Perennial grains could be a key weapon against climate change. But not quite yet.


By Tamar Haspel

As climate change climbs the chart of existential threats, soil is getting a lot of attention. Back when it supported forest or grassland, before we cleared it to grow crops, it stored an awful lot of carbon.

By farming the land, we released the carbon. Now, there’s a major push to figure out how to put at least some of it back. The Land Institute, in Salina, Kan., is on it, and I visited them last fall. “We lost about half the carbon in the first few decades after putting crops on prairie,” said Land Institute President Fred Iutzi, who was showing me around. “In some places it leveled off at about half of what was there pre-settlement, on some places it went down to about a third.”

Carbon loss dates back to the first time a farmer ever turned over virgin soil, but it’s only in the past couple of decades that momentum has built among farmers and researchers trying to reverse things. There’s a major obstacle, though: 400 million (ish) acres of annuals, crops that have to be planted anew every year. While annuals are very good at growing seeds (usually the plant part we eat), they’re not so good at locking carbon in the soil. In fact, they’re pretty bad at it.

The Land Institute is trying to solve that problem by developing perennial grains: crops that come up, year after year, of their own accord. A commercial variety is years — and possibly decades — away, but consider that it took us about 80 years to get from corn that yielded 25 bushels an acre to corn that yields 170 bushels an acre. It’s not unreasonable to take a couple decades to catch up.

Read more here….

Morgan on Zuckerberg

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Originally published in The Yellow Springs News

By former Community Solutions Outreach Director Megan Bachman

I came to Yellow Springs to study community. Seriously. It was in the job description of my first employment out of college, at Community Service, Inc. (now Community Solutions), the organization founded by Arthur Morgan that envisioned “a world of small, local communities.”

After the interview, I got a pile of Morgan’s books as part of my orientation. What struck me most were Morgan’s passages about Yellow Springs — my new home. When Morgan talked of his village, his writing came to life. Oft-discussed concepts, like conviviality, mutual aid and neighborliness, became animated as he talked about the collective commitment of villagers to their chosen place.

Nearly 15 years later, I am still an avid student of community, with most of my learning coming through practice. There is probably someone at the Emporium right now who could, by sharing their life story, give me a thesis on the topic. I still feel like I’m in orientation, while I have learned a few things, like the principle of showing up, the art of reaching out and the terribly vulnerable act of asking for help.

Philosophically, I am a Morganian. So I bristled when I read a series of questions Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted in a recent post on the social network looking at the year ahead. “In a world where many physical communities are disintegrating,” he asked, “what role can the internet play in strengthening our social fabric?” It seems if it were up to tech companies, we might give up entirely on such “physical communities” and seek all of our connection, joy, delight and fulfillment through our digital doubles.

In 2019, reading a newspaper is a radical act. So is birdwatching, listening to vinyl records, visiting with a friend or cooking a meal. Such actions may not be the “wave of the future,” their reality neither augmented nor virtual. But they form the basis of a more tangible social fabric in a physical community full of beings and things — stuff like people, trees, birds, books, furniture and artwork. What kind of “fabric” is it if you can’t touch it, smell it, hug it?

Writer Neil Postman says that media, at its essence, is about having a conversation with ourselves about ourselves. Media, social or otherwise, reflect a version of reality back to us. It tells us a story about who we are, what we care about and what we aspire to. These collective narratives inform our personal narratives, and vice versa. As much as the human journey is about self-discovery, our media play an essential role.

But all media are not created equal. As Marshall McLuhan points out, a medium’s form shapes its content. What kind of political discourse, for instance, can be had via tweet? Context is lost in much of the media ecosystem these days. No wonder many feel adrift, untethered, and unmoored, being primed by our media to ever seek novelty but increasingly only finding triviality. However, the Yellow Springs News — a conversation with the community about the community — moves at the speed of the week, that is to say, slowly, deliberately and thoughtfully.

