Opinion: Local and Green (#16): Kiss the Ground – Soil As A Climate Solution

With contributing author, Tim Holcomb

Editor’s note: A version of this column appeared previously in The Amherst Bulletin.

Reducing the increasingly destructive effects of global climate change requires two basic actions: Stopping the emission of greenhouse gases and drawing down what we have already put in our atmosphere. 

Darcy Dumont

Most of the climate solutions we talk about are ways we can reduce our carbon and methane  emissions. But there are actions each and every one of us can take right now that will draw carbon out of the atmosphere. We need only turn our attention to what lies beneath our feet. Soil. We grow our food in it but we also can sequester vast quantities of carbon in it. 

Soil is teeming with life. Worms, insects, microbial organisms, bacteria, and fungi interact biodynamically to support subterranean plant growth. In the process, organic carbon matter is created and  fixed in the soil, facilitating plant uptake of water and vital nutrients. Soil is the “food for our food” and the sustenance of all living things. 

The much acclaimed book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, calculates that we can eliminate up to 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 through carbon sequestration in the  soil. The Drawdown Plan requires that we modify our agricultural and land use practices so that we continually regenerate the soil, enabling its carbon rich ecosystem to thrive.

What You Can Do
How can you raise your awareness about soil regeneration and help to sequester carbon?

Start by educating yourself. Visit the Climate Action Now website. By attending a monthly (zoom) meeting, you can acquaint yourself with neighbors who are actively involved in advocacy for food, farms and forests. You can also visit kisstheground.com. Kiss the Ground is a movement to educate about the extraordinary potential of soil to contribute to solving climate change

Get outside and away from your computer, tend a garden, take walks in the woods.

Turn your food waste into soil by composting it. You can either do that with a home composter, (available at the Amherst Transfer Station), or by hiring a curbside compost service from USA Recycling or City Compost.

Don’t use harmful chemicals on your lawn or garden. Homeowners add many more chemical fertilizers and pesticides to their land than do industrial farmers. Consider transforming your lawn into a wild flower meadow filled with pollinator species. Compost your yard waste. Collect rainwater runoff from your roof.

Buy locally grown food. Reach out to organizations like Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA):. Go to farmers markets and produce stands and look for local labels. Join local food coops.

Learn about and support local (and global) efforts to advance regenerative farming techniques. As Dan Pratt, founder of Astarte Farm in Hadley, a regenerative farmer, says, “We are learning how to grow food by emulating Nature. No-till practices have the potential to sequester significant amounts of carbon, ameliorate the detrimental effects of increasingly dramatic precipitation events, and preserve the rapidly failing beneficial insect populations world-wide.” 

Watch for notices about the Regenerative Food Network emerging in western Massachusetts.

An initiative springing from the UMass Isenberg School of Management, RFN is already rooted in Southern Vermont with plans to grow the network throughout the Northeast. The broad vision aims to connect local farmers, engage food activists, educate the public, weave practical learning into regional college curricula, and build much-needed infrastructure for local processing and distribution. RFN invites all voices to strengthen our local/regional food system, widen access to healthy food and improve public health. 

Support legislative efforts to protect forests, fund and increase access to  food security, and ban the use of harmful pesticides like “Roundup”.  

For six months we have lived under the shadow of a global pandemic. Beyond that is the intensifying crisis of climate change. Many of us have turned to backyard gardening and supporting our local farms as part of our new patterns of living in quarantine.  Now, as we enjoy the harvest of our gardens – the freshness and flavor of living produce – give thanks to the rich Valley soil that sustains us. It all starts with the soil. Kiss the ground.

Tim Holcomb is a member of Climate Action Now, carpenter, co-founder of Hampshire Shakespeare Company and an advocate for regenerative farming and local economy. He is learning how to garden.

Darcy DuMont is a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now, Western MA, a founding member of Western MA Community Choice Energy, and an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council 

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