Starts Here in the North State
By Sheryl Karas M.A., CRARS Staff Member
A lot of us have heard that the climate change clock has been ticking for a long time. And with fires raging on the entire west coast now, and throughout Australia earlier in the year, it’s easy to feel like we’ve waited too long. But some climate change activists are saying that, no, we’re at a tipping point in human awareness and—if we act on that awareness NOW—we have the power to turn things around.
The bad news is that the problem is not just about greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Even if we stop the emissions contributing to that today, we have already passed a critical point on route to climate change. Plus we have an equally serious global problem of widespread soil erosion and loss of soil fertility. The United Nations reports that the current rate of soil degradation could lead to the loss of all of the world’s topsoil within 60 years. That, combined with climate chaos, is already leading to famine and water shortages in Africa, South America and other parts of the world. The task we face today is to not only stop greenhouse gas emissions but to also draw down carbon from the atmosphere while addressing the problems of food and water insecurity at the same time.
The good news is that these problems are interrelated and that if we can solve one,
we can solve them all.
That’s where Regenerative Agriculture comes in, and here in the North State we are positioned to be one of the world leaders in helping to institute that solution via the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems (CRARS) at Chico State. The Center has put together a diverse multidisciplinary group of faculty and farmers to collaborate on research and teaching strategies to address these threats. Not only that, they are making the tools and information freely available through online classes, workshops, conferences, networking opportunities, and an ever-growing website filled with a wealth of resources to help anyone who wants to join in succeed.
Agriculture That Works Hand in Hand with Nature
Mother Nature has a solution to climate change and we all learned about it in grade school. It’s called photosynthesis, which is the process plants and trees use to pull carbon down from the atmosphere and into the ground where it is used to restore and build the living matrix of the soil. What most of us did not learn is the “living matrix” part that depends on microorganisms, insects and worms, and spent plant matter to exist. When that system is healthy and working well, a surprising amount of CO2 is drawn down from the atmosphere to be stored safely underground. Soil fertility increases and the quality of the food improves.
Unfortunately, the most commonly used practices in conventional farming such as tilling and the use of chemical fertilizers release carbon back into the atmosphere and disrupt the biology of the soil. This also eventually contributes to soil erosion and decreases its ability to hold water. But Regenerative Agriculture practices work with and restore the natural balance of the soil.
Most of this way of farming is not new. It employs no-till methods, multi-species cover crops, compost, short-term managed animal grazing when appropriate, and adding biologically correct enhancements to the soil to restore the soil biology. Farmers who have adopted these methods say that it reminds them of how their grandparents farmed, and while the initial changeover involves investment of time and money, farmers have seen that pay off in a better bottom line by no longer spending money on chemical inputs and in a farm more resilient to challenging weather events.
The research being done in this area is extremely heartening. For example, local researcher Roland Bunch has been working with small farms in places already coping with climate change. He reports that using no-till and cover crops have restored the topsoil by an inch a year in some places, faster than that in others. Fellow researcher David Johnson has found that restoring a fungal-dominant microbe balance to the soil can help store enormous amounts of drawn-down carbon while improving crop yields dramatically.
CRARS co-founder Tim LaSalle says that initial studies indicate that by using regenerative methods “we can feed the world on probably 50% of the land, even as our populations increase. That’s the exciting thing. We’re rebuilding these systems instead of extracting from them. It’s an investment in addressing hunger and cleaning up the ecology and the environment at the same time.”
Cynthia Daley, Director and co-founder of CRARS agrees, “a part of our mission is to conduct applied research that provides additional scientific validation of regenerative farming/ranching practices. We’re also creating on-farm demonstration sites and educational programs to share the best practices as a way of promoting a shift in theory and practice.”
So There’s Hope?
The biggest challenge is taking the shift in consciousness happening today and translating it into action. Tim LaSalle says, “the timeline may be as short as 5 -10 years to make this shift. People have asked me many times, ‘do you have hope? And I say ‘None!’ Because I see people with hope use it as a placeholder for action. We actually have no time to sit around and hope! We can go back and fix this thing but we have to act, starting today.”
So get involved!
Visit the CRARS website: https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture
Attend the online This Way to Sustainability Conference: https://www.csuchico.edu/twts/
Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems
Article in the Jul/Aug/Sept 2020 issue of Lotus Guide
If you have NETFLIX you can watch “Kiss the Ground” or search on YouTube