NASA Langley Scientist Touts Biochar: an 'Environmental Superstar'

biochar.jpg

Originally posted on DailyPress.com

Written by Tamara Dietrich

Over many centuries — perhaps millennia — primitive peoples plowed biochar into farm fields, turning poor soil into rich cropland.

In fact, it’s such a miraculous soil amendment that 20 years ago researchers found that biochar applied in the Amazon basin more than 500 years before is still enriching soils there.

“It hadn’t broken down, it hadn’t rotted or degraded or anything,” said Doris Hamill, a physicist at NASA Langley Research Center with a deep interest in green technologies. “And that made people say, ‘Hmmm, you know, if biochar can be put in soils and not break down for hundreds of years, this could be a real solution to global warming.’ ”

That’s right — global warming. That’s because an added benefit of carbon-packed biochar is that, by plowing it into farm fields, it removes the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide indefinitely from the carbon cycle.

But that’s not all.

Read more...

Hawaii's Existential Choice: Tourism, Food and Survival

hawaii-1531914_960_720.jpg

Originally posted on Resource Insights

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Kurt Cobb

Hawaiians used to feed themselves quite easily on this island paradise. With the arrival of Europeans and Americans came European and American ideas about plantation agriculture. Hawaii became a producer of coffee, sugar, pineapple, papaya, rice and other plantation crops.

While destroying Hawaii's diverse food system, the growers created a prosperous agricultural trading economy with mainland markets as customers. But competition from low-cost producers elsewhere has more recently devastated that economy. The last remaining sugar plantation closed in 2016.

The decline of the previously large sugar and pineapple industries now make Hawaii much more dependent on tourism as a source of income. Tourists are Hawaii's largest industry. They spent $15.6 billion in 2016 on vacations there representing about 18.5 percent of the total economy. That certainly underestimates their importance as many additional support services are needed to maintain the businesses that service the tourists.

As tourism has grown, land used for agriculture has declined by 68 percent since 1980. Some of the former plantation operators have turned themselves into land development companies to take advantage of the tourism and real estate boom.

The result is that Hawaii—a lush, fertile group of islands with the ability to grow crops year round—now imports 90 percent of its food.

Importing food is not a problem in and of itself. It turns out that some of the world's top food importing nations such as China, the United States and Germany are also top food exporters. They choose to specialize in what they grow most efficiently and export some of it, while importing foodstuffs which other countries are more efficient at growing by reason of climate, soil, water availability, labor costs and other factors. For countries such as China, the United States and Germany, disruptions in food imports might represent a mere inconvenience. Americans might feel deprived without bananas at their morning table, but they would have the option  of choosing apples, pears or other fruit instead.

Hawaii could make policy that would encourage more food growing. But such policies are likely to raise the cost of government through agricultural subsidies. If Hawaii were an independent country, it could impose import duties on certain agricultural products in order to encourage local production of them.

But subsidies and other available measures—unless they are focused on building a diverse agriculture—might simply bring Hawaii back toward a plantation economy, not an economy that could actually feed the people of Hawaii. Here Hawaii faces two problems. A census done by Hawaii's still then independent government in 1850 put the population at around 84,000. The 2010 census showed a population of more than 1.3 million according to Hawaiian state census information.

Using current agricultural lands, it would be difficult to feed a population that has grown more than 10 times (let alone the tourists who add another 220,000 people daily to the population)—even if crops were broadly diversified. In all likelihood much more land would have to be put under cultivation and many more people would have to be engaged in growing food in residential vegetable gardens, truck farms and large polyculturefarm operations.

The second problem is that so long as the tourists keep coming, there is little impetus to reverse the trend in Hawaiian agriculture. The assumption is that the tourists will simply keep coming and coming forever. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the deep recession of 2008 and 2009 taught Hawaiians that there will be significant disruptions in tourist traffic, but that that traffic will always come back. Have they learned the right lesson?

Other importers of food aren't so fortunate as Hawaii which even in the worst situation would receive aid from the U.S. federal government. Countries such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Niger, and Yemen, in fact, 34 countries in all "are unable to produce their own food due to water and land limitations."

For many in these countries getting their daily sustenance is a life and death struggle. The modern global economy has forced countries to specialize. This works well for those properly positioned with the appropriate infrastructure and skilled workforce. Without these many countries simply become sources of raw commodities for the factories and mills of advanced countries—and that's if those developing countries are lucky enough to have such an endowment.

