This is such an excellent article by Cat Buxton, it has to be shared. What she says for Vermont can surely be said for New Hampshire and for much of agriculture in this country. We hope, in our own small way at Canillas Community Garden, we can help change the narrative of food-growing to enhance not extract from the soil, through minimal tilling, ground covers, and by returning organic material to the soil, thereby creating healthy, absorbent soil and nutrient-dense foods.
Change the Narrative
We like to think that the food produced in Vermont is pure.We value a healthy food system that supports communities and regenerates ecosystems above and below the ground. We are extremely lucky to live in a place where there are so many small-scale diverse family-owned farms that are doing the best they know how to. Thanks to many of these land stewards and food producers, and to cooperative food stores, like Upper Valley Food Co-op, we have access to the healthiest food we know about, and we take care to include measures to ensure that all people in our communities have access.
Despite this vision, we primarily support an extractive system, one that takes from ecosystems more than it gives back. The food system we have in Vermont has polluted our lakes, has planted most of the acreage dedicated to corn in GMO varieties, and leaves even our very best farmers and food producers having to sell the farm and/or establish Go-Fund-Me campaigns to afford the medical care they need as they age. True food system resilience will include measures that take care of our land AND our land stewards, that address the quality of food, and that ensure that all people have access.
A majority of the runoff polluting our waterways come from agricultural inputs. Constant tillage, phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides, mismanaged dairy manure lagoons, and even the OMRI certified organic, salt-based soluble fertilizers create conditions of disturbance that destroy habitat for soil microbes, all but the most pathogenic ones. Agriculture is also the source of a majority of greenhouse gases. Tilled soils respire carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide as roots and soil life die and bare soil is exposed. Confined animal operations and poorly managed manure pits respire methane and produce sick animals. If our soil was truly healthy we would not need constant additives to conduct nutrient exchange, and an intricate web of biological life would mitigate runoff, using up or retaining the rain that falls. Fortunately, our most insightful land managers are beginning to change this dynamic, teaching us that soil should be covered, with living roots in the ground.
Simply put, microbial networks facilitate nutrient cycling by eating, pooping, and collaborating with plants. Plants manufacture carbon dioxide and sunlight into sugars and oxygen. Some of those plant sugars exude from roots to feed microbes that solubilize sand, silt, clay, rocks, and pebbles into the essential nutrients that drive life on the planet. Healthy, aggregated soil is teeming with zillions of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, micro arthropods and earthworms, that eat each other, build soil, and make the glues that are the structure of the soil carbon sponge. Intact, soil life and the spaces they create allow plant roots to grow, nurturing photosynthesis, driving nutrient cycling, drawing down rainwater and atmospheric gases and sinking them into the soil to sustain the whole systemic cycle of life.
I believe that our greatest power in this world is to be educated consumers and active participants in local democracy. By participating in these ways we can shift the paradigm. We can change the narrative. We have an opportunity to restore biological and hydrological systems by creating the right conditions for earth’s systems to thrive. Let’s bring back the beaver, promote crazy diversity everywhere, and restore the soil food web. Let’s mimic nature. We CAN cool the planet, heal ecosystems, produce nutrient dense plant and animal based foods, produce forests and fiber that support regenerating ecosystems. There is a lot you can do by spending your dollars wisely and by getting involved and learning from your backyard, in schools, in your neighborhoods, and in town and statewide committees.
-Cat Buxton, Upper Valley Food Co-op Board Member
To learn more about resilient food systems, biological farming and gardening, slowing and sinking water, and behavior change for the greater good, join Cat Buxton in the workshop series “Grow More, Waste Less” at the Upper Valley Food Co-op. Visit uppervalleyfood.coop for more information!