Fertile Soil Absorbs CO2

Note: Grazing animals are part of a natural system and can help soil fertility by tilling it from the top without turning it over. Overgrazing, on the other hand, is destructive. It is hard to see how grazing cattle on desertified land is going to help it rebound. Sheep are the worst grazing animals because they rip out grass roots and all.

How Grazing Cows Can Save the Planet, and Other Surprising Ways of Healing the Earth

January 12, 2014 Thanks to Mercola.com

By Dr. Mercola

Judith Schwartz is a freelance writer and author of the book Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth. I recently met Judy at a conference held by Allan Savory of the Savory Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Savory Institute helps farmers to holistically manage their livestock in order to improve soil quality and heal the environment. In fact, according to Savory, an African ecologist, dramatically increasing the number of grazing livestock is the only thing that can reverse desertification (when land turns to desert).

This was Savory’s first conference, and turned out to be quite a memorable event. Judy has summarized a big portion of what was presented in that conference in her book. But what made her hone in on the issue of soil health to begin with?

Surprisingly, it all began with an investigation into the economy. Around 2008, just before the economic downturn, she’d started writing about the transition movement:

“One of the things that transition initiatives were dealing with was local currencies,” she says“Looking into local currencies kind of helped me understand how local economies work and primed me to ask questions when the economic downturn hit, like ‘What is money? What is wealth?’

I was on that trajectory, writing about environmental economics and new economics… Basically, it’s the notion that our economy can and should serve the people the planet as opposed to the other way around.

This I fear is the scenario that we’ve kind of gotten stuck in – that people and the planet, meaning all of our natural systems, exist to serve the economy.

From that framework, I started looking at ecology and observed the disconnect between our financial system and the natural world, which just cannot be separate. That disconnect doesn’t work.”

The Environmental Impact of Conventional Farming

This led her to learn more about soil health, economical land use, and how modern agricultural practices affect our environment.

For example, did you know that our modern agricultural system is responsible for putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the actual burning of fossil fuels? Understanding this reveals an obvious answer to pressing global problems.

There are only three places for carbon to go: land, air and water. Our agricultural practices have removed massive amounts of valuable carbon from land, transferring it into air and water. By paying greater attention to carbon management, we have the opportunity to make a dramatic difference in this area, which is having major negative consequences to our agriculture, and the pollution of our water and air.

As explained by Judy, early this past summer, concentrations of atmospheric CO2 crossed the 400 parts per million-threshold—the highest it’s been in thousands of years. According to an organization called 350.org, scientists believe our CO2 levels need to be around 350 parts per million in order to maintain favorable living conditions on earth.

Carbon management is a critical aspect of environmental health and the growing of food.

That said, CO2 levels are not constantly or continuously rising in a straight line. The level rises and falls, and this is a clue to what’s going on.

“Depending on the season, depending on how much photosynthesis is happening, it dips down, and then goes up again,” Judy explains. “When we’ve got a lot of plants, as we get towards the warmer part of the year, more photosynthesis is happening, and the CO2 levels drop slightly.

That’s so important to know, because photosynthesis is key to what we’re talking about.

When I talk about bringing carbon back into the soil, I’m talking about supporting and stimulating the process of photosynthesis – in other words, growing more plants. Those plants then take in the CO2. They make carbon compounds. Those carbon compounds are drawn down, and they go into the soil.”

Sequestering carbon in the Earth’s soils is a good thing. There’s actually more carbon in our world soils than in all plants, including trees, and the atmosphere together. However, due to modern agricultural methods, we’ve lost between 50 and 80 percent of the carbon that used to be in the soil… This means there’s plenty of “room” to put it back in.

“It’s useful to understand that the notion of bringing carbon back into the soil, one thing that it does is withdraw carbon down from the atmosphere. That’s hugely important,” Judy says.

“Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter. That’s the good stuff that you want in soil anyway for fertility. It also absorbs water. When you have carbon-rich soil, you also have soil that is resilient to floods and drought. When you start looking at soil carbon, the news keeps getting better and better.”

