Soil Health Profile

Originally posted on USDA website

Written by conference speaker David Brandt

Ohio soil health pioneer forges new frontier in farming

While David and Kendra Brandt like what they see from the soil health system they’re using on their central Ohio farm, everything they do still has to pass muster through the combine’s yield monitor.

They’ve used no-till on their corn, wheat, and soybean operation since 1971, but when David saw a drop in corn yields in 1978, he added hairy vetch and winter peas to the system to get more nitrogen.

“We were using commercial nitrogen then, and I wasn’t really thinking about the health of the soil,” Brandt says. “We saw some improvement in water infiltration at the time, but we didn’t reduce nitrogen inputs until we learned our soils were changing and we didn’t really need it,” he says.

Reducing Crop Inputs

“Cutting back on commercial inputs has been a tough one for me, because we’ve always been taught we need so many pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash to grow a decent corn crop,” Brandt says. “We’re learning now with cover crops that we don’t need to buy those additional nutrients because we can bring them up from deeper in the soil. They just weren’t available to the crop before.”

“In fact, we’ve learned in the last two years that we can go to using almost no purchased commercial fertilizer or herbicide and still produce a great crop of corn and beans.”

“Our nitrogen use in fields without cover crops is 170 pounds an acre. Where we have cover crops and longtime no-till, we’re down to about 20 pounds an acre. That’s more than $100 an acre per year nitrogen savings, and we’re not sacrificing any yield.”

The nitrogen comes from cover plants like hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, cow peas, and sun hemp. They pick out nitrogen from the atmosphere and translocate it into nodules on the roots, Brandt says.

“Some of those nodules will be as big as your thumb. Soil bacteria break them down, and the nitrogen is released slowly in an organic form that the corn plants can use,” he says.

Every cover crop grown on the farm has at least two species. Brandt is moving toward multiple species in the blend, because some—like hairy vetch, late-planted winter peas, cereal rye, barley and wheat––will stay green and keep growing through the winter.

“If we can keep something green in the ground with multiple species, we can build soil faster. So we like multiple blends better than two species,” he says.

“It will take 6-7 years to change or improve a soil with just no-till, but that time can be shortened to 4-5 years or as few as three years if you also use the right blend of cover crops.”

Covers bring up nutrients

Brandt is trying 8- and even 14-way blends of covers. “I’d like to learn more about which covers can bring up trace elements,” Brandt says. “We’ve seen buckwheat bring up phosphorus and zinc, for instance, and sunflowers bring zinc up too.”

Yet, he won’t put in a cover if it won’t pay for itself. “You shouldn’t spend any more for seed on a cover crop than what you can gain in reduced fertilizer costs or increased yields. That’s always been our philosophy,” he says.

Generally for Brandt, cover crops cost from $20 an acre to $35 an acre.

Suppressing pests naturally

The soil health payoff can come in other reduced inputs, too. “We’ve had less weed and pest pressure as we’ve gone along. We see more host insects that will prey on the insects we don’t like to see in the fields,” Brandt says. “We’ve found radishes give off a sulfur smell, for instance, that fumigates the soil and reduces cyst nematodes and slugs in the soil. We’re proud to say we’ve quit using insecticides on the farm.”

Their cover crops suppress winter annuals and broadleaf weeds, and Brandt has cut herbicide use in half.

“We have less sudden death syndrome and less white mold in our beans and less northern corn leaf blight in our corn, too,” he says.

More Microbes a Key

Brandt says he didn’t realize microbes were so important to farming a few years ago. “But I’ve read about how vital they are, and now I see as they increase, we see more good things happening in our soil—more nutrients being released, more water infiltrating into the soil. The more microbial activity we have, the better off we are,” he says.

“I’m really intrigued with the amount of water infiltration we’re seeing with our cover crops. As we go to cover crops with deeper roots, and bigger root masses, we’re seeing rainfall dissipate through the soil better. We don’t have water pockets in our tight clay soils any more.”

Cover crops also moderate soil temperatures. “On hot summer days, with air temperatures over a hundred degrees, our neighbors had soil temperatures of 118 degrees and ours was 86 degrees. Our corn really looked great at those times,” Brandt says.

Sharing the knowledge

Brandt has had to learn about soil health by trial and error on his farm. But he wants others to have an easier road. “I’m trying to pass on what we’ve learned here. I don’t want everyone to reinvent the wheel. I want people to see our failures and our successes,” he says.

“So many farmers have learned to sit on the tractor seat and let an agronomist make their decisions. I like to have farmers come and feel the soil here, dig in it, smell it, and see for themselves how healthy soil should look and feel. That’s when they get excited.”

That includes his banker. “It was hard to get him to understand what we are doing here until we got him out here. Now the quality of our soils and our reduced inputs show up on our balance sheets,” Brandt adds.

“And our landlords are tickled. We can show them how we’ve added organic matter to their soils and made their land more productive, and at the same time kept increasing their crop yields.” 

