Monday, August 18, 2014

Can Healthy Soil Save Us from Climate Change?

Recently, I attended an event at Sun & Soil Juice Co. to hear from author Kristin Ohlson about her new book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet. The event was a fundraiser for Green Restaurants Alliance Sacramento (GRAS), which, among other things, collects green waste for composting from local restaurants through its ReSoil Sacramento program.

I settled in with one of Sun & Soil Juice Co.'s delicious Royal Turmeric Bomb smoothies (orange, banana, mango, coconut milk, coconut oil, turmeric, and ginger) and listened to Kristin Ohlson talk about carbon farming, the practice of building up carbon in the soil to create a healthier environment for plant growth. The plants then pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which helps to reduce and mitigate the effects of climate change. In her research for The Soil Will Save Us, Ohlson visited farms and rangelands in several U.S. states, Zimbabwe, and Australia, and saw firsthand the results of various strategies to create healthier, more carbon-rich soil.

The scientists, farmers, and land managers she spoke with had discovered that many common agricultural practices contribute to the degradation of the soil. I think most vegans are aware of the problems caused by monoculture farming and the use of pesticides, but even seemingly benign actions such as tilling the soil or applying fertilizer destroy the microorganisms that are essential to the creation of healthy soil. According to Ohlson's sources, better options would include no-till planting, sowing a variety of cover crops, rotating animal grazing plots, and spreading the residue from the previous year's planting over the land to reduce erosion and to nourish the soil. The farms Ohlson visited that followed these practices had less need (or no need) for pesticides and fertilizer, and thrived even during times of limited rainfall.

Following Ohlson's talk, the GRAS and ReSoil Sacramento staff led the event's attendees on a walking tour to demonstrate the steps they are taking to help create healthy soil. ReSoil Sacramento picks up kitchen scraps from local restaurants like Sun & Soil Juice Co. and takes them by bicycle to an Earth Tub composting unit at Hot Italian.

When the compost is ready, ReSoil Sacramento delivers it to various local farms or community gardens. The one we visited on our walking tour was a large backyard garden called Midtown Freedom Farm, where partners Adam and Jehfree welcomed us with homemade refreshments and a tour of their garden.

Both the talk and the walking tour were very enlightening for me. As someone with no gardening talents, I tend to forget how much work goes into producing the food we eat, so I appreciated the hands-on demonstration the walking tour provided.

I was especially uplifted, though, by Kristin Ohlson's optimistic view that something as basic as healthy soil could help to save us from the dangers of climate change. The Soil Will Save Us provides a fascinating and forward-looking perspective on a subject that's vital to our survival. I recommend it to not only those who work with the land, but those who care about the future of our planet.


Michele Drier said...

Pam, another great blog about an eco-movement that's so sensible and caring. Thanks!

Pam said...

Thanks, Michele! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was really encouraged by everything I learned at this event and in Kristin Ohlson's book.

Ray Kowalchuk said...

Is "The Soil Will Save Us" message compatible with a vegan outlook? I am inspired by two words in the Wikipedia entry on permaculture: "not necessarily."

"One variation on MIRG that is gaining rapid popularity is called eco-grazing. Often used to either control invasives or re-establish native species, in eco-grazing the primary purpose of the animals is to benefit the environment and the animals can be, but are not necessarily, used for meat, milk or fiber."