In “The Future is in Your (Big) Hands” On Pasture author John Marble noted that farmers and ranchers have a much greater opportunity than most other people to make a difference. He said, “People who have it in their heart to do good for the world, well, we have the opportunity to make a huge change on a 1,000,000 to 1 scale. Our tremendous opportunity actually approaches the level of obligation. I mean, if we have a chance to do this good work and we choose not to, well, what does that say about who we are? And who the heck else is going to do it?”
If you’re working on being a regenerative grazier you already have it in your heart to do good for the world. But deciding what to do, well, that can be a bit harder. So here’s an example of one person who is making a difference.
Tamara Hicks runs Toluma Farms and Creamery and she’s doing two great things that pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in healthy soils so she can grow more forage and more goats to make more cheese. She’s spreading compost and planting windbreaks, or hedgerows. You can watch the 1:52 video, or jump straight to the transcript where I add information on how you can add these practices to your operation and how others are working to support you in doing these things.
We are at Toluma Farms and we also have a creamery. We make goat and sheep cheeses here in west Marin about 60 miles north of San Francisco. We need to do everything that we can to have as many climate-friendly practices as possible.
Tamara is working with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soils Program. This is just one of many ways the state is supporting farmers and ranchers in doing their work of feeding us all while also implementing practices that prevent climate change and help the state meet it’s goals of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.
CDFA’s Healthy Soils Projects will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 100,000 metric tons per year. The program is funded from the State’s cap and trade proceeds, also known as California Climate Investments (CCI). The HSP has received $40.5 million in funding from the CCI between 2016 and 2019. CDFA has also received funding of $10 million from the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection and Outdoor Access for all Act of 2018.
This and other environmental farming innovations are a result of farmers, ranchers and concerned citizens working together on the research and on legislation and regulations that would support farmers and ranchers doing good work. To share resources and strategies to advance these kinds of farmer-forward climate policy solutions the California California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) created the National Healthy Soils Policy Network. A visit to their website will give you information on how other states are doing similar work, and organizations that are working together for the greater good.
Toluma Farms’ Projects
The components of our Healthy Soils project that we have here are two main things: One is compost applications to our pastures, and in the past, we really didn’t have the resources to apply compost and really look at the difference between how it enhanced the soil and the grasses for our 300 animals here.
A little over 70% of the Healthy Soils Program funding has gone to support compost applications. Why? It’s an simple practice that gets great results like: more forage, building soil that holds more water, and sequestering a ton of carbon per acre. Read more here:
The other component is a windbreak. We planted close to 500 trees which was a really big project for us. I think a really great part of this project too is that its’ not just about sticking a tree in the ground. You really through this whole application process learn a lot about what kind of trees do well in this area, like how do you plant a tree that’s not going to get destroyed by gophers or goats or anything.
Planting trees is one of the many carbon farming practices supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Standard practices. It’s also a great way to provide shade for your animals. John Marble recently wrote about his planting practices that are efficient, inexpensive, and protect the young trees from hungry cattle.
If you live in an area with plenty of trees and want to know what you can do, check out this week’s piece on how managing silvopasture rather than clearing trees is a climate conscious alternative for graziers.
For more ideas of what you can do to sequester more carbon on your operation, check out the GHG and Carbon Sequestration Ranking Tool from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They list the Practice Standard Code, the title and the beneficial attributes along with a qualitative ranking to help you choose best practices. Remember that you can get both technical and financial assistance for implementing these practices too!
We have the responsibility to steward this 160 acres and we want to do it in a way that when we leave it to the next generation, it’s in much better shape than when we started down this path 18 years ago.
Our property is in a trust. We put it in a trust 10 years ago this year. It’s called Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and it was the first ag land trust in the country. There are 54,000 acres in that land trust that will remain in farming in perpetuity, which is really exciting and something we wanted to be part of.
Conservation easements and land trusts are a way to protect farms and ranches from development while keeping them in private ownership. They can provide compensation to the owners and reduce tax burdens while ensuring the land remains in agricultural production and can be more affordably passed to the next generation. Some questions about them are answered in this On Pasture article:
I hope this gives you some ideas for all the good you can do for yourselves and for all of us. As my friend John Wick says,
“Agriculture is the only system large enough on earth to make all this work. The outcome can be everything that farmers and ranchers want and more.
We have enough science and insight and actual demonstrations to show there is a version of earth where we can create resources through growing food!”
Thanks for doing good!