Tag Archives: farming

A New Vision for Farms, Oceans and Youth

by Laura Parker Roerden

(October 3, 2019) Last week I had the privilege to present at the Wright Locke Farm Speaker Series in Winchester, MA as part of Climate Week.

After an emotional week of watching youth all over the world rise up to simply ask for a livable future, it was heartening to see so many adults filling seats to hear more about climate solutions. The setting could not have been more appropriate in a barn of the same vintage as ours at Jo-Erl Farm overlooking a pasture where Rhode Island Red chickens roamed, much like they had during the time my grandfather kept a poultry on our land about sixty miles south of this one. It was hard to not wonder if these two farm families had ever met.

I’ve long held one foot each in two camps: farms and oceans. I usually quip that “farms chose me, but I chose oceans.” Yet it has become increasingly clear that climate change is asking us to look more inter-sectionally at solutions. Might thinking holistically about necessary changes to farming and ocean conservation be a climate solution that is greater than the sum of its parts?


Farming and Its impact on the Ocean

Oceans have for decades been negatively impacted by conventional farming, where a heavy reliance on inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides find their way to the sea carried downstream by rivers, rain, and flooding and cause increases in algal blooms, dead zones, and red tides. This method of farming strips soil of its living matter, which creates a vicious cycle of needing to increase nutrient loading to simply continue production. As the soil becomes more denuded, this leaves much of our farmland less able to hold water, and more subject to flooding and desertification, which further contribute to sedimentation and runoff entering our oceans.

Additionally, the carbon footprint of conventional farming has many of us wondering how we can continue to feed a growing world and attack climate change at the same time? In addition to contributing up to a 1/3 of the current greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, part of the equation includes the 50-60% of the carbon that conventional farming activities like tillage (plowing) releases into the environment from soil.

The solution appears to be right under our feet: soil! Soil is a natural carbon sink, which means it takes carbon out of the atmosphere. Yet we have degraded soil’s ability to do so by a hundred years of farm practices that takes carbon out of the soil instead.

What if I told you there is a method of farming that requires little to no inputs and helps soil maintain its health, vitality, nutrients, ability to hold water, and capacity to take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil? You might think I was dreaming. But fortunately, it’s true! Known as regenerative farming, this method of farming rebuilds our soils by little to no tillage, the planting of cover crops that fix nutrients into the soil, a reliance on poly-culture and diversity in the community, and the careful management of animal grazing through a method that mimics the bison on the prairie with high density herd management and constant movement and rotation in temporary paddocks.

Project Drawdown rates regenerative farming as number 11 on their list of top climate change solutions.

Furthermore, there is a business case to be made for regenerative agriculture: farmers can expect a pay off in increased yields and less labor. Project Drawdown estimates a pay off of $1.93 trillion by 2050 after an investment $57.22 billion. That’s a pretty enticing investment, without even considering about the impacts related to the ocean and its conservation.

To put this context of the other Project Drawdown climate solutions, regenerative agriculture holds more promise than nuclear or offshore wind turbines.

How Does This Relate to the Ocean?

If we look back at all of the impacts of conventional farming on the ocean: from increased sedimentation to fertilizer runoff to non-point pollution from decreased water retention, regenerative agriculture is positioned through its lack of chemical inputs and water retention to reduce every one of those negative impacts. I have yet to see anyone who has done the science to reconcile the full cross-benefits of regenerative agriculture on ocean conservation, but it stands to reason that these methods could help mitigate many of these chronic and acute impacts to ocean health currently caused by conventional farming.

Ocean conservation matters—but not just for the protein from the ocean that 2 billion people in the world rely on, but as a climate mitigator. The ocean absorbs much of the heat from greenhouse gases, as well as takes 20-30% of the excess carbon out of the atmosphere. However, it is the living biomass in the ocean that makes the ocean impactful as a carbon sink. If we lose this biomass because of overfishing, die-offs and dead zones, we have decreased our ocean’s capacity to perform this critical function.

Whales, for example, can take 190,000 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere a year: the equivalence of 80,000 cars a year being taken off the roads. Their conservation is not just a matter of their charisma, romance or tourism value, but rather that they perform an important service in mitigating climate.

As Aldo Leopold once said, “the first law of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.” Ocean conservation, regenerative farming, flood mitigation, fresh water conservation and our other efforts to create climate resiliency should be part of an integrated strategy, one where all the parts are on the table together.

How to Get Others to Join

Yet, as the millions of marchers across the globe during climate week were asking us to notice, to date we have lacked the political will to act at the necessary scale. What will it take to get others to join with us?


Research shows the single best motivator and predictor of activism is not information, but the degree of connectedness one experiences in community. Furthermore, additional motivators include a sense of place, a sense of meaning, and sense of self within the larger context.

