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The Secret Life of Soil {Week 14 CSA}

Quiet beneath our toes, hopeful in our hands, the soil that breathes life into the world as we know holds the answer for a suffocating planet.

But will we listen? That's the question soil scientists, eco-activists, and regenerative farmers are asking as research continues to paint a harrowing future for nearly every species on this planet. Yes, I'm talking about climate change, but more specifically, I'm referring to what's often called climate change's evil twin: the acidification of our oceans.

While the list of consequences of a warming planet is growing like a tumbling snowball, the most pressing issue for our current stage in this process is how the excess carbon in our atmosphere has lowered the pH of our oceans to a dangerous degree. Life tends a delicate balance of systems and cycles we're only scratching the surface of understanding, and the global carbon cycle is no exception. We do know, however, that the ocean absorbs the carbon that the land exhales from its soils. In fact, soil respiration releases 60 billion tons of carbon each year, twice the amount released by burning fossil fuels. The problem is that not only are we adding to the carbon in the atmosphere by burning hydrocarbons stored deep within the earth (petroleum), but we've also been dramatically accelerating soil respiration by tilling the land aggressively with industrial agriculture. Adding salt to wound, this same system of agriculture also leaves soil barren, with no root systems beneath to absorb carbon from the atmosphere like it naturally would.

The result: excess carbon in the atmosphere is being absorbed by our oceans in the form of carbonic acid. In the past 200 years alone, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic—faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years. This is alarming when we consider that the Great Dying recorded 252 million years ago, when more than 90% of ocean life perished, was caused by ocean acidification. The truth is, we're already seeing this incredible extinction underway in our current oceans, with seashells dissolving in more acidic waters and a more than 40% decrease in the ocean's plankton since 1950. Plankton is the foundation of the ocean's food chain—if it collapses, it's a tipping point for a devastating cascade of extinction.

Humans are not exempt from that fall-out, but we are in a unique position to turn the tides around. Much research has been done on the various ways to "draw down" carbon, but the greatest hope emerging across studies lies in healthy soils. For the reasons detailed above, living soils can carry much more of the burden of carbon absorption by sequestering carbon in root systems underground—we simply need to support it. A 2014 Rodale Institute report on the promise of better soil management states it directly: Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term “regenerative organic agriculture.” These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.

Estimates of the “technical potential” of agricultural soils to absorb carbon range from 3 to 8 gigatons (billion metric tons) of CO2 equivalent a year for 20 to 30 years, enough to close the gap between what is achievable with emissions reductions and what is necessary to stabilize the climate. If boosting soil organic matter used to just look like a good way to farm, it now looks like a key to planetary survival.

The urgency of the hour and the potential that regenerative farming holds has mobilized everyone from scientists, activists, and policymakers to farmers and ranchers themselves, to help influence consumer choices and equip more farmers to lead the charge. Your purchase of our CSA is a direct and significant step toward this cause. We are the first registered regenerative farm in our area, but we know there are several local farmers starting to incorporate more regenerative practices into their operations. It's always helpful to ask your preferred rancher or farmer about their practices to discover if they till (and if so, how often), cover crop (grow nutrient-rich, unharvestable crops between harvest crops), apply compost (critical for soil health), or use rotational grazing of livestock. Even just asking these questions can plant the seed of curiosity in a food producer.

With more consumers interested in regeneratively-grown/raised products, and the development of educational support and incentives for farmers, we can hasten the shift towards better food production and increased carbon sequestration. Admittedly, we have a ways to go before regenerative practices are the norm, but we can only start where we are, and we have everything to lose if we don't try.

“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Inside Your Box This Week

Cherry Tomatoes (last time!)

Little Gem Lettuce

Purple Radishes

Aji Rico Pepper

New Potatoes








Recipes Worth Trying...

{click images to go to recipe}


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