In Memory of William Beale

Our friend, mentor, and benefactor William Beale died on Sunday, July 24th, 2016.  It was a great privilege to know William, and to be uplifted by his passionate commitment,  his indefatigable creativity, and his intelligent humor. William was the first recipient of the Arthur Morgan Award, and a frequent contributor to our website under the name wimbi. You can read his last blog post, Poppy’s Dream, as well as other posts including, Fracked to Death, The (Bigger) Garden of EdenWE GOT PLENTY OF NOTHIN', ROI: Love of Money, The Future Speaks, Plenty of Oil, So What's the Story Here?, and Wimbi's Wedges. William Beale also appeared in videos for the Community Solutions Climate Solutions Video channel, speaking about electric cars and his work.   We’ll be including a tribute to William in our October conference, and would be glad to share our members’ memories with his family. 

ATHENS - William Taylor Beale, 88, died peacefully at home Sunday 24 July 2016 attended by his immediate surviving family – wife Carol and children Faith, Dan and John – and loving friends.  A lifelong inventor and philosophizer, it was William’s driving ambition to leave the world a better place on the basis of sound engineering and innovative thought.  Although he claimed never to have achieved the full extent of his intentions, his inventions were essential components of products on Earth and in Space, his company and its spinouts employed hundreds, and his philanthropic funding enabled local, regional and global extension and continuation of his visions.

Born to Katherine and David Beale on 17 April 1928 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the third of five siblings and the eldest of the three brothers. Self-described as a youth who was a “loner, a dreamer, and an inventor of unusually warlike things,” William segued from homemade artisan-well-diving equipment and road-asphalt bombs to early employment as a Naval radar technician during the final year of World War II.  He discovered in this engagement “the bloody waste of war games,” an assessment that carried through his educational career.  After achieving an MS from Caltech, including engaging in the study of intercontinental ballistic missiles, he “resolved, deep in his muddled soul, never to use this knowledge for its original intended purpose.”  He adhered absolutely to these principles, including strong activism and support of disengagement in military conflict during the Vietnam War; and later in rejection of a potential weapons development contract that would have succored his struggling small business, but ran against his deepest convictions regarding the essential role of rational and peaceful engagement between nations.

While achieving his second MS from MIT in Boston in 1958, William met and married Harvard graduate Carol Brand Beale, with whom he moved to Athens, Ohio in 1961 as a faculty member in Ohio University’s engineering department.  With family support, the couple purchased an old farmhouse on 300 acres of rolling, rural Appalachian woodland.  William aided Carol’s tireless maintenance and development of gardens and multiple livestock while himself maintaining the underlying technology, including the well and roof-water systems, the many generations of VW bugs, rabbits and buses, the 200-year-old barn and other outbuildings, and continually remodeling and improving the 100-year-old farmhouse.  The couple dedicated themselves to a carbon-free existence, and for the final decade of his life William continued to maintain and improve their woodstove-fired, hot-water-circulation system as well as their all-solar electrical system (which powered, in addition to the homestead, their proudly-so-labeled ‘Runs on the Sun’ electric Leaf vehicle).

William was an early member and literal builder of Athens Unitarian Fellowship, which for decades served, and continues to serve, as a welcoming location for lectures, plays, thoughts, and communal sharing by generations of families like his own.  

William’s 1964 invention of the free-piston Stirling engine was the impetus for founding Sunpower, Inc., a company dedicated to the before-its-time principle that engineering innovation in renewable-energy-derived power is a world-saving opportunity.  In perennial search of financial support for Sunpower’s rich intellectual property and multiple technical innovations, William traveled frequently to Europe, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, gaining and incorporating lessons- learned from international experts and experience.  In his Athens home office, Sunpower attracted global expertise to a strong young technical team and expanded its influence, over three and a half decades of continuing R&D, into cooling and cryocooling as well as continued engine development, prior to the family’s sale of the business in 2012.  

The business exit enabled William’s distribution of philanthropic dollars to local groups engaged in carbon footprint reduction business and research and outreach; to regional non-profits dedicated to community development and environmental conservation; and to multiple individual technology start-ups.

William always delighted in the education and encouragement of the next generation.  He included among his many mentorships a Saturday Science Seminar for local youth, several of whom went on to join the current generation of young technology startup entrepreneurs.  Many of William’s mentees cite his marked influence on their own sense of innate curiosity about the mathematical, physical and mechanical principles at work in the world around them.  Many also remember William’s perennial ‘kid test:’ the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which participants are given the opportunity to collaborate and ensure continued success for all, or to compete and destroy one another.  William’s instructional game was, for many mentees and young relatives, a formative moment in their own perception of the role of cooperation and conflict resolution as favored tools in a fraught social fabric.  

William’s ‘Fables for our Time,’ published in local newspapers and online with Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio, perennially reinforced his messages that straightforward engineering and high-minded conservation are the basic underlying principles of a visionary life well-led.  William was a voracious reader and participant in vigorous ongoing conversations with friends, family, associates and passersby on these and related topics.  His favorite publication, re-read during his last days, was E.O. Wilson’s “Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life,” a book incorporating many of William’s most passionate beliefs about the duties incumbent upon humans, as the greatest Earthly change factor, to preserve and protect the globe under their dominion. His most recent essays are accessible at

William is survived by his wife and three children and their spouses and partners, six grandchildren, two siblings Inez Harrell and David Beale and a broad local, regional and global network of family, friends and followers.  A public memorial service will be hosted by the Athens Friends Meeting in September. Contributions in William’s memory would be welcomed by organizations working on Carbon reduction goals such as Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio at ,  Union of Concerned Scientists at,  and Rural Action of Athens, Ohio at .

