By Athena Tainio
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Farming in the Presence of Nature by Athena Tainio. Copyright 2017, softcover, 116 pages. Regular price: $18.00. SALE PRICE: $12.60.
The dark side of the story begins with the human race. Think of sequestered carbon as Gaia’s savings account, which she deposits and draws from as needed to keep her systems properly functioning. Man has depleted Gaia’s savings by extracting and burning massive amounts of fossil fuels, which has released CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere faster than Gaia can reabsorb them. The destruction of forests and wild grasslands (both large carbon sinks) to make way for roads, cities, suburbs, and agricultural land to support expanding human populations also releases sequestered carbon into the atmosphere and has greatly reduced Gaia’s carbon sequestration abilities.
At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory began tracking atmospheric CO2 in 1958, when the average CO2 level was approximately 310 parts per million (ppm). In less time than the average human lifespan, the atmospheric CO2 levels have climbed to over 400 ppm (Tans and Keeling).
Modern industrial agriculture, with over-tilling, over-grazing, and the abuse of chemicals, has lead to the degradation of Earth’s soils, including the soils’ microbial biomass, another significant carbon-sequestering sink. Studies show that conversion of native lands to agricultural production has resulted in 20 percent to 60 percent loss of soil organic carbon within 40 to 50 years time (Brown and Huggins).
Agriculture accounts for 17 percent of all energy use in the U.S. It is estimated that it takes seven to ten calories of energy to produce, process, and transport one calorie of food (Heller and Keoleian). Industrial agriculture depends on great amounts of fossil fuels to till, plant, fertilize, spray, irrigate, harvest, and transport our food. In 2012 the EPA estimated that agriculture contributes 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. (Massey and McClure)
The purpose of this book is not to point fingers, however. Blame only serves to distract us from the powerful potential for good that we have available to us. Instead, my hope is to bring to our awareness the interconnectedness of all things — a tenet of Bruce’s that influenced nearly every facet of his life’s work.
Although agriculture isn’t the only contributing factor in our current climate crisis, it is an area where we, as food producers and consumers, can make effective changes and many are doing just that. Increasing numbers of farmers are making more sustainable choices in their growing practices and in their business models. More consumers, restaurants, and grocers are choosing to buy locally and regionally grown meats and produce. Private and community gardens are springing up in backyards and front yards, in vacant city lots and on rooftops. Aquaponic farms and gardens, where fish and plants are raised together in a closed loop system, can save enormous amounts of water and fertilizer inputs, and reduce the pressure on the oceans’ food chains. Water-eating lawns are being replaced with food-producing, water-conserving permaculture gardens. Chickens are becoming a common feature in the suburban backyard.
The key to any successful crop program is understanding Nature and how to work with her rather than attempting to exploit and manipulate her into submission. To successfully and sustainably produce quality food and fiber, we need to understand how the intricacies of microbial life rule our farms and gardens. We must count ourselves as one among millions of species of interdependent life forms in this biosphere we call home, and realize that every choice we make affects every life form on Earth — ourselves included.
Athena “Teena” Tainio is president of Tainio Biologicals, Inc., a Washington State-based developer of sustainable, biological agriculture products serving farmers worldwide for more than 30 years.