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Archive | Eco-Philosophy

Interview: Author Judith Schwartz Examines Water Management

Modern Water Wisdom

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

When writer Judith Schwartz learned that soil carbon is a buffer for climate change, her focus as a journalist took a major turn. She was covering the Slow Money National Gathering in 2010 when Gardener’s Supply founder Will Raap stated that over time more CO2 has gone into the atmosphere from the soil than has been released from burning fossil fuels. She says her first reaction was “Why don’t I know this?” Then she thought, “If this is true, can carbon be brought back to the soil?” In the quest that followed, she made the acquaintance of luminaries like Allan Savory, Christine Jones and Gabe Brown and traveled to several continents to see the new soil carbon paradigm in action. Schwartz has the gift of making difficult concepts accessible and appealing to lay readers, and that’s exactly what she does in Cows Save the Planet And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, which Elizabeth Kolbert called “a surprising, informative, and ultimately hopeful book.”

For her most recent project, Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, Schwartz delves into the little-known role the water cycle plays in planetary health, which she illustrates with vivid, empowering stories from around the world. While we might not be able to change the rate of precipitation, as land managers we can directly affect the speed that water flows off our land and the amount of water that the soil is able to absorb. Trees and other vegetation are more than passive bystanders at the mercy of temperature extremes — they can also be powerful influences in regulating the climate.  

The week after this interview was recorded, Schwartz travelled to Washington, D.C., to take part in a congressional briefing on soil health and climate change organized by Regeneration International. As a public speaker, educator, researcher and networker, she has become deeply engaged in the broad movement to build soil carbon and restore ecosystems.

ACRES U.S.A. Please explain the title of your book, Water in Plain Sight.

JUDITH D. SCHWARTZ. The title plays on the idea that there is water in plain sight if we know where to look. It calls attention to aspects of water that are right before us but we are not seeing. By this I mean how water behaves on a basic level, not anything esoteric.

ACRES U.S.A. How should we reframe the problems of water shortages, runoff and floods?

SCHWARTZ. Once we approach these problems in terms of how water moves across the landscape and through the atmosphere, our understanding shifts. For example, when we frame a lack of water as “drought,” our focus is on what water is or isn’t coming down from the sky. That leaves us helpless because there’s really not much we can do. But if we shift our frame from drought to aridification, then the challenge becomes keeping water in the landscape. That opens up opportunities. Continue Reading →

High-Quality, High-Yielding Crops: Measure to Manage

High-quality, high-yielding crops are the goal for most farmers. But where do you begin? Some even insist that to have both is simply impossible to accomplish. For those who think that way, it will likely always be true. But for those who are looking for ways to improve and believe there is still room to do so, what should be considered first? And then where do you go from that point to make the most possible difference?

The soil’s physical structure can be measured and needed corrections determined by use of a detailed soil analysis.

To get high-quality, high-yielding crops, begin with the soil where they will be growing by performing the closest examination of all the most important factors needed to meet every possible requirement. What provides the most advantage to the crop from that soil? Some will feel the answer here is a heavy fertilizer program for the crop. Sufficient fertilizer is extremely important, but to achieve high-quality, high-yielding crops, there is another requirement that is also essential to assure the greatest value from whatever fertilizer is applied.

For each soil to perform at its best requires a balance of water, air, minerals and organic matter. Specifically, if you want the soil to do its best it should contain a balance of 50 percent solids (ideally 45 percent minerals and 5 percent humus) and 50 percent pore space (composed of 50 percent water and 50 percent air). This is the correct physical composition of extremely productive, high-performance soils. To be consistently efficient it is a necessary requirement to develop the most effective biologically active environment to build the needed extensively developed root systems of high-quality, high-yielding crops.

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Organic Farming: What You’ve Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

Organic farming isn’t a new idea, but the term does tend to get overused and misused, leading to a lot of confusion about what, exactly, organic and eco-agriculture farming really is.

A flock of chickens roam freely in a lush green paddock near Clarkefield in Victoria, Australia.

Over a hundred years ago, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes contrasted man’s failure to control human diseases with poisons with his success in maintaining the health of plant life “by learning the proper foods and conditions of plants, and supplying them.”

At that time the foods of man were grown without serious problems of disease of insect infestation. But conditions have changed. The philosophy of smoking out disease as we would smoke out vermin, which Dr. Holmes so derided when applied to human health, has been extended to the whole art of growing foods plants. The modern gardener and farmer devote and enormous expenditure to various techniques, which poison both soil and plants. Farming is a constant struggle to maintain or increase yields on a year-to-year basis with the application of powerful artificial stimulants to the soil and the application of strong poisons for the destruction of plant-eating insects. Little or no thought is given to the effects of such farming methods on a long-range basis, and no effort is made to provide foods that contain an adequate supply of all chemicals and chemical compounds needed for health. The motive is one of immediate yields, and hence immediate profits, without so much as a glance into the nutritional qualities of food plants or the need for developing an effective and safe method of agriculture on a permanent basis.

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Falcons for Bird Abatement

Falcons are a predator of feathered farmyard dwellers, but they can be put to positive use on the farm. When it comes to employing creative solutions for naturally protecting crops on organic farms, perhaps the sky really is the limit. Duncan Family Farms, an organic grower located in Goodyear, Arizona, specializing in baby greens, kale, beets, chard and herbs is using an innovative method for bird abatement: falconry.

A falcon takes flight at Duncan Family Farms.

Duncan Family Farms has been working with Falcon Force since fall of 2016, according to Specialty Crop Manager Patty Emmert. Falcon Force has been practicing nuisance bird abatement for six years and operates in five states. Their clients include farms, orchards, vineyards, resorts and airports. Falcon Force uses the predator/prey relationship to eliminate pest birds, which can cause millions of dollars in damages. Falcon Force uses a team of trained falcons to intimidate and scare off nuisance birds such as the horned larks and pigeons that frequent the area. Continue Reading →

Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

Organic agriculture practices are often blamed for being unsustainable and not able to feed the world. In fact, several high-profile advocates of conventional agricultural production have stated that the world would starve if

A worker in the agricultural field.

we all converted to organic agriculture. They have written articles for science journals and other publications saying that organic agriculture is not sustainable and produces yields that are significantly lower than conventional agriculture.

Thus, the push for genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, animal- feed antibiotics, food irradiation and toxic synthetic chemicals is being justified, in part, by the rationale that without these products the world will not be able to feed itself.

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Industrial Agriculture Versus Biological Agriculture: An Ethical Debate

Industrial agriculture and biological agriculture differ on one very fundamental point: ethics.

A free-range pig.

Sometimes it behooves us all to step back and look at the foundations of our own paradigm in order to give us a greater conviction in its defense. The philosophical underpinnings of our views are often easier to defend than specific details.

For example, I have debated agri-industrial darling Dennis Avery, author of Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic, three times in public forums, and he is no dummy. A retired USDA big-wheel economist, a Ph.D. and spokesman for everything genetically engineered. irradiated or confinement reared, he is articulate and likable.

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