Some day Hawaii may have to contemplate what it will do without tourism or at least less of it. For that matter, it may have to contemplate what it will do without the heavy U.S. military presence which represents the second largest part of the Hawaiian economy.

Specialization has its advantages. But it can also bring frightening vulnerabilities. A whole city of beautiful hotel rooms means little if few people come to stay in them. Hedging against such a day may just be too painful for Hawaiians to contemplate—which is the very reason they should start thinking about it right now.

New Approach Needed for Small Town Housing

Abandoned_Building,_Blessing,_Texas_smaller.jpg

Originally posted on cfra.org

Written by Brian Depew

Housing in small towns would take care of itself, or so I used to believe.

If we could get employment, education, health care, and quality of life right, the market would surely solve housing. In many rural areas, I figured, decades of population decline left more housing stock than people. Certainly a lack of houses wasn’t stopping people from moving to our small town.

I was wrong.

Now I understand the real story. I’ve heard from employers, from young families, and from recent college graduates. We’re interested in moving to your small town, they say, but we can’t find housing. More often than not, they end up living in a nearby larger town with more housing options.

Consider what you can do locally to address this challenge.

Read more...

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Staff from The Nature Conservancy conduct the first site assessment at Agraria.

Staff from The Nature Conservancy conduct the first site assessment at Agraria.

The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions is eager to begin 2018 with many exciting plans that the board and staff see as integral to the community and the future. As you know, the purchase of Agraria changed our trajectory, bringing with it the many opportunities to realize what we had been planning the previous 2 years--soil regeneration and its impacts on community life. The past 9 months has been a whirlwind of activity and excitement, not only on the part of our staff and board, but also among many community members who volunteer their time and expertise as well as providing financial contributions. We couldn’t do this without you and we are so grateful for your support.

Here is some of what we’ve done and what we’re planning within certain key areas in the future:

Research Our initial interest in Agraria sprang from our conviction that the repair of soils is central to the future of the planet. Regenerative land use practices have multiple beneficial impacts on local and global climate, water health, and human health. Increasing carbon in soil directly mitigates climate change. Our goals with Agraria include modeling a transition from a mono-cultural industrial method of land use that uses heavy inputs and tilling, to polycultural planting and care, including agroforestry.

Farm Development We are working with The Nature Conservancy on a plan for the restoration of Jacoby Creek, which will include a re-meandering of the creek, removal of invasives including honeysuckle, and replanting of the riparian zone. The Nature Conservancy expects to begin their work in the fall of 2018. Other plans for the farm include rentals to farmers who use regenerative practices, spaces for business, education and training, and a demonstration orchard and native medicinal plantings in the field just south of the barn.

Education From Montessori summer camp for preschoolers, to Project Based Learning demonstrations by YS School’s students, to hosting students from Clark State, Antioch, and Central State University in exploring curricular, research, and internship programs, our burgeoning partnerships cover all ages from preschoolers to adult learners. Additionally, next summer, we will be offering classes in medicinals and foraging, as well as a garden day for families.

Infrastructure Much of our work at Agraria over the past several months has been getting the buildings ready for us to move from our current offices at Antioch. The house and the workshop have been transformed to provide an updated residence, meeting rooms, and office space. The barn has also been updated with new wiring and outfitted with tables and chairs.

Business With the guidance of our business plan, the goal for Agraria is to support at least 60% of our operating expenses through business-related income within five years. Some key business opportunities include rental of the barn, native plant sales, and production and sale of soil amendments including compost tea and biochar. Currently we are working with Wittenberg College and medical marijuana producer Cresco to take their compost next spring.

With the new year approaching, the board is committed more than ever to ensure the long-term success of our new adventure. We thank you whole-heartedly for your support. Click here for year-end giving.

New Report: Local Food on the Public Plate Can Boost Health, Create Jobs

Local residents shop at a Community Solutions-sponsored farmstand in Springfield, Ohio.

Local residents shop at a Community Solutions-sponsored farmstand in Springfield, Ohio.

Originally posted on farmland.org

Written by Glenda Neff and Kimberly Libman

When you hear “local food,” what do you imagine? Do you think of apple picking every fall at your favorite orchard, rows of sweet corn along a country road, or your favorite stall at the farmers market?