GMO Industry: The dumbest guys in the room

Written by Community Solutions fellow Kurt Cobb

Originally posted on

I am now convinced the GMO industry has managed to hire the worst public relations strategists in human history. By supporting a deeply flawed GMO labeling bill in the U.S. Congress--some would say intentionally deeply flawed--the industry is about to open a Pandora's Box of PR nightmares for years to come.

First, a little background. GMO, of course, means genetically modified organism which more properly refers to genetically engineered crops and animals. GMO industry leader Monsanto and its competitors such as Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical and Sygenta have all been fighting a fierce battle in the United States against labeling foodstuffs derived from genetically engineered crops. After defeating statewide labeling referendums in California, Oregon and Washington, they failed to stop the implementation of Vermont's GMO labeling law which went into effect July 1.

In desperation the companies have been trying to get the U.S. Congress to pass a nationwide labeling law--one that is considerably less stringent and also riddled with loopholes--that would pre-empt Vermont's law. Just last week the Senate approved its version of the labeling law. If the House and Senate can work out their differences, we may see such a law signed by President Obama before too long.

The industry's main complaint has been that labeling GMOs would unfairly stigmatize them in the minds of consumers. Some 64 countries already require such labeling. What concerns the industry is that increased consumer awareness could create a movement that would lead to a ban on the cultivation of GMO crops, a ban already implemented by 19 countries in Europe.

Opponents of the GMO labeling law currently moving through the U.S. Congress believe it is so poorly drafted that almost no commonly consumed genetically modified foods will actually be covered. In addition, food derived from newer gene-editing techniques as opposed to transgene processes--the ones that transfer genes from one species to another--may be excluded as well. The fact that agricultural trade groups are praising the labeling bill--after fighting labeling for years--tells you something about how effective they believe the law will be at informing consumers, namely, not very.

The Senate bill allows food manufacturers to use a symbol, a statement or a so-called QR code that shoppers would have to scan using a cellphone to obtain information on genetically engineered ingredients. Small companies could simply list a phone number or website address.

If you were selling GMO-derived foods, which would you use? Probably the options that provide the least information and which make it most difficult for consumers to access that information. This assumes that anything in your product actually turns out to be covered by the law which looks like it will exclude great swaths of foodstuffs containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Given what we know now, the final bill is likely to be vague and riddled with exceptions and confusing directives. The GMO-friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture will then be tasked with writing the actual labeling regulations.

We are thus assured of months and perhaps years of wrangling over the labeling rules, every step of which will be given wide and probably negative coverage by the anti-GMO activist community. The pending federal labeling law is more likely to assist opponents in sowing mistrust of major food companies than alleviate it. When the rules go into effect, if they are every bit as lax as the law seems to promise, the activists will make a sport out of spotting and telling on companies that are cheating or that are cleverly thwarting the purposes of the law.

The anti-GMO groups will likely put out lists of the worst labeling violators and lists of their products containing GMOs. And, of course, there will be lists based on those enigmatic QR codes. Perhaps those codes will become the equivalent of the skull and crossbones feared by one GMO executive.

The whole shopping experience will be treated like an reverse Easter egg hunt. Can you spot the GMO foods? Can you identify the alleged cheaters on the grocery store shelves and punish them by refusing to buy their products?

Perhaps some enterprising activist, one not afraid of incarceration, will surreptitiously slap GMO cheater labels on various products on the store shelves that are not labeled properly. Any subsequent arrest will then lead to more coverage as some in the public cheer the civil disobedience while others simply shrug their shoulders.

Acquiescence to the Vermont law or acceptance of a federal law with Vermont's straightforward labeling rules would have saved the GMO industry from what will almost surely be a years-long PR debacle if the labeling law before Congress passes.

There will doubtless be many more creative ways than I've listed for GMO opponents to tweak the industry and keep the issue of honest labeling alive and before the public. If only the industry had accepted Vermont's labeling law as the de facto standard for the country, the industry would have in one stroke taken the issue away from its opponents!

But the industry's business and public relations strategists are the same ones who made a colossal marketing error--while believing they had achieved a regulatory coup--when they steamrolled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into ruling that GMOs are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GMO counterparts and therefore require no testing. The FDA did this despite their own scientists' concerns that these novel life forms might have unanticipated effects on the environment and on humans who consume them. Some of those scientists thought extensive testing similar to what a new drug must go through was advisable to rule out such risks.

The reason this strategy has turned out to be a colossal marketing error is that as the attacks on GMOs have mounted during the intervening couple of decades, the industry finds itself unable to pivot and point to any advantages that GMO foods have for consumers over non-GMO foods. This is because the industry has been saying for more than 20 years that GMOs have no advantages for consumers. After all, GMO foods are said to be "substantially equivalent." That means that the industry cannot give consumers any reasons to prefer GMO foods over their non-GMO counterparts. Any claims of superiority over conventional foods made now will ring hollow and bring down an avalanche of public derision from GMO opponents.

