to live more lightly and sustainably or you are planning to radically change the way you live, you have to start somewhere. Chase here and in this post I will go over some baby steps anyone can and, in my humble opinion, should take. Keep in mind these are just a few examples and is far from an exhaustive list. Feel free to contribute more ideas in the comment section below.

Finances

Wonder how many of you were expecting me to lead off with that. Getting your personal finances in order is a critical element of overall sustainability. There is no economic theory out there that can argue that the US economy, which is currently carrying $60+ trillion in public and private debt (by the way, that is approaching $175,000 in debt for every man, woman and child), can continue on indefinitely. You can not sustain infinite growth on finite resources so, at some point, simple math is going to force us to reevaluate how we live and spend in Western culture. In 2008-2009 we got a sneak peek and our solution was to delay the inevitable with…………..more public and private debt.

I could write a book on this topic but the book I would write has already been written. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey is that book. It was immensely helpful to Victoria and I and helped put us in a financial position to be able to make more significant lifestyle changes.

Food

For most people it is not feasible to produce 100% of your food. That is a HUGE undertaking but even a simple herb and veggie garden is a step in the right direction. If you have a little bit of room like we do, a raised bed garden is a great option. If you are a limited on space something like a counter top AeroGarden or an AquaSprouts Garden might work for you.

You can also take steps towards reducing the impact of the food you consume. Rather than going to the national chain grocery store and buying commercial food that is often produce hundreds and even thousands of miles away, buy local. Do more of your grocery shopping at local farmers markets and look into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Check out localharvest.org to find our what is available in your area. The food will be fresher, healthier and you will be supporting your local economy rather than stock market prices.

Energy 

Spend $20,000 on a solar power system for your home. Just kidding! There are so many simple low-to-no cost things you can do to reduce your energy consumption and save money in the long run. A few examples are:

  • Reduce the temperature you set your heater on by 2 degrees.
  • Increase the temperature you set you AC on by 2 degrees.
  • Add insulation to your home.
  • Seal any cracks and gaps around doors and windows.
  • Turn off the light switch when you leave a room like your momma taught you.
  • Turn off and unplug appliances and electronics when not in use.
  • Install high-efficiency LED light bulbs.
  • Install thermal curtains on your windows to keep heat in or out depending on the season.
  • Install a tankless water heater.
  • Carpool, ride your bike, or take public transportation.
  • Keep your vehicle well maintained and running well.

Water

Water usage is becoming a pretty serious issue in some places. Just like energy consumption, there are a not of low-to-no cost steps you can take.

And there is so much more you can do, these are just baby steps. If you have any other recommendations, drop a comment and let us know.

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