In a comment on Zuckerberg’s post, someone purportedly living a few doors down from him asked him to sit down and have the same conversation with those living in his neighborhood, even as he reaches out to talk about it with “the world.” It seems Zuckerberg is indifferent to his own physical community while creating a poor substitute.

Physical communities may be disintegrating, as Zuckerberg notes. But I differ on the path forward. Why not save what is left of such places, reweaving the frayed threads of a tenuous social fabric rather than discarding the project altogether? In Yellow Springs, we struggle like many places, but here, where local arts thrive, local food flows, and local news circulates, I would argue we are somewhat more resilient, more integral.

The brave new world of 2019 holds its share of challenges for all us, including those of us at the Yellow Springs News. So far we have survived through both media consolidation and digital transformation, remaining independent, locally owned and committed to the weekly ritual of creating a physical artifact to aid in the process of knowing ourselves.

In the coming weeks we will be sharing our vision for the News, and asking for yours. In February we will launch a survey of the community to hear more about what you want your community paper to be. The future is uncertain. What is clear to me is that the more the community participates in these pages, the more viable the News will be, and the stronger the social fabric of our very physical community. —Megan Bachman

Kaweah Oaks Workshop: Questions to Think About


Why do things work the way they do? What are the natural driving forces, or the enabling conditions? What is earth doing to itself? What does nature do about soil degradation? Why isn't all soil healthy? How can we improve soils? If there's a way to transform soil, how is it possible, how long would it take, what's the time frame? What are the harshest conditions that crops could be grown in? Why can a few simple things have such a big effect?

How can we make soil like this everywhere, so water would go into it, and to prevent fires? What are some different things we could do to make better quality soil? How can we create porous soil? How can we implement this? How do I make this happen at home, on public lands, on the ag land, in my yard? What can I do at home to help my community, on my 1.5 acres, in my own yard? How can I be a small part of the movement to think differently in Tulare County? How can I be a part of this movement in an everyday way? What can I do to help convince friends?

How can we bring up soil health? How can we make Tulare County soil better aggregated? How can we get the world to be as healthy as it can be? How effective would it be if it was efficient through the whole world--air quality, water quality, economy? How can we, as individuals, work toward healthier soil throughout California? What more could we do here? What would we do if we all knew what we're learning here?

I'm interested in learning more about grasses. Would it be beneficial to move to perennials in California? Why was the hole we dug amongst the perennial grasses cooler? What are the equivalent principles for ocean management?

How can we all benefit? How can we get more people involved in what we're doing? How to get the younger generation more interested in the Central Valley? How can we spread the word? How can we stay out of the way? How do we get people to care? What can I personally do to begin this movement?

Saturday, January 19 at a public event at Sequoia Riverlands Trust's Kaweah Oaks Preserve (about 6 miles east of Visalia, California), students led the hands-on demos for over 40 people, and summarized their policy discussions of how growing the soil sponge could help address drought, fire, falling water tables, heat waves, air and water quality, despair, economic scarcity, and malnutrition. At the closing we asked the question:

How might you enable the soil sponge, what can you commit to doing, to work together with these students, to rehydrate California?

Read more…

Japan Prize goes to Ohio State soil scientist Rattan Lal


Rattan Lal, a soil scientist at The Ohio State University, has been awarded the 2019 Japan Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in science and technology.

Lal is the first Ohio State scientist and the first soil scientist to ever receive the prize. He is Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The Japan Prize recognizes scientists and engineers from around the world for original and outstanding achievements that “not only contribute to the advancement of science and technology, but also promote peace and prosperity for all mankind,” the Japan Prize Foundation said today in announcing the award.

Lal, whose career in science spans five decades and five continents, was honored for his research on sustainable soil management and its role in improving global food security and mitigating climate change.

Global food security is a growing issue because Earth’s population is expected to increase to near 10 billion people by 2050.

