No-Till Farming Will Help Save the Planet

Washington (GGM) Analysis | February 10, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto M. Ed.

What can be done about climate change? A lot! Many of us are busy making significant changes in our everyday habits to become more sustainable and lower our carbon footprints. However, there are a few tricks that have yet to be applied on a grand scale, and now’s the time. If you compost, you are part of a growing wave of people concerned about soil health. Because soil stores a significant amount of carbon, keeping it there is vital in the fight against climate change. This is especially significant in agriculture, with its vast acreage. Soil, not to be confused with dirt, is an ecosystem in itself, with millions of microbes and insects which are responsible for plant growth. Maintaining a natural, undisturbed  balance in the soil’s ecosystem leads to a higher level of carbon storage as well as strong, healthy crops. “No-till” farms help make this happen. They are an arrow in our quiver of weapons to fight climate change.

What’s the heart of the matter? Tilling the soil began thousands of years ago, with the invention of the plow. While many iterations of the basic plow emerged over the centuries, the technique’s harmful consequences have only recently become common knowledge. Tilling the soil disrupts its natural covering, leaving it more susceptible to erosion by wind and water. It releases carbon into the air and kills the really important microbes and insects in the soil’s ecosystem. The good news is that no-till farming avoids these damaging outcomes. It’s a technique being used by conservationist farmers doing their part to cultivate healthy, carbon-rich soil.

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Great civilizations such as Greece and China suffered the consequences of soil erosion due to poor soil cultivation. In ancient Greece, it has been found that soil erosion increased dangerously only after the introduction of the plow. In ancient China, it was deforestation that led to the flooding of vast swaths of land and tragic consequences for towns and villages. Time and again, despite attempts to curb soil erosion by terracing and contour plowing, societies’ destructive practices slowed or stopped crop production. Societies were weakened and left vulnerable to invasions. Growing populations were forced to migrate to new lands. Civilizations collapsed, directly or indirectly, from poor soil management

The human impact on soil has a long, destructive history, and not much has changed. In recent history, an entire industry developed around artificially improving depleted soil. Using a variety of chemicals on soil across the agricultural fields of the U.S. and beyond “led to an unprecedented increase in food production, but also contributed to global warming and the pollution of aquifers, rivers, lakes, and coastal ecosystems.” And so, the rise of the no-till movement.

How does no-till farming help you? It’s clear that not plowing the soil has impressive advantages for the health of our planet. In addition, no-till farming practices benefit the farmer as well. No-till farms:

  • leave stored carbon in place, where it can do its job in the soil ecosystem.
  • take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere naturally, without harming land and water resources.
  • preserve the soil cover, allowing water to permeate the soil and reducing erosion. 
  • diminish the amount of pollution streaming into nearby rivers and lakes because of improved absorption.
  • create a healthy soil ecosystem that grows stronger over time to produce healthy crops and prevent disease.
  • decrease the need to irrigate because water evaporates more slowly from an untilled field.

What can you do to help keep carbon in the soil? In the past 300 years, we’ve degraded our soil by 50%. Something must be done to reverse the trend. While no-till farming practices will not solve all of our climate issues, they can make a difference. For farmers with lots of acres or just one, consider making the change to no-till farming. Check out the resources to learn more. (Some are listed below.)  You might not be a farmer, so what can you do? Educate yourself further about no-till farming practices. Be an expert who influences others; engaging in conversations is the beginning of change! Locate and support local farmers who practice no-till farming, and share the contact information with your neighbors. In the meantime, continue your day-to-day sustainability practices like composting, recycling, and upcycling. We are all in this together, and it will take all of us to make a positive change.

Next Steps

  • Learn more about no-till farming practices.
  • Support your local no-till farm.
  • Use no-till practices in your yard.
  • Reduce your carbon emissions by walking or biking.

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Winter Activities for Kids | Climate Change

Washington (GGM) Analysis | January 31, 2021 by Catherine Zacuto, M. Ed.

It’s cold out there! You might be wondering about how to keep the kids busy, active, and productive. While remaining tucked away in the warm, cozy house, you can occupy them as they get ready to be Climate Superheroes! The hope of spring can inspire everyone to dig in and prepare for the near future, a future made better because you are helping fight climate change.

What’s the heart of the matter?

Climate change demands our attention now, and the new administration is on board. Discussing his executive actions on climate change, President Biden confirmed his commitment. “It’s about coming to the moment to deal with this maximum threat that is now facing us, climate change, with a greater sense of urgency.” Every person is needed in the fight, adults as well as children. Utilizing fun, creative activities, we can guide the younger generation to a great appreciation of trees, plants, and soil. 

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How does this impact you personally?

Engaging children in climate activities early on will help them internalize the message that they can make a difference in the world. Composting is one activity that allows children to get their hands dirty, literally. From placing food scraps in a jar to turning over compost in a barrel, each step draws youngsters into the process. If you are short on outdoor space, consider gathering food scraps for the community. Your town may have a drop off spot nearby. Composting is more than just a way to keep the kids busy during frosty winter days; it also educates them about the importance of cultivating soil so that it can store more carbon.

Some quick facts:

  • Adding compost to the lifeless dirt transforms it into microbe-filled soil, which stores a giant amount of carbon.
  • Not only does compost increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil, it boosts the nourishment of plants that feed off the soil, enabling the plants to store that much more carbon.
  • Now more than ever, the soil needs more microbes, especially if the US is to be the climate role model for the world, as Mr. Biden hopes. 
  • One of the main goals of the Paris Climate Agreement is soil health. Increasing carbon storage in the soil is the way to achieve this. As countries around the world strive to reach the target carbon neutrality goals set forth in the agreement, composting becomes even more important. The only way to hit our targets is if every household composts.
  • Remember: compost nourishes plants and prevents pests.
  • Compost can be donated to your community for fertilizing common areas.

What can you do about this? 

Start by talking about composting as you make a salad or chop vegetables for soup. Specific elements of compost are right at hand! Reading age-appropriate books about the life of plants, from seed to fruit, will grab the attention of some children. Helpful videos are also available, if your children aren’t maxed-out on screen time. 

Hands-on activities make time fly. Building a climate change project using long-forgotten resources in the attic or garage can lead to a meaningful learning experience for your child. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Primary age children could write and illustrate a book explaining composting. (Your compost jar provides a helpful visual aid.) 
  • Challenge your eight to twelve-year olds to create a game board about composting and its benefits for the climate. Game pieces can be made of card-board or even repurposed barrettes, action-figures, thimbles and who knows what? 
  • Young writers can compose a poem or song about composting. 
  • Budding scientists can keep a record of what goes into the compost bin, carefully observing the color, texture, and smell over time. 
  • Young teens might make a documentary explaining the importance of composting in the fight against climate change. 

These types of projects challenge young people to use 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration and they might have fun along the way!

What climate change project are you involved with? We hope you’ll be part of ours! We’re growing a forest in North Dakota. CLICK to find out the awesome details.

Next steps

  • Start gathering your veggie, fruit and other food waste for composting
  • Investigate compost collection methods in your area
  • Find high-interest resources to engage your child (See below)
  • Plan an activity your child will find fun and engaging

Resources

Climate Change for Kids website:

Start Learning

NASA website for kids:

The Greenhouse Effect: Keeping the Balance

VideoWhy all life depends on plants (3:06):

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/videos/spectacular-science/#/1019900995730

Video about composting for young children (5:00):

Composting for Kids With Peppa Pig

SciShow Kids video for kids 8+ (5:00)

Make the Most of Compost!


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