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Keep the Soil in Organic Movement

On Sunday, October 8, farmers and pioneers of the organic movement will assemble for a Rally to Keep the Soil in Organic, in Burlington, Vermont.  Join a tractor cavalcade at noon, led by the Brazilian drumming ensemble “Sambatucada” and a parade of farmers and organic eaters to the Intervale Center at 180 Intervale Rd. (parking at Gardeners Supply), followed by short speeches from leaders in the organic movement, including Senator Bernie Sanders (tentative), Eliot Coleman, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Maddie Monty, Christa Alexander, and Pete Johnson. More than 50 regional farms are expected to attend.

Women lead the parade toward the 2016 Rally in the Valley in East Thetford, Vermont.

There are 16 rallies scheduled so far to publicly oppose the weakening of USDA Organic labeling standards and to demand that the National Organic Program preserve soil as the foundation of all organic farming. Rallies are being organized in England, Canada, Costa Rica and across the United States from California to Maine.

A large rally will take place in Hanover, NH on October 15 at 2 p.m.  The final rally will take place at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting on October 31 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Keep the Soil in Organic: Farmers Weigh In

Pioneer Eliot Coleman has written, “The importance of fertile soil as the cornerstone of organic farming is under threat. The USDA is allowing soil-less hydroponic vegetables to be sold as certified organic without saying a word about it. Just when today’s agronomists and nutritionists are finally becoming aware of the crucial influence of soil quality on food quality, the USDA is trying to unilaterally dismiss that connection by removing soil fertility from the National Organic Program definition of organic. The encouragement of “pseudo-organic” hydroponics is just the latest in a long line of USDA attempts to subvert the non-chemical promise that organic farming has always represented. Without soil, there is no organic farming. The USDA is defrauding customers who expect certified organic crops to be grown on optimally fertile soil as they always have been.

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Interview: Author Judith Schwartz Examines Water Management

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

Judith Schwartz - modern water wisdomWhen 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.

A Healthy Water Cycle

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 →

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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Interview: Author, Advocate Courtney White Unites Groups at Odds through Regenerative Agriculture

Courtney-WhiteFinding Common Ground

“Courtney, the Berlin Wall fell down up here.” These were the words of a Forest Service District Ranger back in 1998. He was talking about the wall between ranchers and environmentalists in the region, and people passing out the hammers and helping with the teardown were, and still are, called the Quivira Coalition. Courtney White, the subject of this month’s interview, co-founded Quivira in 1997 because he was dismayed and disheartened by the nasty, unceasing legal and ideological dogfighting over the disposition of Western lands. He thought it might be a good idea, for example, if environmentalists heard from scientists about the importance of fire to restoring grass. Or if ranchers and farmers heard from a peer about the advantages of moving livestock around, and heard it while conservationists and environmentalists were in the room. As the ranger indicated, the simple idea of bringing people together to relax the grip around each other’s throats and learn a few things, turned out to be terrifically well-timed and apt. After 17 years as director of Quivira, White decided to concentrate full-time on writing books, of which the eminently useful Two Percent Solutions for the Planet is only the latest example. Reached at home in Santa Fe, he graciously agreed to reflect on the past two decades of building coalitions and opening eyes.

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Return to Civilization

Evaggelos Vallianatos

I grew up in the 1940s in a village in Greece. My father owned a few strips of land that, together, equaled no more than 4 acres. Most of this land had olive trees. The rest was for grapevines and the growing of wheat, barley and lentils. In addition, my father had small flocks of sheep and goats, and we had chickens, a donkey, a mule and ancient tools for cultivating the land.

My family was self-reliant in food. We had everything: wheat and barley bread, olive oil, wine and cheese and meat once a week. Even during the years Greece was occupied by Italians and Germans, 1941-1944, we had enough food. Those were years of famine and hunger for most Greeks, especially those living in cities. I remember that my father hid our olive oil in a large stone container buried in the ground.

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Interview: Researcher, Author Eric Toensmeier Explores Practical, Effective Carbon Farming Strategies

Real-World Solutions

While this Eric Toensmeier_rgb (2)interview was being prepared a story surfaced on public radio about a couple of enterprising Americans who are taking advantage of changing policy to open a factory in Cuba. Their product? Tractors! The whole idea, the story helpfully explained, was to introduce “21st century farming” to the beleaguered island. By making it easier to tear up the soil. Clearly there is some distance to go before an accurate idea of 21st century farming penetrates the mainstream. It will take people like Eric Toensmeier. His new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, carries enough heft, range and detail to clear away forests of confusion. If the notion of leaving carbon in the soil is going to take its place next to that of leaving oil in the ground, this one-volume encyclopedia on the subject is exactly the kind of deeply informed work that’s required. Reached at his home in western Massachusetts, Toensmeier was exhilarated over finishing a project years in the making, and more than happy to talk about it.

This interview appears in the May 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

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