News From the Farm | August 31, 2015

My sister recently asked me to participate in a project to get writers, scientists and artists to write letters to their children’s children, telling future members of their own family living at the turn of the century, what it was like to be alive during and after the historically crucial events of the U.N. climate talks in Paris at the end of 2015.  The project is a national effort of alternative weekly newspapers that will connect with millions of readers.

To Future Farmers,

I can’t imagine what it will be like for you, so many years in the future, but I hope that some elements of the California landscape are still there for you. I hope that the terrifically productive, deep soils that grow so much sweet and sustaining food will endure. I hope that the beautiful full moon will still be floating across the night sky encouraging seeds to sprout and grow. 

When the oak trees that I planted here at Full Belly Farm are 100 years old they will still be youngsters.  As teenage oak trees, they will tower over the comings and goings – native Californians watching the changes coming over the landscape. Sometimes I try to imagine the lifespan of the oak trees on our farm.  Some of them were here when the Indians roamed.  All of them have their roots deep in the California soil.  I hope that some of the oak trees that I planted will still be here for you, the future farmers, overseeing your planting, weeding and harvesting. I hope that they will still be healthy in your time. But if the climate has changed drastically, what will happen?

 Growing food and tilling the soil, or working with sheep and cows as we do, can all take a toll on the land.  Today, agriculture is condemned as the cause of many environmental problems.  Maybe in your time farmers and farmland will be recognized as a key to the solution. Soils and oak trees – these are huge reservoirs of carbon that we farmers can either squander or increase. 

Many farmers that I have met are learning to be carbon stewards by keeping soil covered: with legumes that feed the soil; or hedgerows that harbor pollinators; or trees like the oaks, that take carbon in from the atmosphere, use it to grow, and pass it into the soil where it feeds soil microbes and is eventually stored for millennia. These farmers know that agriculture, so dependent on weather, will be one of the first victims of climate change.  But taking matters into their own hands, not waiting for researchers and policymakers to catch up, these farmers are acting on the knowledge that millions of acres of farmland hold the key to returning huge quantities of carbon back to be stored in soil.  

Some of the discussion at the U.N. climate talks at the end of this year will be about efforts to encourage farming practices that will slow down climate change. An annual 0.4% growth rate of the global soil carbon stock would absorb and store the equivalent of 75% of current annual greenhouse gas emissions.  Increasing the carbon content of agricultural soils today will secure the ability of farmers like you, years in the future, to grow food for your communities tomorrow. Knowing the ingenuity and creativity of the farmers of today, I predict that the movement to turn agriculture into a key part of the climate change solution will bear fruit.  Even if the global policymakers can’t agree, the farmers need nothing more than their observations of the oak trees, the soil, the moon and the sweet food that results from their efforts to know that too much is at stake. The time to act is now.

–Judith Redmond