Episode 223. Shaping the Earth

This is the World Organic News for the week ending 20th of  July 2020.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

This week I’m looking down on this fair planet from a higher point of view. I think this will help us to see both what we are getting right and where there is room for improvement. We might even find the key to unlocking all of humanity’s restorative skills. I can but hope.

I think we can all agree that humans shape their environments. This is especially in the over developed world. I sit within a room, inside a house sitting on brick piers. Solar panels sit upon the roof. Nearby is a small studio, a large garage/shed, a chook house and fencing, I’d like more fencing but fencing enough. We graze or more correctly, we induce domesticated species to graze, we cut the lawn with machines, I prune the fruit trees, trees not native to this small island sitting in the roaring forties south of the equator. Up the road huge swathes of monocultural blue gum forest is planted, grown and clear felled. Sprayed to kill off regrowth and re-planted to the same monocultural crop just harvested.

15 minutes to the north, a huge concrete breakwater makes the harbour safe for ships, the coast line too has been concreted. Sitting on the dock is an ever growing and ever decreasing pile of woodchips. Chips ground out of those same monocultural plantations down the road. 

Power lines bring electricity from hydro dams across this little island. That power allows me to type this piece in preparation for recording, editing and publishing a sound file to be listened to by others across this little blue speck in space.

In 200,000 years or so we have, as a species, gone from gathering, hunting and fishing in Ethiopia to impacting every continent, island and spit of land across the globe with the waters of the world becoming toxic waste dumps that provide far less seafood than they used to.

Like nearly all species 200,000 years ago we were altering where we lived. Grazers crop grasslands, browser trim forests and pigs turn soils. So long as we were confined to the area around Ethiopia, the effects were localised. As we spread from that or whatever location in Africa is finally decided upon, we continued to have localised effects. A new species exploiting unoccupied niches wherever we encountered them. 

Compare this level of impact to the one described earlier around my home. 

What this COVID thing has shown us is the extreme reliance upon other people and extremely long supply lines.

Relying on others is what we do as a species. The long supply lines are a different matter. Systems are now embedded into these supply lines. Add in some debt and systems become solidified. I was listening to a fella from the US who has decided to just do what he wants, not what his neighbours do. A troublesome fellow indeed. So the upshot was he tries all kinds of things to increase per acre profit rather than per acre output. This is critical.

It doesn’t matter if you produce the most per acre if it’s costing you more than you make. He’s moving from the spray and plough and spray and spray and spray. He hasn’t totally dropped the poisons but seems well on the way.

The key thing is that we can no longer follow the “rules” set by the people whose job it is to create shareholder value. Or to put the way I heard this fellow put it: farming is not a recipe occupation. X number of seeds, y amount of land, z sprays and add the right amount of water. Tad ah! Indeed the variabilities in every act of food growing means this Fordian approach, that is, the Henry Ford approach to car production, cannot work. The variations are almost beyond comprehension. Biological, chemical and physical properties of soil vary across individual fields forcing, each farm to be sown identically is beyond logic.

What we need are broad principles, applicable through local knowledge to achieve locally required outcomes. I can’t, for example, see a smallholder in Northern Finland even wanting to grow a rice crop. But the broad principles of say, the Fukuoka method, sow before harvesting and continually keeping the soil covered would work as well in Japan as it would in the Finnish example. The cultivars would be different, say rye and buckwheat rather than rice and millet but the principles would remain the same.

All this could be worked into a food system with much shorter supply lines and much greater localisation. Western Europe, as far as I can tell, is littered with old mills. It seems every village worth its name had one. Local grains, ground in local mills to create breads peculiar to each locale. This has been re-emerging over the last 50 years but is at the “artisan” level, shall we say. That grains are not grown extensively at the local level is an artifact of both economies of scale based upon fossil fuel driven machinery and the perversion of breads through the “white sliced” loaf of supermarket culture.

And local breads are but one example. The commodification of agriculture, the get big or get out has created Model T versions of most crops. You can have any variety of tomato you like so long as it is tasteless, transports easily and responds to artificial NPK fertilising. Tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, beans are some that spring to mind. I know people go on about home grown tomatoes but have you ever tasted a homegrown spud? The difference is beyond description.  

If we can find a way and I’m sure we can, to grow just about any annual in a “plant before we harvest the previous crop” system, then I think we will have found the holy grail of local, chemical free, regenerative food that anyone can access. The chaos gardens of episode 217 certainly point in the right direction.

There is work before us. A lifetime may not be quite enough but we’ll know soon enough!

So as I’ve mentioned for a while now, there’s a link to a Udemy course in the show notes entitled “Growing a No-Dig Garden” if you’d like some more formal assistance in your gardening. And a big thank you to those who have taken the course, it is quite gratifying to see I am helping. 

Remember  if we put in the ground work now, we can all change the world, even if its only a little bit to start with and we will begin the process of: 

Decarbonising the air, recarbonising the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.



Growing a No-Dig Garden on Udemy


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Episode 207

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