Chances are all of these options come to mind, but you seldom think of farm-fresh foods appearing on plates at local school cafeterias, college dining halls, hospitals and emergency food programs. Traditionally, canned, frozen and processed foods, often purchased out of state, make up the bulk of institutional fare, but it’s not only possible to serve fresh, highly-nutritious foods in New York’s schools, hospitals, and other institutions, it’s a double-win for public health and our local economy.

Read more...

A Growing Number of Young Americans are Leaving Desk Jobs to Farm

The new Community Solutions tractor plants the first cover crops at Agraria. 

The new Community Solutions tractor plants the first cover crops at Agraria. 

Originally posted on washingtonpost.com

Written by Caitlin Dewey

Liz Whitehurst dabbled in several careers before she ended up here, crating fistfuls of fresh-cut arugula in the early-November chill.

The hours were better at her nonprofit jobs. So were the benefits. But two years ago, the 32-year-old Whitehurst — who graduated from a liberal arts college and grew up in the Chicago suburbs — abandoned Washington for this three-acre farm in Upper Marlboro, Md.

She joined a growing movement of highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers who are capitalizing on booming consumer demand for local and sustainable foods and who, experts say, could have a broad impact on the food system. 

Read more...

Susan Jennings Offers Seminar at University of Dayton

Susan Jennings.jpg

Written by David Diamond, Community Solutions Media Coordinator

Community Solutions Executive Director Susan Jennings will offer a seminar at the University of Dayton this winter. Jennings says "The cascade of political and environmental crises that are impacting our communities have deep and complex roots. During this seminar we’ll explore the interconnected causes of climate change and the transformative solutions that are being piloted across the planet. We’ll also discuss on-the-ground responses in our own neighborhoods."

The seminar will run for six Mondays, from January 22nd -February 26th, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at UD's River Campus. Click here to register.

Stories Made of Rivers

Originally posted on dark-mountain.net

Written by Joanna Pocock

1. Civilisation

The first story I was told about rivers can be summed up like this: there is direct line from the Sumerian Ziggurat of Ur to the Chrysler Building. I was around nine.

2. Civilisation II

Rivers allowed us to grow food, store it, build houses, libraries, museums, cities and empires. I was maybe ten when I heard this one.

3. Cells

In sixth grade, the story shifted from history to science when we memorised that our hearts and brains were 73% water. I have always seen fresh water as precious, magical. I used to believe that water could think. If my brain was mainly water, why not?

Every single living and non-living, visible and non-visible object around us – our computer screens, the retinas in our eyeballs, the dust in the air – all of these rely on fresh water. Our body is a walking river. Water flows from us. The liquid inside us will out eventually.

4. Cycles

In middle school, we were taught about the water cycle: river to rain to snow to mountain glacier to melting ice, back to river. We coloured in those diagrams and added those arrows diligently. But we were not told that this cycle was one of the many ways the earth breathes in and out. Nor were we told that bathing in the River Ganges frees the bather from sin, the outward cleanliness symbolising inner purification. This waterway is fed by the glaciers in the Himalayas, the Mountains of the Gods, and feeds the Indian plains as if descended from the heavens.

Read more...

Organic or Starve: can Cuba's New Farming Model Provide Food Security?

Garden.JPG

Originally posted on theguardian.com

Written by Roger Atwood

In the town of Hershey, 40 miles east of Havana, you can see the past and the future of Cuban farming, side by side.

The abandoned hulk of the Camilo Cienfuegos sugar plant, shut along with 70 other cane refineries in 2002, towers over the town. But in the lush hills and grasslands around Hershey, fields of cassava, corn, beans, and vegetables are a sign that there is life after sugar.

Once owned by the famous Pennsylvania chocolate maker, the Cienfuegos plant supplied the sugar that sweetened Hershey’s candy bars. After the 1959 revolution, it was nationalised by Fidel Castro’s government and became property of the state, its sugar shipped to the Soviet Union and allies.

As the world’s largest sugar exporter, Cuba relied on pesticides and fertilisers and heavy mechanisation to produce up to 8.4m tonnes of sugar – its peak harvest, in 1990 – nearly all of it exported to the Communist bloc. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 eliminated Cuba’s preferential market and, coupled with a tightening of the US trade embargo, sent the Cuban economy into an extended coma. The sugar industry muddled along for another decade until the government ordered the closure of 71 of the island’s 156 sugar refineries. Places that had depended on sugar for a century became ghost towns.

