How farmers farm – and eaters eat – impacts the climate.
The Climate Farmer Stories Project promotes Upper Valley farmers who are digging in on the climate crisis, using their farms to draw down carbon, cool the climate, and build food security and community resilience.
We’re changing the story of farming and climate by highlighting thirteen farmers that are taking direct action to address climate change. Seven Vermont and New Hampshire artists worked with them to create portraits. Listen to interviews, find where you can buy their products, learn how agriculture can be part of the climate solution, and what you can do to increase community resilience.
Farms in the 2022 (blue) and 2023 (green) Cohorts
Funding for Climate Farmer Stories is made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM21FMPPVT1081. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
30-40% of food that farmers around the world produce is never consumed!
Home composting is easy to do, reduces your trash, and helps reduce methane and other greenhouse gases from landfills. Leaves, grass, woody clippings, dead plants, and food scraps make excellent compost ingredients. Garden compost acts like humus and feeds the soil microbes that sequester carbon and improve soil fertility. You can use compost in your garden as a substitute for synthetic fertilizers, which destroy soil organisms. Compost also makes excellent mulch and can substitute for peat-based potting or seed-starting mixes. You can never have too much compost in the garden!
Use peat-free potting soils and seed-starting mixes
Peat bogs play an essential role on our planet. While they cover only 3 percent of the earth’s surface, they store some 500 metric gigatons of carbon. This is the equivalent of 67 percent of all the CO2 in the air, or all the CO2 held in the world’s boreal forestland, which makes up 10 percent of the earth’s surface. It can take thousands of years for a peat bog to form. Leaving them undisturbed—instead of mining the peat moss—keeps carbon safely in the ground.
Make Your Yard Maintenance More Climate-Friendly
Lawns act as net carbon emitters over the long term. But you can reduce your lawn’s climate impacts or even sequester carbon with it if you:
- Use a push mower or electric mower instead of a gasoline-powered one. An average gas-powered lawnmower puts 90 pounds of CO2 into the air every year.
- Avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Their manufacture emits climate pollution, and the application of fertilizer creates the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Instead, leave grass clippings in the grass, and allow moderate leaf litter to remain in the fall, for free, easy fertilizer. Add compost for an extra boost.
- Diversify lawn plants. Diverse, regionally suited species help create the conditions for future healthy, lush lawns that absorb carbon. It is best to apply seed in the fall and spring to out-compete other vegetation. Make sure that seed mixes have legumes, like clover, in them to help naturally add nitrogen to the entire lawn. Try a conservation mix.
- Mow less. Mow your lawn at 4 inches or higher. This allows grass roots to grow deep, creating healthier, more robust plants, more carbon sequestration, and better water absorption. Observe No Mow May to encourage biodiversity.
- Shrink your lawn area: Transition parts of your yard to more diverse, deep-rooted habitat: trees, shrubs, flowering plants, berry bushes, and native perennial plants.
Try These Gardening Tips
Minimize use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Fostering healthy soil and biodiverse ecosystems is the best way to manage pests and diseases.
The manufacture and transport of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers require a lot of energy from fossil fuels. When applied to soils, the substances actually weaken the health of your soil. Synthetic fertilizers emit the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide into the air. Instead, minimize or eliminate synthetic fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides.
Try beer bait for slugs, insecticidal soaps, neem oil, Bt bacterial toxin, and other non-synthetic pesticides.
Plant cover crops, including nitrogen fixers.
Cover crops are plants that are sown between food crops. Keeping the soil covered with living plants maximizes photosynthesis and hence soil carbon sequestration. Cover crops suppress weeds. They increase the soil’s water-holding capacity, which prevents erosion and helps crops withstand drought. When returned to the soil, cover crops provide organic matter and nutrients for later plantings. Peas, beans, clovers, and legumes are nitrogen-fixing cover crops, meaning they host rhizobia on their roots that can take nitrogen, a much-needed plant nutrient, from the air and convert it into forms that can be absorbed by plant roots—in place of synthetic fertilizers.
Plant the Three Sisters.
Corn, beans, and squash are known as the Three Sisters. For centuries, these three crops have been the center of Native American agriculture and culinary traditions. The sisters complement each other in the garden, as well as nutritionally.
Corn provides tall stalks for the beans to climb so that they are not out-competed by sprawling squash vines. Beans provide nitrogen to fertilize the soil while also stabilizing the tall corn during heavy winds. Beans fix nitrogen, feeding the corn and squash. The large leaves of squash plants shade the ground which helps retain soil moisture and prevent weeds.
Home-grown food helps you avoid carbon emissions from food production, packaging, refrigeration, and transportation. Using regenerative methods like no-till, mulching, and cover cropping can also restore what scientists call the Soil Carbon Sponge—soil that is teeming with microbial and fungal life, rich in carbon, and great at retaining water and nutrients. This spongy soil is resilient to drought and flooding, resists erosion, and supports biodiversity.
Choose a wide variety of species, the more the merrier.
Rethink competition among plants! Plants are the best collaborators: look at any natural system and you’ll see diversity and collaboration, rarely competition. Diverse plant life helps cultivate a soil ecosystem that can better store carbon, capture runoff, and improve plant productivity. Incorporate perennial shrubs, vines, ground covers, native ornamentals, and perennial vegetables and herbs. Rotating where you plant your annual vegetable crops helps maintain soil microbial health and prevents plant disease. Consider drought-resistant varieties that are able to withstand hotter, drier summers. Even the lawn can benefit from the addition of multiple species.
Grow for the pollinators!
Bees and other beneficial insects pollinate most plants needed to curtail climate change. Establishing year-round habitat for beneficial insects will increase pollination, predation of pests by other bugs, and attract birds who are pest-management experts. Growing plants that flower throughout the growing season helps attract and sustain declining bee populations. All insects love flowers and especially lots of tiny flowers like you’ll find on many herbs. Consider lavender, mint, borage, sage, thyme, oregano, onion, sunflower, and rose. Diversity begets diversity! Source: WSU extension Climate Friendly Gardening Tip Sheet