Earth Day: 5 Ways to Grow Our Way to a Better Future


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Today the world observes Earth Day as 171 countries line up to sign on to the most important climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol. Although the agreement has its critics, major news outlets are calling it a landmark moment. One thing is certain: Never before have the stakes, or our hopes, been so high.

The good news is that we have more tools at our disposal for tackling climate change than we often realize. In agriculture, farmers can develop and implement practices that help sequester carbon, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and employ low-input methods. These and other innovative, time-tested approaches can contribute to solving the conundrum of climate change, as well as promoting sustainable livelihoods for farm families. There is much to be done both on the ground and in the policy arena, and every Earth Day is a good reminder to roll up our sleeves.

In this post, we highlight five important steps for protecting the earth and sustaining family farms alongside a handful of hardworking organizations that are helping to lead the charge.

We may not always agree with everyone about the sources of our agricultural and environmental problems or the solutions, but we think it’s important to listen to a variety of different perspectives. We appreciate what the following groups and individuals have brought to the table. Now, here’s some food for thought:


1. GROW FOOD

It may seem obvious, but growing healthy, sustainably produced food represents an important strategy for stewarding our planet and its resources. IFOAM – Organic International released a great video called “Grow Food, Fight Climate Change” that does a great job of making this fundamental point.

Another organization, FoodTank, publishes an annual guide, The Good Food Organization Guide, which it describes as “a definitive resource that highlights the exemplary work non-profit organizations in the United States are doing on food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity, and food justice.”


2. LOVE SOIL

The American author Barbara Kingsolver said it well: “Recall that whatever lofty things you might accomplish today, you will do them only because you first ate something that grew out of the dirt.” We may lose sight of it from day to day, but everything we do depends on dirt!

What’s more, the management of our soils is important not only for making our farms productive, but it also represents an important tool in the fight against climate change. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) recently posted, “New Research Finds Climate Solutions in the Soil,” which describes important advances in developing “agricultural practices with the potential to build carbon in the soil.” NSAC writes that “a growing body of evidence that with proper management, soils could play an important role in battling climate change.”


3. PROMOTE EQUALITY

The Haas Institute at the University of California-Berkeley recently published a major report that should be on every eaters reading list. “The U.S. Farm Bill: Corporate Power and Structural Racialization in the United States Food System” takes on the admittedly arcane, but incredibly important stuff of farm bill policy and makes it clear that agribusiness as usual just isn’t working for everyone. The folks at Civil Eats discussed the report, asking an important question: “Does U.S. Farm Policy Have a Race Problem?” Both the report and the commentary are well worth reading on the road to the next farm bill.


4. PROTECT BIODIVERSITY

Jonathan Foley’s powerful TED Talk, “The Other Inconvenient Truth,” argues that changing the way we farm is crucial for the health of the planet. As the editors at TED.com write, “A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.”

A multitude of organizations are doing important work to protect and preserve biodiversity in agriculture, from the Crop Trust, which operates a global seed vault, to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which has numerous projects dedicated to preserving our agricultural biodiversity.


5. ORGANIZE PEOPLE

The greatest success of Earth Day has been connecting people, issues, and organizations together to raise awareness and create positive change. Some of the hardest working environmental organizations today, from Greenpeace to 350.org, have embraced this simple truth.

To build a movement capable of creating the just, sustainable future we envision–and to accomplish our own mission of achieving a world in which all who labor in agriculture are respected, protected, and valued by society–we have to continue the work of organizing broad, diverse, boundary-defying coalitions. To create the culture of compassion and innovation that we need to address the complex issue of climate change (and climate adaptation in agriculture), we will have to open hearts and change minds. And that’s exactly what Earth Day was originally created to do.


About Jean Willoughby

Jean Willoughby currently serves as RAFI's Communications Manager and Project Director, overseeing our grant program for entrepreneurial and innovative farmers, the Agricultural Reinvestment Fund. She created the Growing Innovation website as an online library to document the Fund's nearly 20-year history of awarding grants to 600+ food and farm businesses.