Climate change is a concern because of its harmful effects, which include warming temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and weather extremes, experts say.


The selection process for the Japan Prize is highly competitive, with about 15,000 nominees vying for two awards every year, the foundation said. Polymer scientist Yoshio Okamoto of Japan’s Nagoya University also received the award this year.

Lal was informed of the honor by a call from the Japanese consulate, he said.

“My first thought was ‘Wow!’ ” Lal said. “I wanted to be sure that I was awake and it was not a prank call.”

Lal is a faculty member in CFAES’ School of Environment and Natural Resources, where he conducts research on topics such as soil processes, soil degradation, and sustainable management of soil and water. He works both in Ohio and internationally. Soil degradation, a worldwide problem, includes a wide range of issues such as wind and water erosion, declines in soil fertility, organic matter loss, and contamination by chemicals.

Lal also is the founder and director of SENR’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center and is the past president of the 60,000-member International Union of Soil Sciences. He was born in Punjab, India (now part of Pakistan), and first came to Ohio State in 1968 to work on his PhD in soils.

Read more…

Agraria: Looking Back, Looking Forward


2018 was a year of trailblazing at Agraria! We piloted educational programs, began early research, planted cover crops, and continued to hone our long-term vision for conservation, research, and food system support.

  • Over 300 people participated in workshops on fermentation, permaculture, seed saving, wildcrafting, herbalism, soil health, land evaluation, regenerative agriculture, and carbon sequestration, as well as in visioning sessions.

  • More than 120 pre-K-12 students took part in experiential learning on Agraria’s land and in our barn and a further 50 students benefited from our support of a farm to school grant in Springfield.

  • Community Solutions’ grant writing efforts raised $109,500 towards Agraria’s educational initiatives.

  • We forged and strengthened academic, research, and outreach partnerships with 16 institutions and NGOs.

  • We kept members and friends informed with 40 emails and 209 social media posts.   

  • Our partner farmers began their work to regenerate Agraria’s soil and transition it to organic land.

  • Volunteers donated over 1000 hours of time clearing honeysuckle, assisting at events, photographing land transition, creating logos, and fundraising for Agraria.

  • Visitors to Springfield and Yellow Springs Farmer’s Markets were able to spend their SNAP benefits on local produce, thanks to our EBT machine program.

It was also a year of internal transformation, as staff and community members deepened their understanding of the importance of soil health to rebuilding ecosystems, repairing water and climate cycles, and building human health.

We look forward with excitement to 2019 and to the work we have planned, including:

  • Building our educational endeavors through a teacher training with regional educators and educating at least 600 regional students on the importance of soil health.

  • Working with The Nature Conservancy on the first steps of the restoration of Jacoby Creek and 50 acres of wetlands and riparian corridor.

We hope that you can help us celebrate these developments by joining us in 2019 for one of our workshops and events—check our calendar for details.

Thank you for your support in 2018! If you have not yet made your annual gift, please consider donating today. We are deeply grateful to all those who have helped to bring Agraria to life!

Best wishes for the New Year from all of us at Community Solutions.

Forty Acres of Farm Land in America is Lost to Development Every Hour

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Originally posted on

Written by Brian Barth

There’s a movement afoot to convert conservation land trusts into new farmer incubators.

Picture bulldozers plowing up pastures and cornfields to put in subdivisions and strip malls. Add to this picture the fact that the average age of the American farmer is nearly 60 — it’s often retiring farmers that sell to real estate developers. They can afford to pay much more for property than aspiring young farmers.

Alarmed by this trend, environmentalists back in the 1970s developed the idea to pay retiring farmers to preserve their land in a natural state rather than sell out to real estate developers.

