This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 3rd of June 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Our first piece comes from the website Inc.com entitled: ‘The Biggest Little Farm’: How One Couple Gave Up Everything to Live the Entrepreneurial Dream.
In The Biggest Little Farm, filmmaker-entrepreneur John Chester captures the improbable story of how he and his wife Molly built a 200-acre farm with a singular goal: achieving the highest level of biodiversity possible. A fascinating case study in regenerative agriculture–a type of organic farming that continuously enriches soil and can help reduce climate change by sequestering carbon–the story of Apricot Lane Farms is also an inside look at the highs and extreme lows of putting everything on the line to chase after an ambitious entrepreneurial dream.
And from further in the piece.
“Just reawakening the soil and building a soil system that actually regenerates itself is a feat unto itself,” John Chester tells Inc. “To try to make the crops and the livestock interact in a way that is healthy for all is a level of complexity that, had I known in the beginning, I probably would have steered clear of.”
This instructive. These people dived straight into an 80 ha / 200 acre farm with no experience but clearly some theoretical understanding. They are talking about regen and biodiversity. The problem most people face is the need to do so many things, they think, and without experience prioritising them can be overwhelming. It takes at least twelve months for a piece of land to start revealing its secrets. Throwing money at a perceived problem can have unintended consequences.
So where would I start? With less than 200 acres as a first try but the experience I have 200 would be ok. I’d start with soil tests so I had a least an understanding of the pH. The plants already growing on the place would give some hint at that too. Then I’d make the fencing, the boundary fencing at least secure. Internal fences can be tested with electric options until you feel the need to make them permanent, if ever.
Knowing your soil and having your fences secure means stock. The best way to improve soil is move animals across it. Parallel to these actions I’d plant a vegetable garden nearby the house and look to any legacy fruit trees.
Planting a garden would allow you get a feel for the soil. I can’t put words to this. Touching the soil which I would argue and have, should always be covered can still occur in rare occasions. This somewhat the process followed.
By the end of its second year, Apricot Lane Farms was home to 10,000 orchard trees, more than 200 different crops and a wide variety of animals. One of the farm’s first products, eggs, eventually became so popular that 50 dozen packages would sell out at farmer’s markets in less than an hour. John attributes the quality of the product to Apricot Lane’s increasingly rich soil.
“The pastures that [the chickens] are eating off are fortified with a more complex, higher density nutrient that now is being transferred to that egg,” he tells Inc.
The thing to realise is that soil repair takes time but is immensely rewarding. Be it on 200 acres of a suburban backyard. I remember an apple at a bus stop. It sat the grass for two weeks before there was any sign of decay. It browned but didn’t whither or sprout mould or anything. Not even the ants seemed interested. I assume it was removed by a rainfall event we had and disappeared down the stormwater system. I was 23 or so at the time and way back then the thing that struck me was the grass cover but no apparent soil microbes to deal with the apple.
A lack of grazing animals is not unusual in a city. The use of animals by the people in our piece would have skyrocketed the soil biology. The Chesters’ had other issues as they rebalanced their particular part of the ecosystem. After ten years, the project is in a state of dynamic balance. I would recommend a full reading of the piece. It is full of traps for young players and good news story in the end.
Our next story is another of hope. From the ABC comes a story entitled: Regenerative agriculture for students launched in Australian-first curriculum to maintain healthy soils
A Tamworth teacher has developed the first curriculum in Australia that explores regenerative agricultural principles and practices.
Kate Spry created ‘The Soil Story: The Road to Regenerative Agriculture’ in response to a growing frustration over what she saw as misinformation about the role of agriculture in repairing soil erosion and combating climate change
This is really a good thing. I remember certain teachers who awoke my understandings of ecology, environmentalism and agriculture. To fare to them it probably the first two they awakened. The agriculture thing has been with me since birth. When my first sister was being born I wanted a goat. I’m glad I ended up with that sister instead.
So the article is good. The teacher Kate, was surprised by an inaccuracy in the science curriculum.
“I was teaching science and there was an extract in the curriculum that said if we reduce our cattle numbers, we would deal with the methane emissions issue,” she said.
We’ve covered this before. The correct statement is: if we reduced the numbers of cattle kept in feedlots we would deal with a part of the methane problem. The amount of methane cattle produce in these industrial systems is horrific but will pale somewhat if the methane held in the arctic tundra is released. That’s where the possibility of a nasty positive feedback loop lurks.
The article goes on to explain the spread of regen teaching through the NSW school system and this particular course.
Rebecca Smith has been teaching regenerative agriculture for more than 15 years in Armidale, where many of her students come from conventional farming backgrounds.
While she anticipates a certain scepticism at the outset, Ms Smith said it was her duty as an educator to show there is another way to manage the land.
“We still do lots of other things — learning how to drive a tractor and handle sheep — all of that, but when it comes land management, I use regenerative agriculture as my focus,
“The beauty of this new resource is that it puts these concepts in terms that are so simple and so on the mark — it just [took] someone as talented as Kate to put it together.”
The word spreads. We have practical examples and teaching resources. The world of regen is growing. The existential doubts I expressed a few episodes back are banished. Hope has returned. The way forward is now visible. We can as a species fix the mess we’ve made.
Until the political will catches up with the will of the people we can just spread the word one farm, one field, one garden at a time. And there is still time. Let’s get this implemented.
And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.
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Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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‘The Biggest Little Farm’: How One Couple Gave Up Everything to Live the Entrepreneurial Dream
Regenerative agriculture for students launched in Australian-first curriculum to maintain healthy soils