On our first trip after COVID to Minnesota to visit family, I had the pleasure of talking extensively with my nephew, Eric Mattson. Eric is a conservation technician at Wright Soil and Water Conservation District in Minnesota. For years, he has been planting 50-foot buffers of wild grasses to protect the boundaries of water sources to retain clean water and avoid erosion. He also ran a tree planting program last year where they planted 54,000 trees. Plus, he is a proponent of regenerative gardening and farming. All of these actions also promote carbon capture. We had a lot to discuss. What I learned was that even in my back yard on Cape Cod, I too can promote carbon capture to a great degree.
We stood in a field he planted, which sits right next to a field that a conventional farmer has planted with rows upon rows of burgeoning plants interspersed with patches of bare, exposed soil with no roots through the winter. Eric’s field was lush with a wide variety of grasses, native plants and full of bees pollinating. He explained that some 50 percent of the topsoil once present in Minnesota has blown or eroded away due to conventional farming practices and is somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico now, never to return.
We discussed the work of Gabe Brown, a farmer, and author of ‘Dirt to Soil’ and a leading regenerative gardener. “Our lives depend on soil” is Brown’s opening line in the book. Regenerative gardening enriches the soil, promotes biodiversity, improves water quality, and captures more carbon.
Regenerative farming and gardening follows five principles:
• Limited Disturbance – No-till farming and pasture cropping
• Armor on the surface – Have the soil covered at all times
• Diversity – Layer in plants and rotate crops for healthier soil
• Living Roots – Do not let the land lay idle
• Integrated Animals — Use animals to enrich the soil
Soil is a vital carbon absorption sink, and the key to capturing more carbon is to keep roots in the soil and living plants in active growth to catch and store more water and capture carbon. This nourishes the soil naturally rather than depleting it and refilling the ground with fertilizers, many of which can damage plants and the soil’s microscopic life.
Through regenerative practices, more carbon dioxide is removed— “at a rate of about one ton of carbon dioxide for every acre,” according to data reviewed by soil expert Eric Toensmeier. The potential benefits are enormous, as spelled out in a 2014 study from Rodale Institute. Citing data from farming systems and pasture trials, it concludes that we could sequester more than 100 percent of annual CO2 emissions worldwide if we start growing food this way.
Conventional gardening and farming does the opposite. By tilling and with excessive chemical use, farming practices deplete the soil and release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, dramatically increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, farms emitted six billion tons of greenhouse gases. That’s about 13 percent of all greenhouse emissions worldwide, according to the World Resources Institute. Also, soil pores reduce to the point where water cannot penetrate the soil. Water sits on top of the plants rather than nourishing the plant.
See the Ted Talk — Regeneration of Our Lands: A Producer’s Perspective | Gabe Brown | TEDxGrandForks — Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfTZ0rnowcc
What does this mean to the average homeowner on Cape Cod?
If you have access to even a little bit of land, you can do something right now to battle the most significant environmental threat we have ever faced — climate change. Eric Toensmeier estimates that his own tiny carbon-rich backyard garden, about a tenth of an acre, can offset the carbon emissions of one American adult per year. Perennials are a great place to start because they are easy to care for and stick around for years, making it easier for carbon-capturing organic matter to build up over time. In your garden, follow these guidelines:
• Choose the right plants and layer them. Perennials are best. They grow year after year and do not need to disturb the soil
• As much as possible, keep living roots in the soil. Try not to leave bare soil
• Use organic methods: Avoid all synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers
• Avoid stepping on growing areas to reduce compacting soil
• Use mulch to add organic matter and use no-dig techniques to make new growing areas
• If you can, use livestock, such as backyard ducks or chickens
Healthy soil creates healthy water, air, and land, which creates healthy food, which creates healthy people, which creates a healthy planet. What’s not to love in that?
I am very proud of my nephew’s work and everything he is doing is contributing to capturing carbon. Thanks, Eric!