(The industry may cite supposed advantages for farmers and for the environment. But those advantages are sharply and publicly disputed by anti-GMO activists and have nothing to do with taste, nutrition or appearance which are what matters to consumers. While the GMO industry tells us that GMO crops with enhanced nutrition are coming, I can find only one that has been brought to market under a cloud of concerns. So far genetic engineering has focused on creating plants the produce insecticides internally--not a pleasant thought for those eating them--and which are immune to herbicides made by, you guessed it, the companies producing the GMO seeds.)

These same industry strategists have directed a campaign of fear aimed at farmers to prevent supposed intellectual property theft through the use of saved GMO seeds. Even those into whose fields GMO seeds have been swept by wind have been sued. Since farmers growing in areas where other farmers grow genetically engineered crops may be subject to windblown "thefts," they have an incentive to grow GMO crops on their land and pay the royalties to avoid being sued for such "theft." Essentially, it's, "Buy from us or we'll sue you--and we're a lot richer than you are."

Aggressive tactics including smear campaigns have also been used against critics who question the safety and social utility of GMOs and associated farm chemicals. (Click here, here and here.) Mostly, those campaigns have backfired by creating extensive media coverage of the smear campaigns themselves.

These aggressive tactics have made the company most associated with the GMO industry, Monsanto, one of the most hated corporations in America.

All of this would make for an enviable record for anti-GMO activists, and yet it comes from business and public relations strategists in the industry itself. In most industries, a record like this would lead to a rash of sackings.

Instead, the bunglers have managed to bungle into yet another long-term public relations disaster of their own making. They seem not to have learned anything from their repeated failures.

All this should be pleasing to GMO opponents who must be thinking these continuing debacles couldn't be happening to nicer people.

It's Time for a Land Reform Movement: An Interview with Cooperative Property Specialist Cassandra Ferrera

Originally posted on

Written by Matt Stanard

(Leading up to the Charting a New Course Conference Community Solutions will be featuring the writing of speakers at the conference.)

Cassandra Ferrera is Chief Community Officer at Green Key Real Estate, a sustainability-oriented real estate company in Northern California’s Bay Area. The company is clearly in the real estate business, selling everything from villas to tracts of land, all pretty attractive. If you just briefly glance at Green Key’s web site and property listings, you might just see the company as another hip and green business enterprise. But if you look more closely, you notice Green Key also helps buyers transition into cooperative and semi-cooperative communities.

As you might surmise from her job title, Ferrera facilitates these transitions. In helping people find cooperative and sustainable housing arrangements through land trusts and other collectives, she leads people away from traditional property-owning capitalism into very different models of living. Ferrera and Green Key help people find homes in ecovillages, properties utilizing permaculture and natural systems, and similar communal arrangements.

In a community land trust, a nonprofit organization owns the land and leases it to home and building owners. The ownership and management model is shaped to constitute common ownership of the land – shared space with both private and community buildings, often utilizing communally-owned vehicles and other shared resources. Members may build their own houses or rent living space. Some may run small businesses in accordance with the rules of the trust, which can be fashioned to limit income inequality. Because the community may limit profitability on home sales and business practices, members’ business or home sale decisions aren't motivated primarily by money.

Why support land trusts, cooperatives and ecovillages? These arrangements can save amazing amounts of money, allowing people to live on far fewer resources at a far less cost than “mainstream” society. Communities can choose to live in conditions of near-absolute ecological sustainability, using the same scaling and organizational efficiency that makes these communities so inexpensive. It is no exaggeration to say that in building and facilitating entry into these communities, Cassandra and others like her are building the model communities of a sustainable and cooperative future. If you’re guessing I had a fascinating conversation with her, you’re correct.

Matt Stannard: Most people think of real estate as something individually owned or owned with family, just very closely knit private ownership. Your work points to something different. Can you talk about that?

Cassandra Ferrara: Real estate has certainly evolved to reflect our societal notions of “private property ownership.” Common practice of real estate and home finance is designed with this cultural assumption deeply embedded in the design of how we transact parcels of the Earth. However, we know that water, air, animals and all of the living world do not obey private property lines. Our parcels of the Earth are connected in an un-divisible whole.

MS: How does your practice in real estate transactions reflect this knowledge?

CF: The kind of real estate we practice acknowledges that there is a fundamental re-establishment of this interconnection of the health of our watersheds, our foodsheds and our human communities. More than ever before, it seems that people are ready to band together to collectively steward the Earth. We have huge indoctrinated systems to hack, heal and transform.

We call it cooperative real estate because it points to the fact that we are cooperating amongst ourselves as humans, and with the non-human world that is the ecosystem that we are embedded in. On a practical level, this means we work a lot with groups of people desiring to live together in a deeply committed relationship to their place. This drive toward collective stewardship is taking many different forms.

MS: What specific regulations and laws, or categories or types of regulation and law, stand in the way of your “perfect world” in terms of sustainable, community ownership?

CF: Unfortunately, sustainability and collective stewardship are not as “legal” as they will eventually be. We are going to need to work on our zoning laws to allow for greater, clustered housing density to provide for affordable, modest homes for people who are committed to living in a more sustainable lifestyle.