Read more...

Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet

seedling-1558599_960_720.jpg

Originally posted on nytimes.com

Written by Jaques Leslie

The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.

The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.

Read more...

Agriculture and climate change: Is farming really a moveable feast?

Originally posted on Resource Insights

Written by Community Solutions fellow Kurt Cobb 

There is a notion afoot that our agricultural production can simply migrate toward the poles in the face of climate change as areas in lower latitudes overheat and dry up. Few people contemplate what such a move would entail and whether it would actually be feasible.

One assumption behind this falsely reassuring idea is that soil quality is somehow roughly uniform across the planet. But, of course, this is completely false. Soil quality and composition vary widely, often within walking distance on the same farm. Farmers simply moving north (or south in the Southern Hemisphere) in response to climate change will not automatically encounter soil suitable for farming.

We must also consider that lands not previously farmed may very well be forested. Knocking down the trees and clearing the stumps might make such lands arable. But the loss of carbon storage that trees represent would only make climate change worse.

Quite often we think of rural areas as being undeveloped. But nothing could be further from the truth. Agricultural regions have complex networks involving roads, communications and electricity grids, irrigation systems, grain elevators, farm supply and machinery merchants, rail depots, agricultural research stations and field projects, government-sponsored agricultural assistance centers and the specialists attached to them, and entire towns which act as gathering places and service centers for those working in rural communities. All of this would have to be duplicated in newly opened agricultural lands for which pioneering settlers would have to be recruited. These pioneers would have to want to live in previously unsettled or sparsely settled areas with few amenities.

Unlike previous eras when farming was a way of life for most people and owning farmland was seen as a path to self-sufficiency and independence, these new pioneers will be adopting or continuing an occupation that millions are desperately fleeing around the world—in favor of the excitement and opportunities of the city.

Even if such rural migrations were subsidized (or forced—gasp!), they would take time, probably decades. All the while climate change would be bearing down on crop yields around the world. Would such a grand development project make up for ongoing declines in existing farmland production?

This is just one "solution" offered to us by what I will call the "adaptationists." The trouble is there can be no assurance that their solutions will actually work. A better approach would be to prevent further climate change as much as we are able (knowing that the lags in the Earth's climate system will make more change inevitable for the next several decades). The schemes being offered these days include emergency measures such as throwing sulfates into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight and constructing large mirrors between the Earth and the Sun to do the same.

The trouble with these approaches is they are all untried, and we have only the smallest inkling of their unintended consequences. Could we end up with a situation that is worse than otherwise would have been the case?

It is important to remember that when it comes to Earth systems, it is impossible to do just one thing. Whenever we do something, we affect the entire system, and we, as limited beings, cannot understand all the possible consequences ahead of time. We think we are acting on objects, and it turns out that we are acting on networks.

Networks have a way of pushing back at attempts to upend them. But frequently we cannot even see the networks we are affecting until they begin to react to our prodding, often in unforeseen and dangerous ways.

We do not know exactly how our agricultural networks will react as they are forced to change in response to the climate chaos we have unleashed. But we can take a much more humble stance by acknowledging that we cannot confidently predict that simply moving our current system toward the poles will allow us to produce all that we are going to need.

We may be faced with adopting systemic changes that include new ways of growing, more people in more places engaged in growing, changing what we grow and eat, and growing much more of what we eat closer to where it is eaten. Some of these changes are already taking place. But they will likely deepen and widen as climate change bears down more and more on our agricultural systems worldwide.

Saving Walden’s World: Filming in Slovenia

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Jim Merkel

The documentary film collaboration with Community Solutions previously titled “The 100-Year Plan” now has a working title of “Saving Walden’s World.” In 2016 I reported on our filming in Cuba. After attending a Degrowth Conference in Budapest, Hungary, last year, I boarded a train to Slovenia, one of the countries highlighted in the film. The beat of train wheels upon steel rails accompanied me as we headed west out of Budapest toward the Slovenian countryside. At the border, sagging rooflines gave way to neat homesteads, vegetable gardens and orchards lining the tracks and beyond. The train snaked along sparkling rivers into canyons with lush forests clinging to mountainsides, through villages, and past people at work splitting and stacking wood or scything and drying corn and hay.

