Dr. Susan Shore at work at Mt. Folly
Happy New Year!
2018 is in the books and 2019 is off to a busy start. We’ll admit that last year we got caught up in the business of business, turning our hemp crop into a hemp business in Kentucky. We’re using Kentucky processors for extracting the CBD from our hemp, Kentucky businesses for making our candies and topicals, and selling on-line and through local stores. We like to think that we’re contributing to the local economy and providing wholesome products that benefit our customers. We’re also using some of the income from the hemp business to help out with other projects, like trying to get Wildcat Willy’s Distillery off the ground to help stimulate business in downtown Winchester, Kentucky.
With that said, and admitting that our focus temporarily shifted off of climate change, we still see it as a big problem. A BIG problem. The National Climate Assessment, published in November, scared the heebie jeebies out of me. The report predicts a 10% loss in the U.S. economy by the end of this century due to the devastation of climate change. Climate change will impact crop yields, lead to extremes of flooding and drought and forest fires, all due to changing weather patterns attributed to the increased carbon in the atmosphere. We feel like we’re seeing some impact right here, on the farm, with the wettest year ever recorded in Kentucky. It has affected the crops. We still have soy beans waiting for harvest because we can’t get them dry.
Try as I might, I can’t be optimistic that the countries of the world can come together with a plan that will reduce atmospheric carbon such that the predictions of the National Climate Assessment do not happen. The U.S. role is vital, and our current policies and politics seem to be driving away from environmental cooperation and planning instead of toward it. I’m not from Kentucky, but I’m visiting this week. Laura and I took a field trip in Eastern Kentucky where we visited Pikeville and the mining towns of Benham and Lynch, and Kingdom Come and Pine Mountain State Parks. The beauty of Appalachia leaves me speechless. I need to come back and hike the trails when the rhododendrons are in bloom. The thought that climate change could impact the forests and the rivers and change the appearance of the rolling hills is frightening and even depressing. To keep my own sanity, I need to think of climate change not as “their problem” but as “our problem” and consider what I can do and what the farm can do to mitigate the problem. I need to own my little piece.
On the farm, we’re still trying to figure out whether our organic farming practices, with cover crops and manure fertilizers add carbon to the soil. We have soil sampling equipment, and we take samples to the local lab on a regular basis. It will take several years of data to understand any trends. We still have cattle, and are concerned about the methane production, but we’re trying to rotate the cattle through the fields in a manner that contributes to the soil health. Right now the cows are an important part of our field management as well as our farm economy, and we need to truly understand how much methane they produce vs. how they help maintain the soil health and add carbon to the soil.
This year we hope to refocus on climate change. We need to do our best understand how the farm is either adding to or reducing the carbon in the atmosphere, what we can do to make sure we are reducing it. We need to continue the small things like composting and trying to use less fuel, and do our part, however small, to mitigate climate change. In my home in Washington state, and in my former home in Colorado, recycling is a big deal. Here in Kentucky, it is near impossible. What can we do to change that?
Climate change....We see it as the largest problem facing the world today. We want to do our part to mitigate climate change. We also want to influence others not only through our own behavior, but also through education and outreach efforts. It's a lot easier to talk about climate change, and to write about climate change, than to actually do something about it. Where do we start?
We think we start by understanding where we are today and what impact our farming and general living practices have on climate. We see a lot of it through the filter of carbon. How much carbon are we putting into the air, and how much carbon can we store in the soil and in our plants? We think small efforts like composting food waste (or feeding it to the chickens) and skipping the extra car trip into town are important. So are bigger, more visible projects like installing solar panels on the roof of the log cabin. We're trying to make changes that are economically sustainable, and do some community building in the process. That's why we keep inviting you to come and see the farm!
We're trying to understand the trade-offs between organic fields which require tillage for weed control and our non-GMO fields that allow no-till techniques leaving the root systems in better shape to transfer carbon to the biome deeper in the soil. We're trying to understand the impact of our cattle, and whether the fast rotation (styled after Allan Savory's holistic approach) helps reduce the impact of the methane load by putting more carbon into the soil. And we're thinking hard about our forested areas, on the slopes too steep for crops.
We've met with soil scientists from KSU, and hope to participate in a research project related to soil carbon that is now in the proposal and funding phase. We've talked with the forester at Berea College about the forest management practices and the program to sell carbon credits to companies in California. We're continuing to sample our soil and measure the organic content.
The timeline for mitigating climate change and saving our planet is short. We're trying to move as quickly as we can. We'd be happy to hear about other farm-based projects that are designed to mitigate claimate change. What are you doing?
Dr. Susan Shore