The Soil Solution: 10 Keys

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Originally posted by

Written by Graeme Sait

Soil health directly affects plant, animal and human health. It also impacts topsoil erosion, water management and ocean pollution. Most importantly, it is now recognized that climate change is directly related to soil mismanagement. I believe a global soil health initiative can help save our planet.

The Top Five Threats

While in the UK, I met with a professor who shared some deeply concerning findings. He informed me that a recent survey of leading British scientists revealed that as many as one in five of the best thinkers in the country believe that we will be extinct as a species by the end of this century, or perhaps much earlier. This information should serve to spur meaningful action from every one of us. There are five core threats that need to be urgently addressed, and they all relate back to the soil.

Loss of Topsoil

At the current rate of topsoil loss, we have just 60 years before the thin veil that sustains us is no more. This is a huge issue because we will hit the wall way before this six-decade deadline. What is driving this dramatic loss? Basically, it comes down to the massive decline in organic matter following the industrial, extractive experiment in agriculture. We have now lost more than two-thirds of our humus. Humus is the soil glue that determines whether rivers run brown following rainstorms or if the winds tear dust from the fragile upper layers of our food-producing soils. Nature teaches us that you must give to receive. However, this is not a lesson we have applied to our farmland. This universal law is at work in photosynthesis, the single most important process in nature. The plant pumps one-third of the sugars it produces from photosynthesis back into the soil to feed the microbes, which in turn fix nitrogen, deliver minerals and protect against plant and soil pests.


Solomon Gamboa Leads Indigenous Landscapes Discussion

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We were extremely pleased to host Solomon Gamboa of Cincinnati-based Indigenous Landscapes on May 14 at Agraria, where he gave a wonderful presentation for Community Solutions staff and a few friends. Solomon is most invested in building an indigenous agriculture movement to help mitigate habitat loss and habitat fragmentation caused by traditional agriculture. He specializes in deeply comprehending vegetation-soil relationships, native prairie construction, pollinator gardens, reforestation and forest associations. At Agraria, he focused on edible indigenous plants, making our mouths water as he described all the amazing food that grows here already and could be cultivated, all while building soil and enhancing our habitat!

As Solomon sees it, almost all agricultural land right now is “ecological dead space,” with 74% of U.S. topsoil degraded, and erosion occurring at a rate 10 times faster than replenishment. In order to make lasting change, Solomon believes that our perception of what food-producing land looks like will have to alter. “We have to make the areas eco-inclusive to the whole food web,” he said, “so they can take advantage of co-evolution with insects. Ecosystem cooperation makes ecosystems work better together, insects balanced with plants.”

In southwestern Ohio and southeastern Indiana, oak and hickory trees provide essential support for a biodiverse ecosystem, and also produce nuts which can harvested for food. American Persimmon and wild plums are both comparable to potatoes in calorie density, with the persimmon actually supplying 25% more density. Paw paws supply more calories than any cultivated fruit. In all, Solomon mentioned at least 24 different species of native plants—everything from mulberries to stinging nettle—that can thrive in this area, help localize the food supply, and restore the ecosystem by building soil and nourishing indigenous fauna! He identified a number of these plants that are already growing on Agraria.

Community Solutions looks forward to seeing Solomon’s vision take shape. We will have a front-row seat because he has recently agreed to rent 2.5 acres of Agraria farmland in the fall. As his program begins to ramp up, check back for events involving Solomon’s food—indigenous food festivals are one of his goals, and we are hoping to host some of them right here.


490,000 Pounds of Toxic Pesticides Sprayed on National Wildlife Refuges

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Originally posted on

Written by the Center for Biological Diversity

America's national wildlife refuges are being doused with hundreds of thousands of pounds of dangerous agricultural pesticides every year, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center for Biological Diversity report, No Refuge, reveals that an estimated 490,000 pounds of pesticides were dumped on commodity crops like corn, soybeans and sorghum grown in national wildlife refuges in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available. The analysis was conducted with records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity under the Freedom of Information Act.