Once in the capital, Ljubljana, I bussed to Robin Turk’s home to borrow a bike for three weeks. Robin has cycled in 50 countries and, through the organization “Warm Showers,” opens his home to cyclists. In the morning my 25-pound backpack’s contents of camera and personal gear were divided into pannier bags, and I was off.

Ljubljana has earned the title of “European Green Capital” for its sustainable practices. The inner city is car-free, and tourists are drawn to its vibrant cafes and quiet streets. A zero waste program is in place. Forested green spaces surround the city. Community gardens, co-ops and the use of renewable energy are increasing.

Gaja Brecelj, who works with Umanoterra, an NGO focused on sustainability, explains: “It is not just living within the planetary boundaries, but it’s also, as a society, how we can be in solidarity, respect each other.” And, she adds, referring to the refugee crisis, “how we can be open to people who need to move or are forced to move.” 

“Ten years ago everyone knew we could go anywhere by car,” she said, noting that there was resistance in the beginning to making the town center car-free. “That’s why this strategy of doing it bit by bit, was very good. You take one small road, you close it… ahh, people would complain, but it’s not so bad.” Every year they broadened it and now, Gaja says, “nobody wants to go back.”

Slovenia’s 11-acre per capita ecofootprint is well below that of the US (17 acres). The country also has a lower infant mortality rate, lower gender pay gap, and less poverty while having higher literacy and more women in politics.

Živa Kavak Gobbo is the president of a sustainability group call FOCUS. She loads her four-year-old boy into a child carrier on her bike, drops him off at a government-funded childcare center, and cycles in to work on bike lanes. When asked to describe the safety net for young women, Živa responded: “We have good access to education. We have good access to health care. The healthcare is free, for us and for the children. If we decide we want to be mothers, we have access to all the doctors we need. We have a one-year maternity leave, so you can have your child, you can breast feed and then go back to work.” It is common for grandparents to care for the children during year two. However, childcare is free and available to anyone who needs it.

Živa continues: “If you don’t want to be a mother, you can still use contraceptives, which are for free. You can abort. It is also for free. And it’s not a taboo. This is something that we have and we want to keep as a woman’s right. I think women are strong enough to demand this right, to take care and decide about your own body. I don’t see why a society should decide what is going on with my body. I mean, it’s me who is the mother, and it’s me carrying the child for nine months. Being pregnant and having a child, if I don’t want the child— is it good for the child? No.”

I met with Dr. Vesna Leslosek, the Dean of Postgraduate Studies at the University of Ljubljana, who focuses on gender and welfare. “To control your reproduction is very important,” she said. This gives you the power to control yourself. If you don’t control how many children you will have and when you will have them, then you do not have a control over your life.” Slovenia’s abortion rate is half that of the U.S., and the teen pregnancy rate is 12 per 1000. In the U.S. it is 57 per 1000.

Back in the U.S., salaries, on average, are higher and taxes are lower. But those with lower incomes are struggling. These folks work several jobs. Put your kids through college? Tough. Dental care? On your own.

Our youth are saddled with an average of $37,172 of student loan debt per student (college class of 2016). If your parents can’t pay, or don’t have a home to remortgage, you could work nights. It isn’t easy. Along comes Romeo—handsome, nice car—you know the story. In Maine, 58 percent of women without college degrees are single moms.

Only 12 percent of women who graduate college become single moms. What does all this have to do with a sustainable planet? As the status of women rises, more go to college. They have fewer, healthier children later in life, which eases population pressures, but more importantly, this increases the quality of life for the child and mother. Low infant mortality rates could be considered a better measure than GDP of how well a society is doing. In Slovenia, 2.9 children die per 1,000 born. In Cuba, one of the other nations featured in “Saving Walden’s World,” the rate is 4.3. The U.S. stands at 6.7.

It is clear that in the land of too much, millions are struggling unnecessarily. For my son, Walden, and his generation’s sake, I don’t have the luxury to do nothing. It feels more necessary each day to share the stories through this film of people and places that are showing the way toward a more sustainable and just world.