The Importance of Holistic Herd Management

Another major factor that needs to be considered is the management of livestock. Herds raised according to modern, conventional practices contribute to desertification—turning land into desert—which, of course, doesn’t support plant life and photosynthesis, thereby shifting the equation in the wrong direction. When land turns to desert, it no longer holds water, and it loses the ability to sustain microbial life and nourish plant growth…

One of the reasons Allan Savory has become so popular is his promotion of holistic herd management, which causes desert areas to convert back to grasslands that support plant life. As explained by Judy:

“It occurred to him that the land needed the animals in the same way that the animals needed the land. He began to really observe how animals functioned on land, and came to understand the really intricate dynamics, the system, that had been naturally in operation.

Basically, when grazing animals graze, they’re nibbling on the grasses in a way that exposes their growth points to sunlight and stimulates growth… Their trampling [of the land also] did several things: it breaks any capped earth so that the soil is aerated. It presses in seeds [giving them] a chance to germinate, so you have a greater diversity of plants. [Grazing herds] also press down dying and decaying grasses, so that they can be better acted upon by microorganisms in the soil. It keeps the decaying process going. Their waste also fertilizes the soil.”

This natural symbiotic relationship between animals, soils and plants—where each benefits the other mutually—is a powerful insight. And it’s one that can be replicated with great benefit. Besides the environmental benefits, grass-fed, pastured livestock is also an excellent source of high quality meat. In fact, it’s the only type of meat I recommend eating, as raising cattle in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) alters the nutritional composition of the meat—not to mention such animals are fed antibiotics, growth promoters and other veterinary drugs.

You Can Make a Difference in More Ways Than One

As for recommendations for what we can do to get us going in the right direction with regards to improving not only animal and human health but the health of the planet, Judy says:

“Most recommendations are very simple. The simplest thing is to avoid having bare soil. Because when you have bare uncovered soil, the land degradation process begins. When you have bare soil, that means that the carbon is binding with oxygen and becoming carbon dioxide.”

We also need to shift our focus to emphasize the biological system as a whole. Soil is not a static “thing.” It’s a living symbiotic system, and soil microorganisms also play a very important role in this system. When I visited Elaine Ingham at the Rodale Institute, I learned the value of compost tea for promoting beneficial soil microbes, and I now use a vortex compost tea brewing system to revitalize my own garden. Interestingly, the better you farm or garden, the less land you need. According to Judy, a biological farmer using appropriate methods can grow on 1,000 acres the same amount of food another farmer might need 5,000 acres to produce…

Another factor is the importance of integrating animals on the land. Most biological farmers understand this, and will tell you that in order for soil to get to its highest potential of productivity and health, there needs to be animals on the land. (According to Savory, grazing large herds of livestock on half of the world’s barren or semi-barren grasslands could also take enough carbon from the atmosphere to bring us back to preindustrial levels!) But what if you’re not a gardener yet, or a farmer? How can you help achieve this much needed shift?

“I think people can make a difference in all sorts of ways that people make decisions every day, such as asking yourself how the food you’re buying was grown,” Judy says. “Because once you start asking where the food comes from, even posing that question, will lead you to make different choices.

Apart from food, what decisions are being made in your community about the use of land? Can your community save money by working with soil rather than, say, putting in an expensive waste or water treatment plant? That’s another thing, getting involved on a local level. There are all kinds of organizations that are working on different environmental and different food aspects locally and nationally, etc.”

Biological Farming Solves Many Pressing Problems

My first passion and career was being a physician, then an Internet educator, and now I’m moving into high-performance biological agriculture because I really believe it’s the next step in our evolution. We must shift the way we produce food because the current system is unsustainable. And while this information really is ancient, it’s not widely discussed. There’s only a small segment of the population that even understands this natural system, and the potential it has for radically transforming the way we feed the masses AND protect the environment at the same time.

I thoroughly agree with the recommendation to get involved personally, because it’s so exciting. For me, it’s become a rather addictive hobby. Once you integrate biological farming principles, you can get plant performances that are 200-400 percent greater than what you would typically get from a plant! What’s more, not only does it improve the quantity, it also improves the quality of the food you’re growing. These facts should really be at the forefront of everybody’s mind when they think about farming, as it’s the solution to so many pressing problems. Judy agrees, noting:

“The challenge is that we’ve been led to believe that our agricultural model, which is an extractive model, is the way it needs to be. But we can shift to a regenerative model. That’s where we need to go.”