MS: If you could change a few laws or regulations, what would they be?

CF: If I could, I would change zoning laws to allow for different development capacities for land that was held in a protected community land trust context. It’s important in rural lands to protect that higher housing density from getting in the hands of subdivision developers. So, maybe new zoning for land held in trust is a good solution.

In certain areas, there are laws about how many non-related people can live together. That seems archaic and just plain weird. So we need to update that to reflect the current complexity that many family systems are evolving into. People need to be able to legally find and live with their found family.

MS: What about financing? What needs to change about money?

CF: On a financial level, we need lending institutions to be willing to work with groups of people sharing “ownership” of un-dividable land. Banks generally can’t wrap their heads around the group “buyer.” And that is growing niche in today’s world.

MS: Any other changes?

CF:Composting toilets. We need to legalize alternative and healthier systems for dealing with human waste so that we stop contaminating clean water and provide more economic and ecological, small scale solutions. We need to stop pooping in drinking water; it’s just too precious and it’s unnecessary. This will go a long way to helping with higher density in rural lands if we don’t have to do standard septic systems. It will change our understanding of what the true carrying capacity of our land is.

If I could wave a magic wand, schools would also be educating everyone in a more permacultural way of design with, and as members of, the ecosystems so we could actually establish better feedback loops for how we settle land together.

MS: There’s a predatory attribute to capitalism, where it tends to “consume” or overwhelm cooperativism. Is your intent to disrupt and challenge this? How do you seek to subvert the system?

CF: Well, I do love to disrupt this system by being a truth-seeking, honest and transparent person who works collaboratively in an otherwise competitive and defensive system. So, just clearing a field within real estate in which we say, we work with people who are working together to steward the earth, is in and of itself subversive. Other real estate agents don’t know what to do with those clients, but they are my inspiration.

On a systems level, I am most excited about community land trusts as a way to move land out of the speculative real estate market and into the public trust. This solves so many problems when it comes to establishing permanent affordability for homes that can be cooperatively managed by the people who live there. So we also get more self-governance.

Through the community land trust [movement], we can establish an ethos at the local level of how we hold those lands in trust and re-learn how to care for the land and each other in a way that is not just about “me and mine.” This is positively disruptive on lots of levels. From the personal to the systemic, I sense great promise in it. It is so important that we provide a counterbalance to the continuous land grab that provokes a seemingly endless housing crisis. It’s time for a land reform movement.

What's Right with the Youth Today?

Written by Community Solutions Miller Fellow Scott Montgomery

I have been disheartened lately because of the messages I have been hearing about my generation. As a Millennial, I have been bombarded with messages describing us as cry-bullies, narcissists, lacking grit, and  having a poor work ethic. Millennials are thought of as the unfortunate result of participation trophies and the self-esteem movement. I find myself internalizing these criticisms and wondering if we are all doomed. As Millennials have reached adulthood, this narrative describing them as a self-obsessed, social-media generation has persisted. This ignores the fact that Millennials created the revolution that is social media and have rewritten the rules of marketing, politics, community organizing and countless institutions. In fact, Millennials have disrupted the majority of the institutions they have come into contact with. As Joel Stein wrote in Time magazine:

 "They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one.”

 While the fight to stop climate change has begun already, Millennials and Generation Z will lead the charge, and if people judged these generations by media representations, they could expect some awesome selfies of the apocalypse.

However, on a trip to Hayward Middle School in Springfield, OH, I was blown away by the capabilities of the youth I encountered who turned these stereotypes upside-down. Through the Energy Navigators Program, Community Solutions assists Springfield Promise Neighborhood in administering an after school program at HMS. On this afternoon I had been invited to film a Yellow Springs High School student presenting a working prototype of a Stirling Engine he had built. A Stirling Engine is a motor with a piston pushed by air pressure. He walked me through how a solar concentrator could be attached to make the engine carbon free. The design process was indeed complicated and his first effort did not succeed. The second iteration worked beautifully.

Stirling Engine

Stirling Engine

As the engine whirred, this bright young engineer elaborated on how he perfected his design by watching YouTube videos. The confluence of technology and young inquisitive minds has the potential to be the recipe for reversing climate change. The icing on this proverbial cake was the ease in which this young man communicated what he had created to his middle school audience. In turn, these middle school students were a captive audience and asked insightful questions. 

After listening to the demonstration of the Stirling engine, the middle schoolers moved on to building rocket stoves, a super-efficient heating source for cooking. After this, they showed off a compost pile they had built and explained the composting process. These youth were not only interested in the project, but they were actively creating a more sustainable environment around them. With a solid educational foundation and room to be creative, these students are thriving. As they reach adulthood, Millennials and Generation Z will create a new culture, one that could mitigate climate change.

Rocket Stove

Rocket Stove

Rather than observe and wonder what's wrong with kids these days, we might  ask a different question: What's right with these kids? Different questions lead to different answers. Millennials are sometimes disparagingly referred to as Generation Why. While intended to be a dig, I take pride in this designation. As a group Millennials are asking Why? and when they find the answers inadequate, they take responsibility for finding solutions.

See a clip of the Stirling Engine in action!

