‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss

The emerald anole, one of the main insect eaters in the Luquillo forest of Puerto Rico.

The emerald anole, one of the main insect eaters in the Luquillo forest of Puerto Rico.

Originally posted on washingtonpost.com

Written by Ben Guarino

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

Read more…

Agraria Awarded Ohio Environmental Education Grant

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We are thrilled to announce that we have been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund for 2019! After a competitive statewide application process, grant recipients are chosen by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, with the help of the fund’s Advisory Council. This grant will help further develop educational programming at Agraria.

This grant award is the result of a collaborative effort between Community Solutions, Yellow Springs Schools, the Springfield City School District, Xenia Community Schools, The Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District, Central State University, and the Yellow Springs Children's Montessori Cooperative. It will also synergize with our recent grant awards from the Dayton Foundation for education and building site preparation, totaling $52,500. Many thanks to all who contributed their expertise and support!

The educational project, called “Soils for Life—Southwestern Ohio,” will bring teachers from Yellow Springs, Xenia, Springfield, and other area schools to Agraria for training in soil science and biodiversity curricula. It will also fund place-based, experiential education for students from these schools during field days at Agraria. For those unable to visit, Community Solutions will supply buckets of materials and supplies to help teachers conduct lessons on their school grounds.

Grant activities start in January 2019. Watch this blog, our electronic newsletter, and our social media accounts for more announcements as we roll out this ambitious program! For more information, please call 937-767-2161 or email daviddiamond@communitysolution.org.

Permaculture Design Course - Week 1

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Written by Sarah Straley and Ryan Hottle

The week of Oct. 1-6, 2018, was gorgeous. Spikes of goldenrod made their final saffron flourish at the edges of Agraria’s forests and fields as the honey bees frantically gathered their last stores of pollen. Abnormally warm air near the ground teased us with the sweet decay of Osage oranges and aster flowers, while the cold nights and crispy leaves of fall sailed overhead like clouds. A group of five students of different ages and backgrounds gathered to study permaculture, learn the contours of the land with its varied assemblies of plants and animals, and envision a world of abundant communities centered in self-reliance. 

The bio-designers, bringing their own rich decades of experience, met to sharpen minds and earthcare skills with a two-week, intensive Permaculture Design Course (PDC) taught by world-renowned permaculture teacher, Peter Bane. The lead PDC instructor at Agraria and a former board member of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions (AMICS), Agraria's parent, Peter is well known for his decades of teaching to thousands of students. He has worked in tropical and temperate regions throughout the Americas, with over 30 years of experience as a small farmer, author, lecturer, publisher, and consultant.

The word “permaculture” is credited to J. Russell Smith, author of the notable and still highly relevant 1929 book, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. The subtitle's last two words, when combined, give us the name for this ecological design science. The core concepts in Smith’s book (food from trees, stable cultivation of the land), and in the design course (nature as teacher; human systems mimic natural ones) are centered around the understanding that integrating people, structures, plants (especially perennials) and animals in well-planned designs can regenerate the foundations of society. Permaculture as a global movement began in Australia during the mid-1970s as a collaboration between its founders, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. These two men would pen some of the movement's foundational texts and go on to teach generations of permaculture designers.  Those hundreds of thousands of students strive to cultivate healthy food production, safe housing, clean water, and just societies in a hundred countries, everywhere with an awareness of Earth’s finite resources and its biological limits.

Peter shared, “This year's design class is small, but the students are bringing a lot of heart and intelligence to the work. The questioning and the insights are very rich.” He believes the hands-on, learning projects to manage water and soil fertility have already made a visible impact at Agraria, and believes the students’ final design projects will likely be even more impactful once they are fully implemented.

One of the PDC students sees permaculture design as conceiving and growing a place—possibly a garden farm, an edible forest, or a whole landscape – that puts earth first and nestles human nature within it. As the bankruptcy of “cheaper, better, faster” mindset becomes more apparent, a mandate to seek economically viable alternatives develops a certain urgency. The flourishing natural world human beings wish for can be arrived at by design--not disaster.

