By Robert Turner
A new Asheville-based company called Carbon Harvest is leading the way to a brighter food future in our region. Its mission is to improve the overall health and sustainability of the food system while reducing harmful greenhouse gases.
We drive fuel-efficient cars and live in energy-efficient homes, but often give little consideration to the carbon emissions associated with our dinner. Now, groups of farmers, growers, scientists and investors are finding new solutions that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon in soils and plants, and regenerate soils and healthy landscapes.
Scientists now believe that agriculture may be one of the most cost-effective tools that we have to pull carbon from the atmosphere and limit the harmful effects of climate change. But smarter farming practices can also bring about increased ecosystem function, greater biodiversity, higher yields, reduced input costs, increased resilience to climate change (like drought and floods) and increased farmer profits. That’s a smart investment.
Tomorrow’s agriculture starts today.
Climate change will create more risk in our already fragile food supply chains, which will require a dramatic shift in the way we produce food in the future.
Climate and carbon are hot topics, particularly now in the business sector as companies seek to mitigate and offset their carbon footprints. There are concerned customers and consumer demand for companies to become more environmentally responsible, given the looming effects of climate change that our children and grandchildren will acutely experience.
Carbon Harvest is launching a regional carbon offset platform focused on sequestering carbon in trees, shrubs and soils on farmland and open space. Those carbon credits can then be sold by a farmer to a business, which will help to offset the cost of implementing these smarter farming practices that improve soil health and productivity. The focus for the company is on the Southern Appalachian region for now, and partner Meredith Leigh believes “this region has immense potential to produce a wealth of food crops” at the same time we reduce carbon emissions.
Carbon farming refers to a suite of agricultural practices that can increase the amount of carbon stored in soil and plants while producing food and fiber. Carbon Harvest wants to support landowners in the practice of carbon farming and connect those landowners with both regional businesses and individuals who want to purchase homegrown carbon offsets.
“Business as usual pays farmers and foresters for extracting from the land, but there aren’t reliable systems that pay farmers and foresters to give back to the land,” says Carbon Harvest CEO and project manager Mari Stuart. “And current global carbon offset programs are designed for huge corporations, delivering offsets far away that can’t be seen or felt by the local community.”
Stuart and her colleagues want to offer alternative, regional offsetting options that people “can see and even taste,” funded by regional businesses and community members alike, so that farmers in Southern Appalachia can more easily give back to the land while maintaining, or even increasing, production.
“Carbon farming practices don’t just sequester carbon in the soil and plants; they also increase the farm’s ability to withstand more variable and extreme weather,” says Carbon Harvest partner and agriculture climate resilience expert Laura Lengnick.
To kick off the first round of projects, the company is announcing a beta phase, in which it will seek to fund design plans and carbon farming projects on area farms. Landowners and farmers can apply to have projects funded through Carbon Harvest’s Request for Proposals.
“We see so much energy and desire in Southern Appalachia to promote better food systems, improve land and pay hardworking citizens equitably,” says Leigh, who focuses on strategy and communications for Carbon Harvest. “It’s time to gather that energy into collaborative projects that bring the business sector together with farmers and eaters, in pursuit of tangible climate drawdown. If we can invest in this kind of stewardship, we not only get more robust farms that can serve our regions better but we get climate drawdown.” The Carbon Harvest plan includes a focus on agroforestry and emphasizes perennial systems and the incorporation of trees and other perennial plants in the landscape which will “catalyze in the soil,” improving wildlife and bird habitat and creating a “butterfly effect in terms of diversifying ecosystems.”
Our strategy must be different.
Our investments in the food system must combine acceptable financial returns with long-term social and environmental benefits. We can improve food security, food sovereignty, community health and resilience. It’s not just about the environment or climate change. With rising input costs and shrinking commodity prices, farmers and rural communities are hurting. And the tragic loss of topsoil and degradation of ecosystems that we’ve experienced over the past few decades affects all of us. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
The good news is that we can revive farmer prosperity. We can produce food in a way that improves the environment. We can invest in people and companies that are transforming the way we farm. We can look for innovations in farm inputs, farm technologies and growing practices like agroforestry and silvopasture, leading to better yields and more environmentally friendly practices. We can reverse global warming. We can restore the health of land, people and community. We can invest to regenerate community well-being, and we can reconnect humanity to our food and the natural environment. This is the goal of Carbon Harvest’s pilot program to fund carbon farming in Southern Appalachia.
Carbon Harvest is one smart company.
The principals at Carbon Harvest believe that a healthier food system is critical in the face of global challenges like climate change, dwindling resources and massive soil degradation. They believe that food should be produced in a way that considers both human and environmental health and they look for big ideas to help solve difficult problems.
As concerned citizens and potential investors in solutions, we should look for companies like this that are improving soil health, sequestering carbon, reducing the use of harmful pesticides and reducing the impact of food production with smarter alternatives.
We can and should invest in solutions that build ecosystem resilience, optimize the use of land resources and meet consumer demand for humane and healthy food choices. Smarter investments in the food system will drive systemic changes to improve the trajectory of earth’s ecosystems, climate resilience and food security for future generations.
Carbon Harvest is a terrific example of how we can invest holistically across the food chain and create collaborative partnerships that spur innovation. Carbon Harvest’s Request for Proposals from Landowners and Land Managers, which launched May 18, is available at CarbonHarvest.co/beta-carbon. Opportunities for business investment and community involvement can be found at CarbonHarvest.co.
Robert Turner is director of the Creekside Farm Education Center and author of Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities and the newly published Lewis Mumford & The Food Fighters: A Food Revolution in America. To learn more, visit EatYourView.com.