Which begs the question: what sort of experiences give us that sense of place and sense of meaning within the larger context?

Over the 25 years I have been working with youth in environmental education—on both farms and in the ocean—young people have been teaching me the answer.

Sometimes, it looks like this:

Ocean Matters teens removing invasive mangroves in Hawai’i.

Othertimes, it look like this:

Sometimes, it sounds like this:

But it always assuredly feels like this:

A spontaneous moment with Ocean Matters teens from Florida after finishing a coral restoration project.

We might not all come to the table, ready to eat; but just being invited can become the greatest healer of all. And once we are included, we can begin to experience the gifts of belonging, resiliency, and the expansion of our sense of tribe.

It’s the hands-on experiences within our community addressing real need that will make the difference to turn keying others to help with the urgency of climate change. We simply must engage everyone—no matter their political leaning— in understanding how our health and lives are tied to the living biosphere in ways each can appreciate and understand.

We do not need to start with climate change. In fact, perhaps it’s better if we don’t. Simply start with what there is to love about where you live and connect to how the intricately-laced systems sustain us.

Programs growing food on farms like the ones at Wright Locke and engagements with ocean conservation and our watershed like Ocean Matters are critical to this sense of connection. As my dear friend Liz Cunningham, author of Ocean Country, so aptly says, “hope is a verb.”

Climate change might just be asking us to understand our place, not just the place of whales and farms, in that larger whole. So as we reach out to ask others to join with us—our neighbors, our youth, our institutions— let’s remember to break down silos that keep us isolated and to create structures for new connections, including places for each of us to make meaning from the fact that we truly belong.

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Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She has served on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) of the New England Aquarium and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs-stravagant Equinox Eggs

by Laura Parker Roerdenblackandwhitekarina.jpb

Each spring we increase our flock with new heritage breed chicks. This year we added all-heritage breed Buff Orpingtons and Araucanas. Buff Orpingtons, as their name implies, are buff-colored hens that lay tan eggs. Araucanas come in a array of colors, my favorite is almost cerulean; they lay different shades of blue and green eggs that suggest paint chips with earthy names like iron washed, sea salt, blue dusk.  It takes the birds about five months to sexually mature and lay eggs.

We order our chicks for arrival in April and May. This past year we welcomed about 70 new chicks to our farm, keeping them in brooders that are off the ground, protected by chicken wire, and warmed by heat lamps 24/7. The brooders are separated from the grown hens by a half wall and chicken wire, so that the hens and chicks can see one another.

chickssmaller

At about 8 weeks old, we move the chicks from their brooders into the larger coop with the mature hens. Because the hens are familiar with the chicks, and vice versa, combining the chicks with the mature hens is without the drama that other farms sometimes report.

At first the smaller birds elect to stay in the flocks they’ve been with since hatching, nesting in bedding on the ground. But gradually as the weeks wear on, they start to act like the older hens, blending in when they eat, roosting at night, and eventually by mid-summer venturing outside for small periods of time along with the bigger girls.

chickenseatingtoms

You can watch as the roosters introduce the younger hens to the various places around our pasture, barn yard, and farmhouse gardens where the best bits of insects and worms can be found. By the early fall, the new hens are outside all day free-ranging on our thirty acres, returning to roost with the rest of the flock at dusk.

Waiting for first eggs can feel like waiting for a pot to boil. The days shorten, the shadows lengthen. Just as darkness descends, the eggs arrive in a blast of nature’s promise of spring.

Second year hens lay larger eggs; the first year hens medium sized. And this year’s hens first eggs arrive as tiny pebble-sized eggs called pullet eggs.

Our eggs are EGG-cellent. All natural; all heritage breed hens; all free-range and pasture-raised. Free-ranged hens who are pasture raised in the fresh air and sunshine have all of the benefits of roaming healthy grassland eating as nature intended birds to eat. Their large dark orange yolks even LOOK healthier, because they are healthier. Their color, flavor and texture are made distinctive by high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, ALA, and AA. A pasture-raised egg is a true superfood.

eggsinbucket

Last winter, my doctor told me that I had to take Vitamin D because folks who live at our longitude do not receive adequate amounts of sunlight to maintain optimal amounts for healthy immune functioning. I insisted she do a vitamin D blood profile to find out if I did, indeed, need nutritional supplements. I think she was the only one surprised when my labs came back on the upper range of normal for Vitamin D. Even the lab report said, “Stop taking your nutritional supplements.”

When did we begin accepting that our food can not give us what our bodies’ need?

We are now able to accommodate more local egg customers. So if you’re interested, ask for details to be emailed to you in the comments below.

Any local eggs are better than the grocery store, but I think yours are better than our other local options—both in terms of humane practices and also the health benefits of them eating free range. —Monica Waugh, Jo-Erl Farm egg customer

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