Igniting a Revolution in the Way Humanity Feeds Itself

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Originally posted on

Written by Michael Brownlee

I’m writing here to invite you to the adventure of a lifetime, the challenge of a generation. You are greatly needed now.

Some background is probably in order, but at the moment I’ll just say that I’m a recruiter and trainer for those who are mobilizing to lead the local food revolution in their communities and bioregions. This may be the most important and most urgent cause of our time.

More broadly, I support evolutionary catalysts, those who are consciously working to birth a new civilization out of the ashes of the old one. The local food revolution is an essential part of that larger effort.

You’re probably already somewhat familiar with the local food movement. Well, sadly, I can report that it’s essentially stalled. Like many other movements these days, it appears to be failing in its mission — partly because its vision has never been clearly articulated.


Third Grade Students Study Agraria Soil

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How much did you learn about soil as an elementary school student? It is a neglected topic for many, despite the importance of soil as the incubator of all land life on earth and the nurturer of nearly all our food. The Mills Lawn School third grade students of Margaret Morgan and Megan Bennett got some hands-on education in soil this spring, honing their scientific skills and learning about the soil health in their community. As part of their spring project on soil, these students—dubbed “the third-grade pedologists (soil scientists)” by Ms. Morgan—visited Agraria four times, creating and monitoring their test sites for an experiment in assessing soil health through repeated observation.

The third-grade pedologists buried white cotton underwear and Berlese funnels—small containers used to catch insects—and returned each week to gather data. The underwear’s rate of decomposition is a widely-used rough indicator of microbial activity in soil. Working in teams of four, the students identified the insects and tallied their numbers on data sheets. “The number of decomposers we see can tell us how good our soil is for growing things,” explained pedologist Lily-Claire. Third graders also tested the soil for moisture level by feeling its texture.

Ms. Morgan brought her students to Agraria because the facility is “a real farm, and part of our community. This project is about the process, and learning how to work together. Where are our tools? What’s our next step? Our results are imperfect, but they give us some idea of the soil health at Agraria.” The third-grade pedologists shared their results with Community Solutions—the most eye-catching being the lack of a distinct layer of topsoil, fewer-than-expected decomposers, and less underwear decomposition than predicted.

Community Solutions is hoping that future testing, through an expanding partnership with Yellow Springs Schools and nearby colleges and universities, will show improving soil health at Agraria. Some recommendations of the third-grade pedologists, including crop rotations and composting, are already being implemented. As for the pedologists themselves, Ms. Morgan hopes they will learn to “take soil health seriously, and pass that on to their friends and family.” One of her students, Olivia, has enjoyed “the whole experience. It’s been fun doing research on the soil.” 

Opposition To GMOs Is Neither Unscientific Nor Immoral

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Originally posted on

Written by 2017 Economics of Happiness Conference Speaker Charles Eisenstein

Is the engineering of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) a dangerous technology posing grave risks to human and ecological health? Or are GMOs a potent new tool in the onward march of modern agricultural technology in its race to feed the world?

In a recent opinion piece – Avoiding GMOs Isn’t Just Anti-science, It’s Immoral – Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers an impassioned plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture. Daniels’ argument runs as follows: The health and ecological safety of GMOs is unquestionable “settled science.” Therefore, it is immoral to deny developing countries the agricultural technology they need to boost food production and feed their growing populations. It seems an open-and-shut case: the self-indulgent anti-GMO fad among rich consumers threatens the less fortunate with starvation. As Daniels says, it is immoral for them to “inflict their superstitions on the poor and hungry”.

But let’s look at some of the assumptions that this argument takes for granted: (1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and (2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture in general allow higher yields than more traditional forms of agriculture.


Farms Under Threat: Keep America Bountiful


Originally posted on

Written by American Farmland Trust

The United States is blessed with an extraordinary agricultural landscape which supports a regionally diverse food and farming system, state and local economies and the nation’s balance of trade. 

Our farmland and ranchland provide environmental amenities including wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and fire suppression. They are a magnet for tourism and offer recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, riding and hiking. This land is our legacy as we look to the past and plan for the future.


Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People

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Originally posted on Yale E360

Written by Jim Robbins

While he was interviewing Inuit elders in Alaska to find out more about their knowledge of beluga whales and how the mammals might respond to the changing Arctic, researcher Henry Huntington lost track of the conversation as the hunters suddenly switched from the subject of belugas to beavers.

It turned out though, that the hunters were still really talking about whales. There had been an increase in beaver populations, they explained, which had reduced spawning habitat for salmon and other fish, which meant less prey for the belugas and so fewer whales.

“It was a more holistic view of the ecosystem,” said Huntington. And an important tip for whale researchers. “It would be pretty rare for someone studying belugas to be thinking about freshwater ecology.”


The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health


Originally posted on

Written by Paul Reed Hepperly, David Douds, and Mike Amaranthus

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.


Looking to the Land to Mitigate Climate Change

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Originally posted on

Written by Marina Schauffler

Recent reports that the planet had its hottest four years on record highlight the need for accelerated work to keep global warming below critical tipping points. While nations shift to carbon-neutral economies, Earth’s forests, grasslands, wetlands and soils can help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. “Land trust work is more vital than ever,” says Kelly Watkinson, Land and Climate Program manager at the Land Trust Alliance, “because improved conservation, restoration and land management actions enhance the capacity of natural systems to absorb and hold carbon.”

Two recent studies affirm the potential of natural ecosystems to scale back atmospheric CO2. New research published in (link is external)Nature(link is external) this January cites the “unexpectedly large impact” that forest management and grazing has on the planet and atmospheric carbon. “We have forgotten half of the story up to now,” lead study author Karl-Heinz Erb told The Washington Post.


Pruitt Announces 'Secret Science' Rule Blocking Use of Crucial Health Research

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Originally posted on

Written by Sabrina Shankman

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new regulation on Tuesday to restrict the types of scientific evidence that can be used in writing EPA rules. Scientists and health organizations say the move could rule out the use of major health studies that support clean air and water regulations and that promised the participants confidentiality.

Scott Pruitt's proposal would only allow the EPA to use studies where the underlying data is made public. Internal documents show how the rule is the culmination of a years-long effort led by Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Science Committee, and other industry-aligned politicians and political appointees.

Critics of the policy change say any claims that it's being done in the name of transparency are red herrings.


'Win for Science and Democracy' as Court Rules California Can List Glyphosate as Probable Carcinogen



Originally posted on

In a development heralded as "a win for science and democracy" and for "all Californians," an appeals court on Thursday backed the state's listing of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, as a probable carcinogen.

"This is a huge win for all Californians—and a huge loss for Monsanto—as it upholds our right to protect ourselves and our environment from unnecessary and unwanted exposure to the dangerous chemical, glyphosate," said Adam Keats, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

Following the the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2015 listing of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced that, in adherence with its Proposition 65, it planned on listing glyphosate as a chemical known to the state to cause cancer, citing the IARC research. That listing would require warning labels on packages.

Monsanto promptly sued the state over the move, and CFS intervened in the case to defend the listing and accused the agribusiness giant of "trying to keep the public in the dark about potential hazards from their products." Other labor rights and environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also intervened to support the listing.

Though Monsanto had argued that basing the designation on the IARC's conclusions was improper because the research body is a foreign entity, California's 5th District Court of Appeal rebuffed that argument.

The ruling says that "there is no question... that the state has authority to delegate legislative authority under long-settled principles consistent with republican forms of government." It goes on to say that the "appellants provide us with no reason or analysis why the United States' guarantee to states that they shall enjoy a republican form of government should provide appellants with an individual right to challenge a state's authority to enact its own laws."

Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with NRDC, also applauded the court's affirmation, calling it "a win for science and democracy."

"Monsanto doesn't get to tell California how to protect its people from dangerous chemicals or how to run the Prop 65 list," she said. "The ruling clearly backs the voters' choice to rely on expert scientific bodies to add dangerous chemicals to its list."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Gratitude For Donated Seeds and Trees

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We are feeling full of gratitude and potential today, after receiving some beautiful living gifts from our partners at the Glen Helen Ecology Institute and Central State University last week. One of our first priorities at Agraria is removing invasive honeysuckle and replacing it with plants that will increase the biodiversity and support for the local food web. We’re off to a great start with the removal—and please watch our website, newsletter, and social media for more opportunities to get involved—so now we are ready to begin the replacement. These donations--and your contribution--will help the process take off!