Huge carbon sink in soil minerals: New avenue for offsetting rising greenhouse gases

queen anne's lace smaller.jpg

Originally posted on sciencedaily.com

Written by Eric Sorensen

A Washington State University researcher has discovered that vast amounts of carbon can be stored by soil minerals more than a foot below the surface. The finding could help offset the rising greenhouse-gas emissions helping warm the Earth's climate.

Marc Kramer, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at WSU Vancouver, reports his finding in one of two related papers demonstrating how the right management practices can help trap much of the carbon dioxide that is rapidly warming the planet.

Read more...

New Agraria Interactive Map!

Interactive map image November 2017 update.JPG

We're all very pleased and excited to present Community Solutions' new Interactive Map of Agraria! This beautiful representation of our vision for Agraria, developed in partnership with local artist and Antioch College professor Michael Casselli, helps us illustrate and communicate our ideas and plans for this expansive and diverse land. From environmental renewal to education to local business to scientific study, it's all represented here. Just visit the map and click on any icon for a short description. We'll see you online, at the map and on Giving Tuesday, November 28!

A Shift, And An Opportunity, At Agraria

Table and conversation.jpg

Written by Community Solutions Executive Director Susan Jennings

Dear Friend—

This year will go down in our organizational and in international history as one of surprise and shift. Organizationally, there is nothing more surprising than the fact that we are currently packing our offices in preparation for our move into a renovated workshop on Agraria, our recently-acquired 128-acre farm on the outskirts of Yellow Springs.

At the root of the swirl of planning and activity surrounding Agraria is a shift in organizational focus. By far the largest project in our 77-year history, Agraria is allowing a grounding and expansion of our community education and outreach. Already we have engaged with dozens of neighbors, farmers, and students in a visioning of the possibilities for Agraria, including:

·         Research and education around soil and water health and biodiversity

·         Restoration of Jacoby Creek and its banks in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy

·         Support of the regional food system through farmland rentals, production of soil amendments, and a native plant nursery

·         Partnerships with Central State University, Antioch College, and Yellow Springs and other regional school districts

Agraria provides a synchronistic platform for the integration of our organizational focus areas of resilient communities, regenerative land use, community economics, energy democracy, and being the change.  You can read on our interactive map about our long-term vision for Agraria.  

Agraria is both a mirror and an outgrowth of two larger, international paradigm shifts.

The first shift is an increasing recognition of the regeneration of soil as an important climate tool, with carbon sequestration in soil integral to the two latest international climate agreements.  Cutting-edge research suggests that regenerative land use could account for 37 percent of the solution to climate change.   Farmers and environmental organizations are at the heart of soil research and action; the Rodale Institute recently unveiled a Regenerative Agriculture certification.

Our hope is that Agraria can serve as a pilot and a model for land use practices that regenerate soil and sequester carbon.  We have been travelling to other farms, including Polyface, The Land Institute and The Arbor Day Foundation, to explore our options, and have also been attending national meetings around land use, cover crops, and soil regeneration. We will share what we are learning at our March 9th Regenerating Landscapes symposium, as well as in our first issue of The Journal of Agraria, due out this spring.

The second shift is the development of community leadership that is effecting important change.  While the local to global movement is decades old, the failure of many of our larger systems to respond constructively to environmental, societal, and economic crises has galvanized action across the planet.

We heard about many of these movements (including Via Campesina, Mondragon Cooperatives, and Mutual Aid Networks) at our inspiring October conference on The Economics of Happiness. We are also seeing community leadership first hand with the purchase and development of Agraria, with friends and neighbors assisting both financially and with trail building, skill sharing, and citizen science.  You can continue the conversation at our December 21st Gratitude Walk and Open House at Agraria as well as in next year’s educational events.

We are grateful for the support and encouragement we have received for what we view as a community asset and resource for building regional self-reliance. We invite you to join us as a financial partner-- matching our organizational leap with a special pledge—by becoming an inaugural Steward of the Soil and committing $1000 a year for three years. Combined with our business and investment strategy as well as a capital campaign, these yearly gifts will help to put us on a solid financial footing for the long term.

