By Jon Belber.
A two-stroke engine leaf blower does nothing to store carbon (or help our hearing). However, mixing carbon products, such as cardboard, leaves, and wood chips into a compost pile can do a lot to store carbon. Not tilling the soil in the long bed rows at Holly Hill Farm keeps the tractors in the tractor barn and the microbial life in the soil quite happy and content. And the leaders in confronting climate change at the Glasgow COP 26 summit are trying to work together internationally for positive change and to reduce carbon from escaping into the environment and reduce the ever-increasing greenhouse gases in the air we breathe.
For a long time at Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset, we relied on our old tractors to rumble along through the growing fields to create furrows and rows. Students and teachers on field trips would stop, taking in the idyllic image, all the while also breathing in the noxious fumes. And we could not hear each other either. The worms, beneficial bugs, and insects were all being scattered, dispersed, and decimated as well. We realized we needed to move away from depending on fossil fuels.
Though the tractor will still occasionally move material and mow the field edges, we at the farm now prefer to enrich and add ingredients to the soil. We make a lot of compost, which also diverts food scraps, coffee grounds, and natural materials from the trash that typically is hauled away to be burned (which further sends carbon into our overheated environment). The compost helps keep the carbon in the ground. The leaves, seaweed, and straw help protect the soil, so it can grow new beets, kale and tomatoes. We spend many hours now adding nutrients to the soil and regenerating it for the next planting.
As generations pass down and teach about new and improved ways of farming, gardening, and growing, we are not only benefiting the earth but also those who will be the next planters, caregivers, and seed sowers. No-till farming and regenerative agriculture work together to reduce carbon emissions on our small three-acre farm.
We need other larger and similarly-sized farms and growers to all take part in reducing the carbon footprint. Large and small animal growers can move their grazers from field to field with more frequency to help diversify the soil and their diet and build carbon into the soil. We need the soil to grow flowers, fruit, vegetables, and herbs. We seek to replenish the soil, plant a new crop after an old one is finished, and sow cover crop seeds that help the bare soil and take carbon from the air.
If we become more aware of our carbonaceous habits, then we can change patterns. Let the grass grow, take care of less grass. Let the leaves fall where they may and use them to protect the soil. We can sequester carbon if we can take a page from nature, which grows with natural fertilizers, not generating human-made emissions from cars, trucks, and tractors. As government folks strategize about spending on infrastructure, at the farm we are trying to improve our own structure of growing healthy, organic plants and produce.
Editor’s Note: My family started raking leaves towards the natural woodsy edging. Now, our firefly population has returned, and it is awesome. Just sayin’.
Jon Belber teaches at Holly Hill Farm, runs the Farm to Food Pantry program and educates at local schools in the community, trying to regenerate the soil and grow healthy food.