We need Regenerative Farming Not Geoengineering

Originally posted on

Written by Charles Eisentstein

Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere.

The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.

The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

But these methods are slow, expensive and impractical in feeding a growing population, right?

Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarter of current emissions.

Estimates of the total potential impact vary. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University argues that desertified and otherwise degraded soils could sequester up to 3bn tons of carbon per year (equal to 11bn tons of CO2, or nearly one third of current emissions). Other experts foresee even greater potential. According to research at the Rodale Institute, if instituted universally, organic regenerative techniques practiced on cultivated land could offset over 40% of global emissions, while practicing them on pasture land could offset 71%.

That adds up to land-based CO2 reduction of over 100% of current emissions – and that doesn’t even include reforestation and afforestation, which could offset another 10-15%, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Of course, none of this is license to perpetuate a fossil fuel infrastructure, since there is an eventual limit to the amount of carbon that soil and biomass can store.

Read More on the Guardian's Website

December 2015 Update

December 2015 update

We are having a moving experience.

After 75 years in offices at 114 East Whiteman Street, Yellow Springs, Ohio, Community Solutions is moving to the campus of Antioch College where we will have more space and be even more conveniently located for our team of Antioch student staffers.

Community Solutions contact information will remain the same, but we anticipate some interruption of office phone and internet services in the last weeks of December.

PO Box 243, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387

Phone: 937-767-2161


Save the date, March 3. SW Ohio friends will be invited to an open house, 4-6 pm. If you are familiar with Yellow Springs you may recognize the location, in the west addition to the Fels Sontag Building, on the second floor above the Children’s Montessori Cooperative, across South College Street from WYSO public radio offices and studios.

Did you note the dates for our 2016 Community Solutions conference, October 21-23, 2016? Lance Hetzler is leading the conference planning.

New film, The 100 Year Plan, under way. Community Solutions Fellow Jim Merkel is traveling to Cuba and Susan Jennings will travel to Vietnam and China for the next few weeks, documenting how communities in those countries maintain a low carbon foot print with high literacy, low birth rate and long life expectancy.

Have you viewed our latest climate action videos? Eric Johnson coordinates our media work and is lead producer of our Climate Solutions Video Channel.

Our latest podcast is in production, featuring Peter Bane, founder of the journal Permaculture Design. Peter describes how restoring carbon and water cycles will counter climate change.

Partnership with the Yellow Springs Resilience Network Continues. A series of six monthly local resilience themes has been planned. November was local foods month. January will feature action toward zero waste; February, building energy conservation; March, local economy; April, renewable energy; May, transportation. This effort is funded by a grant from the YS Community Foundation.

Waste Land movie showing January 17, 1:00-2:30 at The Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs. This free viewing is sponsored by Zero Waste Yellow Springs and Community Solutions with many thanks to The Little Art. For more details go to


Plenty of Oil

Written by Energy Tinkerer, wimbi

A man feels himself in need of some energy, so he goes to the lady who deals in that sort of thing, and orders some oil. To his surprise and delight, she gives him a hundred barrels, and only asks for one barrel back as payment.
“Wow” he says, “what a bargain”, and goes off and spends his oil on lots of fun things. 

But pretty soon he has burned up his 99 barrels of oil, and since he has got into some wasteful habits with it, is hankering for more, so he goes back to the lady, and again, she hands over 100 barrels of oil right off the shelf, but this time she asks for two barrels of it back as payment. The man is slightly surprised but still thinks he as got a great bargain for his 98 barrels of oil, and rushes off to the same games as before. 

But the next time he goes for oil, he is again surprised to find that this time the lady asks for 4 barrels in return, still a bargain, and he goes back to his oil-lubricated partying. 

The next trip to the lady, and this time its 8 barrels, then 16, still a great buy, but getting a bit painful, since by now he has got into wasting it real fast. And the next time, she wants 32 back, leaving him with only 68 to feed his addict habits- starting to really hurt. And the next, when she asks for 64 barrels back out of the 100 she gives him, he starts to get seriously worried, but what can he do, he’s just gotta have that oil. 

Then things get really bad, for his next fix, the lady offers him his 100 barrels same as always, but then, of all things, demands 128 barrels back as payment! Nonsense! The man is outraged- he can’t pay that price of course, since he hasn’t saved a drop of all the oil he has bought, he had blown it straight up into the stratosphere as quickly as he got it. 

“Hey, what kinda fool do you think I am, nobody would pay more oil than what they get when they get it!” 

The lady smiles pleasantly “You ask what kind of fool are you? A really big one, looks to me.”

The man is doubly outraged. She has added insult to injury. Unbearable! 

“Look here, you told me you had plenty of oil, and now you tell me it’s gonna cost me more than it’s worth. This is crazy, you have let me fall into a trap! But I gotta have that energy. I can’t live without it. What am I gonna do?” 

“Sure, I have plenty of oil,” Replies Mother Nature in a cheerful tone, “but of course you have to pay the price for it, which has got to go up as you use up the easy stuff and have to start digging deeper. Ever try heavy plumbing jobs on a heaving boat in a 40 below blizzard while being bulldozed by an iceberg? You are in a trap, alright, but you built it, and then jumped into it, I didn’t push you” “And” she adds as an afterthought, “you might have thought a little about how to use that oil when you had it, like, for example, finding some other source of energy before it got too expensive”, she says, squinting into the sunlight as a sort of a hint. 