The course, which is taught around the world, begins with a strong foundation in ethics and taking responsibility for Earth, People, and the Future of Life. Understanding that our extractive economy has damaged the planet in catastrophic ways, permaculture designers are taking a fresh look at what resources the planet is losing, at what scope and how fast. We consider how the dominance of one over the other has harmed the well-being of both people and planet.  The aim of permaculture is to have lots of fruit and lots of friends as communities work together to create regenerative food systems, agroforests, and resilient, democratic societies. Some key strategies that can guide this planetary design are: the use of recombinant ecologies, modeling the best of nature, pushing succession, gardening, establishing systems using our historic opportunity of cheap fossil energy, domestic self-reliance, and an ethic of cooperation.

The first week’s 40+ hours of teaching provide a strong foundation for new designers to understand forest ecologies, design patterns, aquaculture, energy, climate and response to catastrophe—all of which leads the students to their final work on a permaculture design project at Agraria. For this 2018 class, two projects were assigned to two teams: one of these is to design a sustainable campground for program visitors that augments Agraria's educational mission; the other, to design a native food and medicine agroforest in a buffer zone between riparian conservation land and productive micro-farms. These projects will be further developed and presented during the second week of the course, set for late October. We will report on those events in a subsequent blog post. Please stay tuned to learn about the students’ final designs, and more importantly, Agraria’s next offering of this transformative Permaculture Design Course in 2019.

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What Will it Take to Avert Collapse?

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Originally posted on Resilience.org

Written by Richard HeinbergDavid Fridley

A lot of people are asking the question these days—including serious folks who work full-time on climate and energy policy. How can the world’s nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to forestall climate catastrophe, without undermining either the global economy (which is still 85 percent dependent on fossil fuels) or the hopes of billions of people in poorer countries to raise their economic prospects through “development”—which historically has depended on increasing per capita energy usage?

The United Nations has passed this vexing question along to the global climate science community as a formal request to write a Special Report providing “feasible” pathways to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius while supporting economic growth and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The science community has responded by publishing papers featuring scenarios to fit those specifications. Until recently, most scenarios have relied on negative emissions technologies, including CCS (capturing carbon from fossil-fueled power plants, then sequestering it), or BECCS (growing biomass crops, burning them for power, then recapturing the carbon and storing it). Critics have savaged these plans as being too expensive and too environmentally risky….

Read more here…

The Agraria Kittens

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This past winter, we were delighted to add a cat to the Agraria family. We didn’t even have to schedule interviews for the position—“Cloudy” just showed up in the barn one day, and it was shortly thereafter that we noticed she was pregnant.

Cloudy has proved herself as an excellent farm cat, both friendly and a good hunter. Now we have four kittens in addition to her, and we’re overflowing with cuteness! We need to find happy homes for the kittens, and we’re hoping you will want to adopt one (or more)! For more pictures see our kitten page; for information, please contact us.

Community Resilience Course from Post Carbon Institute

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Our friends at the Post Carbon Institute are hosting a guided online course with the Security & Sustainability Forum in October. Their description:

“Our popular Think Resilience course will be led by Richard Heinberg, who will be joined by special guests Katharine Hayhoe and Denise Fairchild

The course is rooted in learning how to build community resilience, which is why I thought the Community Solutions audience might be interested in hearing about it. 

Richard covers a lot of ground during the six weeks that the course will run, and by the end participants have a really good start on two important skills:

1. How to make sense of some of the most complex challenges—climate change, inequality, economic instability—that society now faces. When it comes to these crises, what are the underlying, systemic forces at play that brought us to this place? We believe we can only achieve meaningful change through this deeper level of understanding.

2. How to build community resilience. In addition to making impactful changes in our own lives, speaking out and engaging as national and global citizens, we also need to accept the challenge of building resilience in our communities in order to weather the 21st century's multiple sustainability crises.”

For more information and to sign up, see the Think Resilience Course page.

As the Biosphere Dies, So Do We: Using the Power of Nature to Heal the Planet

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Originally posted on Truthout.org

Written by Dahr Jamail

One only need look outside the window to understand that human-caused climate disruption is in overdrive.