Final Thoughts

As Judy says, there’s a lot to be optimistic about, because whether we’re talking about the degradation of the environment or our food supply, there are answers!

“Many people just sort of give up and say, ‘I can’t do anything about this.’ I was speaking to someone the other day who said that her son, who just finished college, said, ‘You know, it’s over. We’re doomed.’ To me, that is just so sad. How can we let the next generation feel that way? I think that betrays a huge lack of imagination. Because when we talk about our environmental challenges, one thing we don’t talk about is nature’s desire to heal itself. Once we ally with that natural process, it’s amazing what we can do.”

Ending the burning of fossil fuels is not the one and only way for us to turn the tide on rising carbon dioxide levels. Granted, solar energy and wind power would certainly be preferable to burning fossil fuels. But even if we didn’t stop burning fossil fuels, we can still reverse rising CO2 levels by addressing the way we farm, using sound, time-honored agricultural principles.

And—something else to consider—even if we completely stop burning fossil fuels but do not change agriculture, we’ll still be left with problems like lands turning to desert, flooding, and drought for example. In short, we really must address how we manage our lands and soils… You can learn more about biological farming by reviewing the related articles listed in the right-hand side bar on this page. I also highly recommend Judy’s book, Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth. It’s a great read for anyone wanting to learn more about this topic.

Where Food Comes From

FOOD” Documentary – A Revealing Look at the Sourcing of Our Modern Food Supply

 Thanks to Mercola.com
January 11, 2014

By Dr. Mercola

“Food” is a 30-minute documentary that investigates how demand for more and cheaper food has dramatically altered the entire food chain. Today, food production revolves around efficiency—the ability to produce more for less. The ramifications of this mindset are wide-ranging and far-reaching…

As KPBS’ Joanne Faryon reports, “the food chain no longer looks like it used to.” Fish no longer eat other fish, and cattle eat very little grass, which is their natural food source. Instead, cattle eat corn, chickens eat corn and fish, and fish eat cows and poultry… Similarly, fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are primarily sold to foreign markets.

California oranges, for example, are exported to far flung places like Japan, while Americans eat oranges from Australia—presumably because Americans prefer the deeper orange color of Australian oranges, and the fact that they’re easier to peel. As a result, the carbon footprint of most foods sold in your local grocery store is massive, having made its way thousands of miles from where it was grown.

The Beef About American Cattle Farming

While food prices appear to be on the rise, we actually spend less on our food today than we did a generation ago, thanks to modern food production practices. The ultimate price, however, may be greater than anyone ever expected.

For starters, modern agricultural practices are taking a heavy toll on soil and environmental health, and the way we raise animal foods, especially in the US, results in animal products that are far inferior compared to their ancestral past.

The practice of raising animals in confined feeding operations (CAFOs) is also having a major detrimental impact on our environment and is a primary source of environmental pollution and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Last year, 63 million tons of beef was produced worldwide.1 As stated in the film, while making up only five percent of the world’s population, Americans consume nearly 20 percent of all the beef produced globally.

But just how is all this beef produced? The film summarizes how the typical cow makes its way from birth to slaughter in the US. A generation or so ago, cattle would be mostly pasture-raised and sold for slaughter around the age of two or three. The meat would then be taken to the local market.

Today, California cows start out being raised on pasture for about six months before being sold, typically changing hands twice, before ending up in a CAFO feedlot. Feedlots, which were introduced after World War II, are large pens that house tens of thousands of cattle—some can hold herds up to 100,000 animals.

Here, they’re fattened up on a corn-based diet before being slaughtered about four or five months later. All in all, today’s beef is grown in about half the time compared to a generation ago.

Besides corn, virtually all beef sold in American grocery stores comes from cattle injected with hormones. Corn fattens the cattle, but consumers don’t like all that grizzly fat, so hormones are used to make the animal produce more lean muscle tissue. This improves profits, as it increases the animals’ growth by about 10 percent.

Ironically, as Faryon points out, it’s the corn that makes the cattle fat, so if we didn’t feed them corn, we wouldn’t have to give them hormones to minimize fat production.  Another question well worth pondering is this: with all this hormone-laced beef, along with the American corn-based processed food diet (think high fructose corn syrup), is it any surprise Americans are growing fatter, faster, as well?