The man, seeing no way out, falls down in a tooth gnashing, dirt-tearing, hopeless addict fit. 

Mother Nature, ignoring the silliness, goes off about her business, carefree as ever. 

Arthur Morgan And A Century Of Sustainability

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Bob Brecha

During this week’s sustainability commentary, University of Dayton professor Bob Brecha ties the work of Arthur Morgan and the Miami Conservancy District to our modern concept of sustainability.

It’s really hard to be in the Miami Valley area for very long without hearing about the Great Flood of 1913.   Cold spring days in March and torrential rains – about 10 inches over three days - resulted in devastating damage to communities all along the Great Miami River.  In today’s dollars, the destruction was around two billion dollars.   And that was not the first flood Dayton had experienced.  In fact, disaster struck every twenty years or so over the previous century of the city’s existence. But as Dayton continued to grow, the situation was clearly intolerable.

After the flood, a group of civic leaders knew that something had to be done. They turned to an engineer named Arthur Morgan to lead the effort to find a solution.  Often, and especially a century ago, engineers tended to address a complex and large-scale problem by quickly building big things and moving lots of earth, as well as people.  

But Morgan had a somewhat different approach to the task at hand. Often we think of rivers in isolation from their surroundings.  But in reality, the waters flow to other rivers and eventually to lakes and oceans. Morgan knew he would have to deal with not just the Great Miami River as it flowed through the City of Dayton, but the entire watershed, including the Mad River, the Stillwater, Wolf Creek and Twin Creek.

First, he worked to understand the whole river and its watershed as a system – realizing along the way the watershed did not care about political jurisdictions.  Second, he wanted to resolve the flooding danger once and for all. He spent a lot of time with his engineers studying long historical records of flood recurrences in Europe.  Based on that research, he concluded that to be safe from any foreseeable flood, Dayton would need a system to handle an event about 40% greater than the 1913 event.  One option might have been simply to build very high levees along the river, channeling any conceivable amount of water through the city – and downriver to the next town in the water’s path.  Instead, he came up with the idea of dry dams, which act passively to allow water to flow in normal, or less-threatening conditions, but which retain water behind the dams under infrequent high-water events. Although some people had to be displaced as land was taken over for these retention areas, we gained recreation areas – and avoided repeated disasters. Out of this thinking came the Miami Conservancy District, celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year.  Not many realize that MCD is funded to protect the Dayton region from flooding by its own authority that is separate from political boundaries.

I think that one of the most interesting parts of Morgan’s project is how he dealt with the workers on the construction sites. He knew what kind of trouble male workers could get up to if they are dumped on a site for months or years at a time. He himself was a teetotaler who didn’t smoke or gamble. He couldn’t bear the thought of creating the conditions for men to lose their moral bearings.  So, instead of just prohibiting undesirable behavior, Morgan decided there should be a town at each of the five construction sites with comfortable housing, modern conveniences, schools and stores – everything that would make life attractive for families.

I consider Arthur Morgan’s efforts as being in many ways a model of how we can think about constructing resilient, sustainable systems.  Learning from history and experience, thinking about future generations, respecting nature, and taking the needs of people seriously – that’s not a bad starting point.

If Everyone Lived in an ‘Ecovillage’, the Earth Would Still Be in Trouble

Originally posted on

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Samuel Alexander

We are used to hearing that if everyone lived in the same way as North Americans or Australians, we would need four or five planet Earths to sustain us.

This sort of analysis is known as the “ecological footprint” and shows that even the so-called “green” western European nations, with their more progressive approaches to renewable energy, energy efficiency and public transport, would require more than three planets.

How can we live within the means of our planet? When we delve seriously into this question it becomes clear that almost all environmental literature grossly underestimates what is needed for our civilisation to become sustainable.

Only the brave should read on.

The ‘ecological footprint’ analysis

In order to explore the question of what “one planet living” would look like, let us turn to what is arguably the world’s most prominent metric for environmental accounting – the ecological footprint analysis. This was developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, then at the University of British Columbia, and is now institutionalised by the scientific body, The Global Footprint Network, of which Wackernagel is president.

This method of environmental accounting attempts to measure the amount of productive land and water a given population has available to it, and then evaluates the demands that population makes upon those ecosystems. A sustainable society is one that operates within the carrying capacity of its dependent ecosystems.

While this form of accounting is not without its critics – it is certainly not an exact science – the worrying thing is that many of its critics actually claim that it underestimates humanity’s environmental impact. Even Wackernagel, the concept’s co-originator, is convinced the numbers are underestimates.

According to the most recent data from the Global Footprint Network, humanity as a whole is currently in ecological overshoot, demanding one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. As the global population continues its trend toward 11 billion people, and while the growth fetishcontinues to shape the global economy, the extent of overshoot is only going to increase.

Every year this worsening state of ecological overshoot persists, the biophysical foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.