Record warm temperatures, floods, droughts, wildfires and increasing incidents of extreme weather events have run rampant across the Northern Hemisphere this summer. These events, at least in part, stem from a global temperature increase of “only” 1 degree Celsius (1°C) above preindustrial baseline temperatures.

MIT and Harvard-trained scientist Dr. Thomas Goreau, a climate and coral reef expert, put this in stark perspective.

“Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 400 parts per million (ppm) [are] akin to bringing about a steady state temperature of 7°C higher and sea levels 23 meters higher than they are today,” Goreau, who is also president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance and coordinator of the Soil Carbon Alliance, told Truthout. In other words, the last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it increased the Earth’s temperature to a point 7°C higher than it is today, and increased sea levels 23 meters above their current level. Hence, we are now only waiting for the planet to catch up to what we’ve done to the atmosphere.

More than three decades ago, Goreau and some of his colleagues were already pointing out that the only way runaway global warming could be avoided was by utilizing and expanding carbon sinks – a natural or artificial area where carbon is stored — as a way of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Despite this not happening on the scale necessary to avert widespread impacts of runaway climate change, Goreau, along with many others, is as determined as ever to utilize various methods of “eco-restoration” to draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

Read more…

Why The Fight Over The Most Sustainable Diet Is Missing The Point

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Originally posted on kisstheground.com

Written by Rick Perillo

Our food is destructive. Every piece of food we eat has altered the earth in some way. To reduce our devastation, we form rigid identities around our food choices. We belittle other identities and struggle for the moral high ground:

“You’d save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you would if you didn’t shower for six months.”

“The vegan diet wastes valuable land that could be used to feed people.”

Like-minded folks throw park picnics and dinner parties featuring their superior diets, reinforcing their worldview.

We wear badges of honor celebrating our caveman-like diet or our blood-free-meal.

While we argue over who has the more sustainable diet, agriculture continues to turn fertile earth to desert.

The food we eat, whether it is bacon or tofu, is based on an ideology of control of the land. All food has blood on it.

But, it doesn’t have to.

Farms can create wildlife habitats and restore water cycles. Nutrient dense food can pull carbon out of the air and sequester it in the earth. Our money can support farmers who are treated fairly and work to build healthy soil. And yes, it can be done while feeding the world. But first, we need to change the discussion.

Read more…

Miraculous Abundance: Farm Du Bec Hellouin is Making a Difference

Originally posted on kisstheground.com

Our friends at Kiss the Ground and Regeneration International are collaborating on a new video series. 

The latest episode features Farm du Bec Hellouin in Normandy, France, and its mission to farm in a way that protects nature, rather than to destroy it. Using regenerative practices, Charles Hervé-Gruyer and his wife Perrine grow as much food on 1/10 of a hectare of land as their colleagues do on 1 hectare of land. The couple uses the extra land to plant trees, under which animals can be raised, creating a diverse ecosystem that’s teeming with life.

Grounding Vision of Resilience at Agraria

Photograph by Dennie Eagleson

Photograph by Dennie Eagleson

Originally posted on ysnews.com

Written by Megan Bachman

A gulp of barn swallows dove in between rows of buckwheat and bloody butcher corn on a recent 90-degree afternoon at Agraria. On an adjacent field, a heat mirage shimmered as young soybeans poked up through the dry soil.

To local horticulturist and aspiring  farmer Bob Moore, the Agraria center for regenerative agriculture is a place of opportunity and uncertainty.

On land he leases from Community Solutions, which owns the 128-acre farm on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, Moore is experimenting with varieties of grain that could transform the local food economy — if they can thrive.

Gesturing toward the surrounding fields of conventionally-grown corn and soy, Moore observed the reality of agriculture today and posed the question he hopes to answer at Agraria.

We don’t eat what’s grown here. All of the grain on all of this farmland is shipped away from us,” he said, adding that most of it goes to feed animals and — as ethanol — cars. 

“But is there a way we could value-add grain and then get the local farmers to grow that grain?”

Read more...

Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?

