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True ‘Carbon Farming’ Requires Deep Roots — In the Ground and in Community

Farm ecosystems are how we transform agriculture from a climate problem to a climate solution.

In recent years, carbon has become a handy shorthand for climate. Our national lexicon includes “carbon footprints” and “carbon budgets”; we environmental advocates speak of going carbon-neutral or building a low-carbon economy. Measuring carbon molecules has also spread to agriculture as many producers and brands enthusiastically embrace “carbon farming.”

Farmers typically get paid for what they take out of the soil, namely crops like corn or lettuce. But some regenerative agriculture advocates are asking whether farmers also should be paid for what they put back in. By embracing practices like planting soil-building cover crops, spreading compost, and reducing tillage, farmers can gradually build up the amount of carbon in their land. More carbon underground means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus mitigating the impact of climate change.

Carbon farming has burst into the mainstream over the past decade. General Mills recently announced an initiative to monitor soil carbon across 175 million acres of farmland in North America, South America, and Europe, with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, the 4 per 1000 soil carbon initiative has garnered vocal support from Prince Charles after launching at the 21st United Nations’ annual Conference of the Parties on climate change. And the critically acclaimed documentaries Biggest Little Farm and Kiss the Ground have legions of gardeners enthusiastically carbon-farming their yards.