With gratitude for your support, and with best wishes for a hopeful turn of the year,

Susan Jennings

Executive Director

Middle School Students Present "Into the Wild" at Agraria

Into the Wild 2 smaller.jpg

Written by Community Solutions Staff Member David Diamond

McKinney Middle School seventh-graders culminated their months-long “Into the Wild” project with a presentation and public exhibition on October 26 in the historic barn at Agraria, the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions’ farm and center for regenerative agriculture. Much of the students’ research and inspiration came from a three-day camping trip with faculty and parents down the Little Miami bike trail. The students biked 53 miles, camped out for two nights, researched local history, and canoed and waded in the Little Miami River to study macroinvertebrates.

Kate Lohmeyer, health and physical education teacher for grades 7-12, was part of the teacher leadership team for the interdisciplinary project. All the participating teachers were “in some way, avid participants in the outdoors, either focused on exercise or just being in nature,” said Lohmeyer.  “We thought it would be great to share that with the kids. It turned into this wonderful experience.” Under the direction of science teacher Rebecca Eastman, students also studied macroinvertebrates in Jacoby Creek on Agraria. Holding the exhibition night in Agraria’s barn “was a great way to culminate the experience for our students,” said Lohmeyer.

“It was thrilling to see families enjoying each other at the Agraria presentations, and also to share in Jacoby Creek research that intersected with students’ ‘Into the Wild’ inquiries,” said Susan Jennings, Executive Director of Community Solutions. Since buying Agraria last March, located just outside Yellow Springs, the local non-profit organization has seen the location’s enormous potential for experiential education. Plans for Agraria include installation of a school garden and construction of a bike path from the high school to Agraria for use by both students and community members. “We’re excited and honored to partner with the Yellow Springs Schools on cutting-edge agricultural curricula for Agraria,” said Jennings. “Their Project Based Learning experience and leadership will help us to develop programs that also benefit students from Xenia, Springfield, and Dayton.”

Lohmeyer also sees many opportunities for schools—not just in the barn, but throughout the 128 acres of Agraria farmland. “There’s a push from all levels, K-12, to try to do things outside,” she said. “The more Community Solutions can collaborate, the more people will want to take advantage of that space. I know people are looking forward to it.” 

Help support education at Agraria by donating to Community Solutions on Giving Tuesday, November 28!

A Deep Springs College for Women

Originally posted on newyorker.com

Written by Carrie Battan

Photograph by Laura Marcus / Arete Project

In mid-June, a group of eighteen young women arrived on a makeshift campus in mountainous, rural North Carolina, thirty miles from the nearest interstate and a long hike from reliable cell-phone service. They made themselves as comfortable as possible in small, unheated, unfurnished cabins. Soon, they were cooking soups and stews from vegetables grown on the property. The members of the group, who mostly wore hiking boots, cargo shorts, and old T-shirts, were attendees of the Arete Project, a summer program launched four years ago to provide intellectually curious young women with an experience similar to the one offered at Deep Springs College, the experimental and highly romanticized school in the California desert, which was founded in 1917 with the goal of preparing young men for the vague and lofty goal of “a life of service to humanity.”

Like Deep Springs, the Arete Project offers an alternative to the standard model of American higher education, one defined by three “pillars”: physical labor, academics, and self-governance. Every class, or “cohort,” must determine, from the day the women arrive on campus, the rules by which they will live and work together. Students have minimal connection to the outside world; in the past, cohorts have restricted phone and Internet usage to brief periods or places on campus. No drugs or alcohol are permitted. A potent mix of practical training and idealism, this education is designed to imbue students with a “selfless devotion to world and humanity.”

Read more...

From Brussels to Arkansas, a Tough Week for Monsanto

Originally posted on nytimes.com

Written by Danny Hakim

Opposition from France and Italy doomed a European Union vote on Thursday to reauthorize the world’s most popular weedkiller, glyphosate, a decision that came hours after Arkansas regulators moved to ban an alternative weedkiller for much of 2018.

The decisions are a double blow to the agrochemical industry and particularly to the chemicals giant Monsanto. An appeals committee of European officials will convene this month, though, to weigh again whether to continue to allow glyphosate just weeks before its registration expires. The chemical is the main ingredient in Roundup, one of Monsanto’s flagships, but its patent has ended and it is now made by much of the industry.

Read more...

Look At the Big Picture, Avoid Groupthink, Remember History

Critical thinking.jpg

Originally posted on Resilience.org

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Kurt Cobb

A friend of mine recently outlined as follows his method for thinking about important issues: Look at the big picture, avoid groupthink, and remember history.