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Originally posted on ewg.org

Written by Alexis Temkin, PhD, Toxicologist

Popular oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars come with a hefty dose of the weed-killing poison in Roundup, according to independent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG.

Glyphosate, an herbicide linked to cancer by California state scientists and the World Health Organization, was found in all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats. Almost three-fourths of those samples had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety. About one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats also had glyphosate, all at levels well below EWG’s health benchmark.

Read more...

Order vs. Wildness: The Land Management Question

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Originally posted on ecofarmingdaily.com

Written by Joel Salatin

The idea, perpetuated by Thoreau, that farming order and wildness were mutually exclusive and therefore required segregated and designated areas allows landscape managers to be lazy about wildness. Perhaps lazy is too strong a word. But I find it disconcerting that too many farmers, arguably the largest landscape managers, retreat to this segregated mentality just like the radical natural park folks. I’d like to see more creativity, more visceral expressions of commercial farming order not only co-existing with wild systems, but actually enhancing them.

Read more...

Community Solutions Awarded Education Grant

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Community Solutions is excited to announce that we have been awarded a $2,500 grant for educational equipment from The Greater Dayton Conservation Fund of the Dayton Foundation! This funding, requested as part of our ongoing partnership with the Yellow Springs, Xenia, and Springfield School Districts, will pay for soil sampling and water testing equipment, along with other similar tools for students visiting Agraria to collect and analyze data. We are extremely grateful to Yellow Springs teachers Margaret Morgan, Rebecca Eastman, and Brandon Lowry for helping us evaluate our equipment needs and plan our programming. Watch this blog, our newsletter, and our social media accounts for news about the many upcoming educational events at Agraria!

Monsanto Was Just Fined $289 Million by a San Francisco Jury for Failing to Warn of Known Cancer Risk

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Originally posted on wakingtimes.com

Written by Alex Pietrowski

In an incredible victory for plaintiff Dwayne Johnson, a San Francisco jury just found agrochemical and seed giant Monsanto guilty of failing to adequately warn that its products Roundup and Ranger may cause cancer when used in a reasonable and expectable manner.

From 2012 to 2015 Johnson was a school groundskeeper for the Benicia unified school district in California where he regularly applied Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup to the property. In 2014 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and claimed that Monsanto knowingly hid the carcinogenic effects of the product from consumers.

Read more...

We Are Exceeding Earth's Carrying Capacity

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Originally posted on undark.org

Written by Richard Heinberg

In his article, “The Earth’s Carrying Capacity for Human Life is Not Fixed,” Ted Nordhaus, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, a California-based energy and environment think tank, seeks to enlist readers in his optimistic vision of the future. It’s a future in which there are many more people on the planet and each enjoys a high standard of living, while environmental impacts are reduced. It’s a cheery vision.

If only it were plausible.

Nordhaus’s argument hinges on dismissing the longstanding biological concept of “carrying capacity” — the number of organisms an environment can support without becoming degraded. “Applied to ecology, the concept [of carrying capacity] is problematic,” Nordhaus writes, arguing in a nutshell that the planet’s ability to support human civilization can be, one presumes, infinitely tweaked through a combination of social and physical engineering.

Few actual ecologists, however, would agree. Indeed, the concept of carrying capacity is useful in instance after instance — including modeling the population dynamics of nonhuman species, and in gauging the health of virtually any ecosystem, be it ocean, river, prairie, desert, or forest. While exact population numbers are sometimes difficult to predict on the basis of the carrying capacity concept, it is nevertheless clear that, wherever habitat is degraded, creatures suffer and their numbers decline.

Read more...

Our 77th (and first) Annual Meeting

Photo by Dennie Eagleson

Photo by Dennie Eagleson

Community Solutions members from around Ohio and all over the country gathered at Agraria on July 21st for our annual membership meeting. This was our first annual meeting to be hosted in our barn, and the atmosphere was festive—including the sound of summer rain on the barn‘s tin roof. The variety of presentations captured the breadth and complexity of what is happening at Agraria. Collaborators, farmers, researchers, volunteers, and staff and board shared their experiences and plans. We are very grateful to Community Solutions super-volunteer Dennie Eagleson for all her wonderful pictures!