Read more…

Agraria at the Eco-Ag Conference

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Last week, Matthew Lawson, Amy Harper, David Diamond and Glenn Gall attended the Eco-Ag Conference in Louisville, KY. The conference is organized by Acres U.S.A., a publisher and event organizer focused on regenerative agriculture. Our team was inspired by the presentations we saw and the wonderful peers we met.  Some highlights included a panel on soil health and human nutrition with Gabe Brown, Charles Massy and Fred Provenza—now we know why that incredible-tasting food fresh from the farm is so much better for you than what you get in most grocery stores! We learned about the purpose of weeds from Vail Dixon, and how farmers can use them to build soil. Joel Salatin’s keynote convincingly demonstrated that regenerative agriculture can feed the world far more efficiently and healthily than the current industrial system. Eliot Coleman inspired us by telling the amazing story of how his family carved a beautiful organic farm out of rocky land on the Maine coastline.

Dr. Nasha Winters helped us see the importance of circadian rhythms to our health, and Dan Kittredge illuminated the fundamentals of a farm’s biological system. Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin shared his vision and early steps towards building a national regenerative agriculture industry. All the presenters were very kind and generous with their time when we introduced ourselves. Along the way, we greatly enjoyed visiting with our friends at OEFFA and meeting new friends like the composters at Rust Belt Riders in Cleveland and the school garden builders at Big Green. After three incredibly full and uplifting days, we returned to Yellow Springs and resumed our work at Agraria. We have since met with our renting farmers and laid the groundwork for an amazing year of growth and education. In every area, the Acres Eco-Ag conference boosted our efforts to explore and demonstrate the benefits of regenerative practice.   

Charles Eisenstein book promotion - Agraria Annual Fund

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Dear Friends—
What do obesity, algal blooms, extreme weather, wildfires, and species extinctions have in common? Soil degradation, and more broadly, the degradation of natural areas locally and across the planet.   Human health crises, suffocating lakes and streams, the precipitous drop in insect and mammal life since 1970 recently reported by the World Wildlife Fund, and wildly fluctuating weather patterns have all been linked to soil depletion—and the resulting disruption of carbon and water cycles. These cycles are integral to promoting and maintaining planetary homeostasis.
These systemic linkages also provide a cause for hope in the face of our converging crises. Healthy soils teem with microbial life and host mycorrhizal networks that help to sequester carbon and retain water. New understandings about how we can partner with nature to repair soils are sparking regenerative projects and research across the planet. It is our passion for soil regeneration that led us to buy Agraria in 2017, and it continues to provide impetus for the spate of new programs you’ll read about below.
Soil is a lever for change that it is available at all scales, from households to farms to communities—a true community solution!
We found a confirmation of—and an eloquent plea for—an ecosystems focus in Charles Eisenstein’s Climate:  A New Story, published a few months ago. Many of you heard Charles at our 2017 Economics of Happiness Conference.  His new book’s main focus is to reorient the climate conversation from global warming to weather anomalies, and to reorient our understanding of the cause of weather anomalies from fossil fuel emissions to our degradation of planetary ecosystems. He argues that this degradation contributes at least half of current and historic greenhouse gas emissions, and that repair of soil and ecosystems is the most vital work that we can be doing to restore biodiversity and repair water and carbon cycles. 

A sample quote: Whether we are looking through the lens of carbon or water, from the living systems perspective we see that climate health depends on the health of local ecosystems everywhere.  The health of local ecosystems, in turn, depends on the health of the water cycle, and the health of the water cycle depends on the soil and the forests.

Thanks so much to everyone who donated on Giving Tuesday! If you missed out, we will be happy to ship you a copy of Charles’ Climate, a NewStory, for your $100+ contribution to our annual fund.