First, the big picture. People too often think only about the narrow field in which they work or the community or nation in which they live. But whatever the topic, there is always a context that includes the rest of the world and the interplay of actors and forces in many locales and fields of endeavor.

Let me provide an illustration (not one provided by my friend). If I want to understand the state of renewable energy in the United States, I’d certainly want to know also the state of that industry in other countries including their regulatory regimes; the structure of their industry whether public, private or a combination; and the state of research and development. I’d also want to know how renewable energy fits into the total picture of energy use, for example, its current share of consumption compared to competing sources of energy and its growth rate. Further, I’d want to know about the emergence of electric vehicles, a major new user of electricity, and about the industry that produces them. I wouldn’t stop there, but what I’ve outlined so far conveys the scope of inquiry that I’m recommending.

Next I’d want to check into any relevant claims made in the media and by family members, friends, and co-workers in order to avoid groupthink, that is, believing something merely because I’ve heard it from others. For example, if someone claims that the dominant form of energy in human society in 2030 will be solar (and someone did), I would want to find the basis for such a claim if there is one and also see if the current trends suggest that this is likely. Just because some smart people believe that something will happen doesn’t mean that it will.

Finally, I’d want to know something about the history of the renewable energy industry in America and abroad. What does that history tell me about what is likely to happen in the future? And based on what we know about the history of energy transitions in the past from coal to oil and then to natural gas, are various claims about the speed of the current energy transition to renewable energy plausible? Of course, no one can know the future. But when people make claims about the future that have no precedent, we should be skeptical and cautious.

Of course, these steps—looking at the big picture, avoiding groupthink, and remembering history—require time, concentration and reflection. It’s simply not possible to do such research for every issue that crosses one’s path. So, humans take shortcuts much of the time. They focus on what they know from their own experience. They recall what they’ve already read in the media and heard from those they know. They dispense with any serious study of the history of a subject, assuming that current knowledge is all that they need. (For minor daily issues this process may indeed suffice.)

Beyond the difficulty of doing one’s own research, there is the difficulty of standing apart from friends, family, co-workers and others in one’s social circle. Voicing an opinion that runs counter to the prevailing view can net one ridicule, dismissal and even social exclusion. Moreover, most people don’t want to believe that the world they’ve constructed in their heads may be flawed, perhaps dangerously flawed. If you are the person telling them this, you will probably not be in line for thanks.

The greatest difficulty comes when our research produces information that challenges our own foundational beliefs. This potentially creates a crisis that could require acceptance of a whole new worldview. If accepted, this new worldview can strain relations with practically everyone close to us who may not only be surprised but possibly dismayed by our sudden change of outlook.

There are very few people who can engage in such independent inquiry on a regular basis and retain their mental balance. Being open at all times to the possibility of changing one’s worldview can be anxiety-producing and exhausting. In order to maintain peace of mind most people avoid any thorough examination of topics that could force an alteration of their worldview.

It’s no wonder then that our political, economic, and social culture encourages people to avoid the big picture, succumb to groupthink, and ignore history. It’s much easier to maintain our peace of mind if we simply conform our opinions with those around us and avoid a tedious examination of the facts.

However, the price we potentially pay is that we will get blindsided by what in retrospect seems an obvious problem. That’s when most people finally adjust their worldview to new realities. But by then, any damage is generally already done.

 

How to Start a Regenerative Agriculture Movement in Your Community

Agraria tour.jpg

Originally posted on EcoWatch.com

Written by Regeneration International

The most important, although as of yet little known, new paradigm shift and set of practices in the world today is regenerative agriculture, or rather regenerative foodfarming and land use. Regeneration practices, scaled up globally on billions of acres of farmland, pasture, and forest, have the potential to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming and, at the same time, provide solutions to other burning issues such as poverty, deteriorating public health, environmental degradation, and global conflict.

The world-changing promise of regeneration lies in the fact that a large scale increase in plant photosynthesis (i.e. drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, releasing oxygen, but transferring a major proportion of carbon into the plant roots and soil) made possible by fundamental changes in farming, grazing and land use practices, (along with the transition to 100 percent renewable energy) across billions of acres, can drawdown enough excess CO2 from the atmosphere into our living soils, plants, and forests to reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate.

Read more...