Dr. Marcus Nagle, Assistant Professor of Agriculture, Research and Development at Central State, supplied three lovely northern pecan seedlings. Future human and animal denizens of Agraria will benefit from their delicious bounty. From Glen Helen, we received burr oak, bitternut hickory, butternut hickory, and shagbark hickory seeds. All these trees are native to woodlands in Ohio, and several provide great food sources for humans and/or animals. In addition, the shagbark hickory provides critical bat habitat. For now, we will grow these seeds into seedlings in pots while we develop a planting plan. Soon enough, thanks to our terrific partners, there will be new and flourishing tree growth at Agraria!

Can Dirt Save the Earth?

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Originally posted on

Written by Moises Velasquez-Manoff

Nearly all the carbon that enters the biosphere is captured during photosynthesis, and as it moves through life’s web, every organism takes a cut for its own energy needs, releasing carbon dioxide as exhaust. This circular voyage is the short-term carbon cycle. Carbon farming seeks to interfere with this cycle, slowing the release of carbon back into the atmosphere. The practice is often conceptualized and discussed in terms of storing carbon, but really the idea is to change the flow of carbon so that, for a time at least, the carbon leaving a given ecosystem is less than the carbon entering it.

Dozens of land-management practices are thought to achieve this feat. Planting or restoring forests, for one: Trees lock up carbon in woody material. Another is adding biochar, a charcoal made from heated organic material, directly to soil. Or restoring certain wetlands that have an immense capacity to hold carbon. (Coal beds are the fossilized remains of ancient marshes and peatlands.)

More than one-third of earth’s ice-free surface is devoted to agriculture, meaning that much of it is already managed intensively. Carbon farming’s fundamental conceit is that if we change how we treat this land, we could turn huge areas of the earth’s surface into a carbon sponge. Instead of relying solely on technology to remove greenhouse gases from the air, we could harness an ancient and natural process, photosynthesis, to pump carbon into what’s called the pedosphere, the thin skin of living soil at the earth’s surface. If adopted widely enough, such practices could, in theory, begin to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, nudging us toward a less perilous climate trajectory than our current one.


Two Weeks Until Walter Jehne & Peter Bane Workshop

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This 2-day intensive seminar with Australian microbiologist and climate scientist Walter Jehne and permaculture expert Peter Bane will bring our group together May 4th and 5th in a deep exploration and discussion of how we can meet many of our most important goals with soil biology–by restoring the living, intelligent, water-holding, cooling, soil carbon sponge that used to cover most of the land around us. Walter Jehne–founder of Healthy Soils Australia, and one of the early researchers on glomalin, myccorhizal fungi, and root ecology– will be the main presenter each day.  He’ll be joined by Peter Bane, President of the Permaculture Institute of North America.

The seminar will be held on Agraria, Community Solutions Center for Regenerative Agriculture, in Yellow Springs, OH. Registration is now open, and only 6 tickets remain, so reserve your place soon!  

For more information and to register, visit Our Registration Page.

We're very grateful to our co-sponsors for the Soil Carbon Sponge Workshop, the Great Rivers and Lakes Permaculture Institute and the Permaculture Institute of North America. For more about Community Solutions or this workshop, visit our website or call 937-767-2826.

To see other places Walter Jehne is presenting during The Soil Carbon Sponge tour, see the Soil Carbon Coalition's tour page.

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When Nature Says 'Enough!': The River That Appeared Overnight in Argentina

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Originally posted on

Written by Uki Goni

After a night of heavy rainfall, Ana Risatti woke to an ominous roar outside her home. Mistaking the noise for a continuation of the night’s downpour, she stepped outside to look.

“I nearly fainted when I saw what it really was,” said Risatti, 71. Instead of falling from the sky, the water she heard was rushing down a deep gully it had carved overnight just beyond the wire fence around her home.

