Having been in Northeast Ohio and Western PA over the last few months (and the rest of my time in my home of SE Louisiana), I have spent a lot of time recently pondering the role of community food work in the larger work of addressing the effects of climate change. Many governments have committed to mitigating the effects of our unstable climate with a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, putting their public works on a “road diet,” investing in energy efficient methods and resources and in other smart technologies and collaborations.
For example, the cities of Cleveland and Pittsburgh- two once smelly, burny cities- are at the forefront of those efforts in the Midwest. Cleveland has the added responsibility of overseeing their portion of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie. The Great Lakes are key because they hold 20% of the world’s freshwater. Yes that’s right. 20%.
Cleveland’s Sustainability 2019 project has been impressive in its scope and in its collaborative efforts to link nine areas of work:
- Energy Efficiency
- Local Foods
- Renewable Energy
- Zero Waste
- Clean Water
- Sustainable Transportation
- Vibrant Green Space
- Vital Neighborhood
- Engaged People
For its part, the City of Pittsburgh was an early signatory on the Milan Food Pact and a strong city leader in the Paris Agreement with private corporations also exploring their part in sustainability.
And back home in New Orleans, Mayor Cantrell and the City Council have indicated their support for sustainable infrastructure, including the over 100 new miles of bicycle lanes and LEED-certified schools and libraries, all built in the aftermath of the 2005 levee breaks.
One such area that seems wobbly in many of those efforts is the connection to the small-scaled food production arena, which remains largely outside of the resources and support in the climate change efforts in the US. Not only in including these food system leaders in that planning, ensuring that good stewards of land and water are part of new policies for the use of that land and water, but also in including them in the decisions in disaster recovery efforts and rebuilding.
Its time for us to demand that local farmers and regional food system be a large part of the solution. To do that, let’s find ways to share information like this more often:
Good to read your comments, Brian. Wanting to learn more about this area, I attended a workshop by Steve Groff, who farms no-till in SE PA. He shared multiyear research from his farm, that yields on numerous crops increase following cover crops. And that he’s holding onto soil and nutrients such as N, P and S. So it pencils out.
He did say that Md and Pa were reimbursing farmers 10s of dollars per acre for winter cover crops. But if I remember correctly, he made the case that farmers should be using cover crops independent of taxpayer support, because “whose soil and fertilizers are being lost?” Being good stewards has its own rewards.
He also noted that if we farmers are unwilling to keep soils and nutrients on our farm, in various ways that work for us, we risk “one-size-fits-all” state or fed regs. So his charge to us farmers: learn to hold onto your soil and nutrients, or in time we risk others off the farm imposing their will on our land. Groff asked that we learn to be good neighbors in this, as parts of the communities where we live.
He noted that after major rain events, the runoff leaving his farm is clear. This is an obvious visual for farmers and anyone living downstream from us.
On my farm, winter cover crops allow late fall, late winter and early spring grazing. Reducing buying, hauling and feeding hay. We’re learning to make it work for us here in SW VA. Green pastures and cropland year-round is a joy to behold, and it’s infectious. Groff noted the growth over a 10-yr period from 30% to 70% winter fields of green, primarily through PA neighbors influencing neighbors.
Thanks Dar and Steve for raising these issues, of local farmers as good neighbors and wise stewards of our local soils.
Spot on. The increased efforts of many local growers to plant more cover crops and build soil health are a key part of not just reducing carbon but putting it back in the ground. The challenge we are having in our area is the expectation that the cost of these practices that benefit the entire community will be be carried by the farmer alone. We need a better model that understands shared benefit should include shared cost/risk.