The footprint of an ecovillage

As I have noted, the basic contours of environmental degradation are relatively well known. What is far less widely known, however, is that even the world’s most successful and long-lasting ecovillages have yet to attain a “fair share” ecological footprint.

Take the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, for example, probably the most famous ecovillage in the world. An ecovillage can be broadly understood as an “intentional community” that forms with the explicit aim of living more lightly on the planet. Among other things, the Findhorn community has adopted an almost exclusively vegetarian diet, produces renewable energy and makes many of their houses out of mud or reclaimed materials.

Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland.  Irenicrhonda/Flickr ,  CC BY-NC-ND

Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland. Irenicrhonda/FlickrCC BY-NC-ND

An ecological footprint analysis was undertaken of this community. It was discovered that even the committed efforts of this ecovillage still left the Findhorn community consuming resources and emitting waste far in excess of what could be sustained if everyone lived in this way. (Part of the problem is that the community tends to fly as often as the ordinary Westerner, increasing their otherwise small footprint.)

Put otherwise, based on my calculations, if the whole world came to look like one of our most successful ecovillages, we would still need one and a half planet’s worth of Earth’s biocapacity. Dwell on that for a moment.

I do not share this conclusion to provoke despair, although I admit that it conveys the magnitude of our ecological predicament with disarming clarity. Nor do I share this to criticise the noble and necessary efforts of the ecovillage movement, which clearly is doing far more than most to push the frontiers of environmental practice.

Rather, I share this in the hope of shaking the environmental movement, and the broader public, awake. With our eyes open, let us begin by acknowledging that tinkering around the edges of consumer capitalism is utterly inadequate.

In a full world of seven billion people and counting, a “fair share” ecological footprint means reducing our impacts to a small fraction of what they are today. Such fundamental change to our ways of living is incompatible with a growth-oriented civilisation.

Some people may find this this position too “radical” to digest, but I would argue that this position is merely shaped by an honest review of the evidence.

What would ‘one planet’ living look like?

Even after five or six decades of the modern environmental movement, it seems we still do not have an example of how to thrive within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet.

Nevertheless, just as the basic problems can be sufficiently well understood, the nature of an appropriate response is also sufficiently clear, even if the truth is sometimes confronting.

We must swiftly transition to systems of renewable energy, recognising that the feasibility and affordability of this transition will demand that we consume significantly less energy than we have become accustomed to in the developed nations. Less energy means less producing and consuming.

We must grow our food organically and locally, and eat considerably less (or no) meat. We must ride our bikes more and fly less, mend our clothes, share resources, radically reduce our waste streams and creatively “retrofit the suburbs” to turn our homes and communities into places of sustainable production, not unsustainable consumption. In doing so, we must challenge ourselves to journey beyond the ecovillage movement and explore an even deeper green shade of sustainability.

Among other things, this means living lives of frugality, moderation and material sufficiency. Unpopular though it is to say, we must also have fewer children, or else our species will grow itself into a catastrophe.

But personal action is not enough. We must restructure our societies to support and promote these “simpler” ways of living. Appropriate technology must also assist us on the transition to one planet living. Some argue that technology will allow us to continue living in the same way while also greatly reducing our footprint.

However, the extent of “dematerialisation” required to make our ways of living sustainable is simply too great. As well as improving efficiency, we also need to live more simply in a material sense, and re-imagine the good life beyond consumer culture.

First and foremost, what is needed for one planet living is for the richest nations, including Australia, to initiate a “degrowth” process of planned economic contraction.

I do not claim that this is likely or that I have a detailed blueprint for how it should transpire. I only claim that, based on the ecological footprint analysis, degrowth is the most logical framework for understanding the radical implications of sustainability.

Can the descent from consumerism and growth be prosperous? Can we turn our overlapping crises into opportunities?

These are the defining questions of our time.

Miller Fellows at Community Solutions

Introducing our Miller Fellows, Lucas Bautista and Rose Hardesty! The Miller Fellowship Program is a program of the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, funded by the Nolan J. and Richard D. Miller Endowment Fund.  Nolan Miller (d. 2006) was Associate Editor of The Antioch Review, a noted writing teacher and a beloved Antioch College professor.  His brother, Richard (d. 2009), was a highly regarded artist working in many different media.  The purpose of the fund is to support fellowships for Antioch College students who engage in service for the benefit of the Yellow Springs community. As part of Antioch’s co-op program, instituted by Arthur Morgan during his time as college president, students are required to spend one quarter each year in a full-time work setting. Miller Fellows work part-time for up to 10 hours per week during the three study quarters, and full-time during the work quarter.

Lucas Bautista is a first year student from Chicago, IL. He took a gap year before coming to Antioch College. During that year he spent three months in Uganda as a substitute teacher, three months working in a cafe in Mexico and a month on a sustainable farm in West Virginia. He works with Community Solutions doing technical support as well as translation and video editing.


Rose Hardesty grew up near San Francisco, CA. She has previous work experience in office and childcare settings, and has volunteered in alternative pre- and K-12 schools, a restorative outreach program for incarcerated youth, and on a sustainable urban farm. Community Solutions represents an intersection of her interests in environmental conservation and the creation of caring and just human systems. She is planning to pursue a self-designed major in Ecopsychology.