Farmed Fish—Feedlots of the Sea…

Industrial fish farming, or aquaculture, is the fastest growing form of food production in the world.2 About half of the world’s seafood now comes from fish farms, including in the US, and this is expected to increase. At first glance, farmed fish may seem like a good idea to help protect wild seafood populations from overfishing while meeting the nutritional needs of an ever-expanding global population.

In reality, however, the industry is plagued with many of the same problems surrounding land-based CAFOs, including pollution, disease and inferior nutritional quality. It’s getting so bad that fish farms can easily be described as “CAFOs of the sea.” Here we see an even greater distortion of the food chain. Wild fish eat other fish, but farmed fish can be fed a concoction of ingredients they’d NEVER encounter otherwise, such as soy protein and beef or chicken byproducts, including cattle blood, bone, and chicken feathers.

The reason for this is because, as explained by Jeffrey Graham in the film, it takes about five pounds of fish to produce one pound of growth in salmon. This clearly negates the original rationale for fish farming, which is to prevent the depletion of natural fish stocks. The solution is to replace the fish meal in the diet with soy protein and other protein products…The question is, is this really a healthy solution?

Europe has banned processing byproducts from cattle due to the potential risk of spreading mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE), a neurodegenerative disease that can affect humans eating contaminated beef. While there have been no reports of humans contracting mad cow from eating farmed fish, the theoretical possibility is there. Besides that, it seems clear that a fish that eats meat byproducts opposed to its natural diet of other fish is not going to have the same nutritional makeup as wild fish.

Then there’s the increased risk of fish diseases spreading to wild fish. The close quarters where farmed fish are raised (combined with their unnatural diets) means disease can spread quickly, and because farmed fish are often raised in pens in the ocean, pathogens can spread like wildfire and contaminate any wild fish swimming past. I wrote about this last summer in the article “Salmon Confidential.”

The Unsavory Truth About Factory Farmed Chicken

Large commercial chicken facilities typically house tens of thousands of hens and can even go up to hundreds of thousands of hens who, yet again, are fed a diet consisting primarily of corn. Processing byproducts such as chicken feathers can also be added to the feed. Antibiotics are routinely used in most facilities, but hormones are not permitted in American-raised chickens. When it comes to labels such as “free-range” and “natural,” it’s buyer beware…

The definitions of “free-range” are such that the commercial egg industry can run industrial farm egg laying facilities and still call them “free-range” eggs, despite the fact that the birds’ foraging conditions are far from what you’d call natural. True free-range eggs are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.

When you’re housing tens of thousands of chickens, you clearly cannot allow them all to freely roam and scavenge for food outdoors. At best, CAFO hens may be let out into a barren outdoor lot for mere minutes a day. Your best source for pastured chicken (and fresh eggs) is a local farmer that allows his hens to forage freely outdoors. If you live in an urban area, visiting a local farmer’s market is typically the quickest route to finding high-quality chicken and eggs.

Can We Grow a Fair and Sustainable Food System?

Many believe the answer to world hunger is further expansion of large-scale agriculture; others place their bets on genetically engineered (GE) crops. But are factory farms and large-scale GE farming really going to solve the problem? Evidence suggests the answer is a resounding NO. In fact, our modern agricultural system is the very heart of the problem…

Modern monoculture has severely depleted soils of essential nutrients and microorganisms, and poor soil quality is a core problem facing farmers across the globe. Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. (Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. As discussed above, corn and soy are two of the primary ingredients in feed given to livestock, be they chickens, cattle or fish.)

The Earth’s soil is now depleting at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced due to our chemical-based agriculture system. Massive monoculture has also led to the extinction of 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties over the last century. Additionally, modern agriculture is extremely energy dependent. It is estimated that every consumer in the Western world eats the equivalent of 66 barrels of oil per year. That’s how much oil is needed to produce the food on your plate.

Do You Really Want to Eat Factory Farmed Animals?

If you were to grow food for you own family, my guess is that you would do so with extreme care, using the best seeds, the healthiest animals, and the least amount of chemical additives. Yet, when most people buy their food, they have no idea where it actually comes from, and conversely the people who grow this food have no idea who ends up eating it. When people are able to grow food for the faceless masses, I think it somehow justifies these terrible practices that have become commonplace: pumping animals full of hormones and drugs, dousing vegetables with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and introducing genetically modified seeds into the environment.