The sudden appearance of a network of new rivers in Argentina’s central province of San Luis has puzzled scientists, worried environmentalists and disheartened farmers. It has also raised urgent questions over the environmental cost of Argentina’s dependence on soya beans, its main export crop.


Trump’s Border Wall Would Condemn US Jaguars to Extinction


Originally posted on

Written by Stephen Leahy

The biggest single threat to reestablishing a US jaguar population is Trump’s border wall, wildlife advocates say. In recent years, two, or possibly three lonely males have been documented in the desert mountains southeast of Tucson, Arizona. The multi-billion dollar border wall envisioned by President Trump would cut them off from the females in a population of 125 to 150 jaguars, some 80 miles south in the northern Sonora region of Mexico.

“A viable jaguar population could be reestablished in the US, but not if the wall is built,” said Howard Quigley, a jaguar expert at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation nonprofit.


Wonderful Help For a Beautiful Space

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The staff of Community Solutions shared an inspiring work day with our partners, the Yellow Springs Children's Montessori Cooperative (YSCMC), on Monday, April 9. Parents and staff of the Montessori school joined with our staff and community members in what turned out to be a formidable crew. Our object—to clear a huge volume of invasive honeysuckle and dead ash trees from a 6,000 square-foot piece of Agraria chosen to host YSCMC’s summer program for children aged 3-6, beginning in June. We didn’t know what the work day turnout might be, given that we had to reschedule the event three times for the especially capricious Ohio spring weather.

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It was around 40 and had snowed all morning, though it melted before our scheduled start at 3pm. The work began, and the parents and other volunteers showed up in terrific numbers—we wound up with a crew of around 20 amazing brush haulers! We had not anticipated that the whole area could be cleared in one afternoon, but the wood seemed to fly off the ground as the crew felt a collective energy and excitement. Agraria Property Manager Gabby Amrhein wielded a precise chainsaw wherever necessary. Incredibly, before the day was done, every branch and log had been carted or carried off! The sense of gratitude and accomplishment was palpable. For more photos, see our online gallery.

This beautiful area is now ready to be cleared of stumps, carpeted with wood chips, and outfitted with work and play equipment for visiting children. These next steps will require continued volunteer help and community funding. We welcome your support—you can watch our events calendar or subscribe to our newsletter for upcoming volunteer days, and support Community Solutions financially by donating. To find out more about YSCMC, email or call (937) 769-5084.

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Sustainability is not enough: we need regenerative cultures

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Originally posted on

Written by Daniel C. Wahl

Sustainability alone is not an adequate goal. The word sustainability itself is inadequate, as it does not tell us what we are actually trying to sustain. In 2005, after spending two years working on my doctoral thesis on design for sustainability, I began to realize that what we are actually trying to sustain is the underlying pattern of health, resilience and adaptability that maintain this planet in a condition where life as a whole can flourish. Design for sustainability is, ultimately, design for human and planetary health (Wahl, 2006b).

A regenerative human culture is healthy, resilient and adaptable; it cares for the planet and it cares for life in the awareness that this is the most effective way to create a thriving future for all of humanity. The concept of resilience is closely related to health, as it describes the ability to recover basic vital functions and bounce back from any kind of temporary breakdown or crisis. When we aim for sustainability from a systemic perspective, we are trying to sustain the pattern that connects and strengthens the whole system. Sustainability is first and foremost about systemic health and resilience at different scales, from local, to regional and global.


Regenerative Agriculture Works on Large Farms!

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Biological Farming: Customizing Methods for Large-Scale Operations

Originally posted on

Written by David Yarrow

Biological farming is not just limited to small plots. Take the story of one Missouri farmer, who through holistic approaches to farming, managed to improve his yields and the size of corn on the stalk.

At the end of 2015, I talked to Missouri boot-heel farmer David “JR” Bollinger about his experiences growing corn, soybeans and milo using carbon-smart farming principles and practices. In his first year fully committed to biological agriculture, Bollinger cut conventional fertilizers by 50 percent and applied blends of biocarbons, minerals and microbes. Soils, plants and yields are all showing positive results.