Devin Schenk, Midwest Mitigation Program Manager at The Nature Conservancy, outlined the plans for Jacoby Creek restoration—the project is on schedule to begin next spring, with stream re-meandering and removal of invasive species followed by replanting.  Sixty acres will be divided into two conservation zones; zone one will be a strictly controlled riparian area, with native plants selected by Nature Conservancy staff, while zone two will include plants chosen by staff to develop permaculture and agroforestry  demonstration plots. A further 20 acres will be covered with an agriculture easement.

Tecumseh Land Trust (TLT) Executive Director Krista Magaw informed members about the Jacoby Creek Partnership, a federally funded plan TLT is leading to preserve farms and forests along the creek, improving water health and habitat. Community Solutions is a partner in the grant, and will serve as a demonstration and research site over the course of the multi-year project.  Krista also outlined some ways our renting farmers can apply for funding through the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Susan Jennings, Community Solutions Executive Director, followed with an update on progress in the four main pillars of work at Agraria—education, research, conservation, and support of the local food system. 

In one of the meeting’s many highlights, Agraria’s renting farmers related their experiences in the middle of their first growing season on the land. Jason Ward is growing soy for organic livestock feed; Bob Moore is growing several crops, including emmer, an ancient and nutritious form of wheat; and Theresa Nolan and Mandy Knaul are raising honeybees while designing a therapeutic garden for the LGBTQ  community. Eric Lang followed the farmers with a demonstration of biochar research, and Peter Donovan of the Soil Carbon Coalition used a soil infiltration demonstration to show the benefits of healthy soil in preventing runoff.

Several volunteers were thanked for their service—overall 1200+hours have been donated by volunteers since we purchased Agraria 14 months ago.  Bob Huston was honored as “Volunteer of the Year” for his contributions in the areas of logo design, strategic support and honeysuckle removal. His creativity and artistic talent are matched only by his generosity.   Paul Sampson, a friend and multi-talented craftsman, received a plaque for his contributions in retrofitting our farmhouse. 

Kat Walter rounded out the meeting by giving an update on the Agraria Capital Campaign, which is nearly set to begin. The hard work and generosity of our members and friends will be crucial to the campaign, which will fund education initiatives at Agraria, the construction of a multi-use path to Yellow Springs High School, and barn renovation and restoration. Although the Campaign has yet to kick off, it’s not too early to contribute! We offer heartfelt gratitude for contributions of any size—and be sure to let us know how you’d like the money to be used.

Stand Up for Endangered Species with The Nature Conservancy

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Originally posted on support.nature.org

Humpback whales. Grizzly bears. The black-footed ferret. The Endangered Species Act is our best tool for ensuring the survival our nation’s most threatened wildlife as pressures to nature continue to grow. But now the act itself is under attack.

Recent attempts by Congress and the Administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act could drive some species toward extinction. From proposed bans on protecting specific species, to rolling back government agencies’ habitat protection responsibilities, to letting factors other than the best-available science drive listing decisions—these proposals put wildlife in greater jeopardy.

Read more and write to Congress...

Our Civilization Could Die if We Don’t Save Agriculture

photo by Anna Kofron

photo by Anna Kofron

Originally posted on agdaily.com

Written by Lori Sallet

Thirteen thousand years ago, around 11,500 BCE, the first glimmers of cultivation began to emerge in the Euphrates Valley in what is now Syria. Tell Abu Hureyra, the archeological site believed to be the place farmers first cultivated cereal crops such as wheat and rye, is today submerged under Lake Assad, the reservoir of the Tabqa Dam. A metaphor I am afraid, for what we are doing to our society when we ignore the perils faced by farmland, farming, and farmers today.

When societies ignored problems in agriculture, time after time, these civilizations collapsed. What may not be written in our history books and only known well by archeologists who study the Neolithic Era, the era of transition to farming, problems in agricultural management, overuse of destructive agricultural practices that lead to environmental and man-made climate-related problems, mismanagement of land and labor, and ignorant behavior can lead to the end of times.

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