If you had to see the animal you were about to eat before it makes its way to the supermarket or your dinner table, would you choose one that had lived out its days in a filthy, crowded cage? One that had been mutilated and tormented, then pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, while being fed pesticide-laden grains it was not designed to eat?

Or would you choose one that had lived a nurtured and well cared for life, free to roam on pasture, see the sunlight and breathe in fresh air? One that was fed its natural diet and nothing more? The choice is obvious, which is exactly why agri-business has done such a masterful job of concealing what really goes on from the vast majority of Americans. All you see is a cellophane-wrapped package, maybe a picture of a barn with happy cows and chickens standing near. In many cases, if you could really see how that animal was raised, you would likely shield your children’s eyes, then turn away in disgust.

Factory farms allow us to be removed from taking personal responsibility for raising our own food. There is no one to be held accountable for raising garbage food or treating animals inhumanely because the system has taken on a life of its own. By far, the vast majority of food at your local supermarket comes from these polluting, inhumane farm conglomerations. So if you want to stop supporting them, you first need to find a new place to shop.

Become Part of a Growing Movement

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to find a humane and reliable source for your food — sources that are growing food with the health of the environment and the animals as the driving forces. At LocalHarvest.org, for instance, you can enter your zip code and find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, all with the click of a button. For an excellent list of sustainable agricultural groups in your area, please also see Promoting Sustainable Agriculture — this page is filled with resources for high-quality produce and meats in your area.

The more we all make it a point to only buy food from a source we know and trust, the faster factory farming will become a shameful practice of the past. Farmers and lovers of real food show us that change IS possible. But your involvement is required. Here are a few suggestions for how you can take affirmative action:

  1. Buy local products whenever possible. Otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products.
  2. Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to selling local foods.
  3. Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food.
  4. Avoid genetically engineered (GMO) foods. Buying certified organic ensures your food is non-GM.
  5. Cook, can, ferment, dry, and freeze. Return to the basics of cooking, and pass these skills on to your children.
  6. Grow your own garden, or volunteer at a community garden. Teach your children how to garden and where their food comes from.
  7. Volunteer and/or financially support an organization committed to promoting a sustainable food system.
  8. Get involved in your community. Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board. Effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings. Learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice, and let your congressperson know what you think.
  9. Spread the word! Share this article with your friends, family, and everyone else you know.

Is Christianity Animal-Friendly?

Is Christianity Animal-Friendly?

Kimberley C. Patton  

Read complete article at Harvard Divinity School.

In Review | Books The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, by Laura Hobgood-Oster. Baylor University Press, 230 pages, $19.95.

BUILDING ON HER RECENT Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition (2008), which aimed to recover the lost history of animals in Christianity, Laura Hobgood-Oster in her new book, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals, offers a passionate call to Christians to attend to animal suffering. A religion and environmental studies scholar, Hobgood-Oster reminds the Christian world of the long-standing mutual relationship between people and animals, and seeks to broaden narrow views of traditional Christian theology that would limit God’s incarnation to Jesus alone—and his salvific regard only to human beings. “At its core,” she asks, “is Christianity only about human beings?” (168).

In extending the range of the Incarnation, Hobgood-Oster takes a different tack than others before her. For example, the British trinitarian theologian Andrew Linzey focuses on the imperative of imitatio Dei in Christ’s kenotic self-emptying for creatures lesser than himself; so we, following his example, need to serve animals. Animals, Hobgood-Oster says, have not only been chronic victims throughout Christian history, but have been a persistent presence in religiously meaningful ways, sanctified by divine regard. They are God’s creatures, and our friends. They are therefore worthy not only of pity or compassion, but of the religious attention that comes with theological standing. Christian political energies are therefore rightly directed in liberating them from present-day systemic forms of abuse, such as factory farming, meat-eating, hunting, product research, thoroughbred horse racing, puppy mills, and dog fighting. The rubrics of friendship and hospitality, informed by her own relationships with particular beloved animals and by her extensive work as a rescue volunteer for abandoned and injured animals are her main platforms, and they are compellingly presented.

Click here to read the rest of the article.