Soil is alive and can be killed. Healthy soil is disappearing at an alarming rate, and quite a few of us here in the Methow Valley want to know more about how to stop this deadly process if attendance at several events the past few months is any indication. Audiences learned how soil degradation, carbon depletion and our current system of agriculture negatively impact the life in our soil.
On Oct. 21, David Montgomery and Anne Bicklé spoke to a full house at the Winthrop Barn about their research and current publication, “What Your Food Ate,” a book about how soil health is intrinsically linked to human health. The couple have already written three books together, the first, “Dirt,” chronicling the plight of our soil, the second, “The Hidden Half of Nature,” about the soil microbiome, and the third, “Growing a Revolution,” explains how agriculture can be transformed to bring the soil back to life. You might think this is nerdy stuff, but Montgomery and Bicklé held the crowd at the Barn in rapt attention. They held me in rapt attention, and I bought three of their books.
Montgomery, a professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington and a MacArthur fellow, has studied how soil erosion has brought down past civilizations and wants to change agricultural practices to protect soil in the future. I first heard of him when he spoke on a Bioneers podcast titled, “Ditch the Plow, Cover Up, and Grow Diversity.”
One of his key points, besides no-till farming, cover crops, and getting rid of monoculture, is that livestock are an essential component of regenerative agriculture as long as they are managed properly (moved frequently and kept out of feedlots).
Bicklé’s background is in biology and environmental planning. She started her segment of their presentation showing how she completely transformed the degraded, lifeless soil of her urban home in Seattle to soil rich in organic matter in a matter of a few years. Her take-away message was, “Two things are pretty clear: farming practices can change the quality of the soil, and the quality of the soil has a big influence on the quality of the food.” For more information go to www.Dig2Grow.com.
In the middle of November, a movie entitled, “Common Ground,” played at the Barnyard Cinema. This documentary’s goal was noble, but its delivery — not so good. With the help of big-name celebrities, this movie explored (among many other things) how regenerative agriculture could fix what they called a “broken planetary system.” Common Ground has an extensive website if you want to “join the movement:” https://commongroundfilm.org.
On Nov.15, Gina McCoy, co-founder of C6 Forest to Farm, went way outside her comfort zone to give a Ted Talk in Vancouver, Washington, where she tried to make the story of biochar sexy. I went to Gina’s rehearsal at the Winthrop library, and she gave a clear and succinct presentation from rote memorization — with the necessary hand and body movements required in a Ted Talk — to promote the rockstar of soil health: biochar.
I was a founding board member of C6f2f so I’m quite familiar with and an avid supporter of the mission of this nonprofit. The title of Gina’s talk was “Putting Carbon Back Where it Belongs,” and she showed how biochar accomplishes this — and promotes forest health treatments, utilizes waste biomass, creates multiple useful products — plus puts much-needed carbon back in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years. Gina’s Ted Talk is on YouTube and more information about biochar is available at their website: c6f2f.org.