The Flood Washes over us

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Written by Jody Tishmack

Originally posted on

A year ago I wrote an article discussing Hurricane Harvey.  Here we are again watching another 1 in a 1,000 year hurricane disaster unfold.  I won’t try to summarize all the other weather disasters that have been unfolding around the world this year.  This year is going to be the fourth warmest year on record behind 2016, 2015, and 2017 respectively.  Our global climate is obviously in chaos and weather disasters becoming more frequent and severe.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Florence’s landfall meteorologists struggled to find words to describe this storm’s unbelievable potential for destruction.  The storm was “biblical”, “unprecedented”, “historical”, “a monster”…yet none of the words really conveyed the reality of risk that few have yet faced.   Governors of both Carolinas took the warnings seriously and called for evacuation.  Many heeded their warnings but the fact that some people chose to stay and ride out the storm showed a dangerous lack of understanding for the danger they faced.  The media’s obsession for making storm disasters into morbid entertainment was in full form when one reporter struggled to stand against wind that seemingly had little affect on nearby pedestrians strolling by.  Like passing a highway accident we can’t seem to turn our eyes away.

The fact that Florence didn’t inflict greater wind damage when it made landfall was a fortunate break that had to do with the storm weakening after its final eyewall replacement cycle.  By Thursday evening September 13th hurricane reconnaissance indicated that a new eyewall was not likely to be completed; the eastern section of the wall not likely to reform.  This prevented Florence from rebuilding the strength of its winds and the storm continued to weaken as it lumbered towards landfall.  Instead of a Category 4 hurricane, Florence came ashore a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 90 mph versus 140 or higher.

Can you imagine the damage if this storm had been similar to last year’s Maria,  a Category 4 hurricane that dropped to Category 3 as it traveled 100 miles diagonally across Puerto Rico in 8 hours.  What if Florence had completed its eyewall and turned back into a Category 4 hurricane creeping slowly along the Carolina shoreline?  Hurricane Florence crawled across 200 miles in 72 hours dumping “unprecedented” amounts of rain on top of ground saturated from a long,  “record breaking” amount of precipitation this spring and summer.  The wind damage of a stronger storm would have been an order of magnitude greater, totally flattening buildings, infrastructure, and vegetation as it moved slowly inland.  Can you imagine the devastation in addition to the catastrophic flooding that is currently unfolding?  We are still days and weeks away from knowing the full extent of flood damage.

It seems we are constantly witnessing “unprecedented” violent storms, “historic” record-breaking summer heat waves,  “ferocious” winter snowstorms,  “never-before-seen” wildfires,  and “torrential” rainfall that results in a “deluge” of flooding.  We use adjectives that try to impart our sense that storms are bigger, stronger, or greater, yet after too frequent use they seem to lose their value.  We don’t seem to realize the magnitude of what is happening or the danger.  Does a “never-seen-before ” event that happens every few years really mean something to us?  Does a “1 in a 1,000 year” event that happens twice in two years become a warning of something different happening?  Perhaps we are becoming numb to the reality of our climate changing.

Read more…

Yellow Springs Giving Tuesday


This Tuesday the 27th is Giving Tuesday, a call to our community to take the giving spirit of the Holidays and donate the local nonprofits of Yellow Springs!

The link here will allow you to learn more about these nonprofits, Community Solutions included, and fall in love with these businesses. Show your support for your favorite nonprofits like the radio station WYSO, The Antioch School, Yellow Springs Home, Inc., Tecumseh Land Trust, Antioch College, and many more.

We also want to thank you for all of the support we have garnered over the years as the growth of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions and Agraria has been going strong as our community grows in new and unexpected ways. Be on the look out on our other pages for more opportunities to donate to these nonprofits and to Community Solutions and share #YSGivingTuesday We hope you all are having a safe and fruitful start to the holidays.

-Community Solutions and Agraria

JJJ Automotive Thanks

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Dear Mike Eid and JJJ AUTO Repair,

On behalf of all of us here at Community Solutions, we would like to thank you for your help and generous gift.  Our farm truck plays an important role in keeping day to day operations going and aids in our community outreach.

Your donation of time, materials and expertise, has played such an important role.  It has allowed our work to continue, as we strive to maintain a continued connection with the land that feeds our community.  For all of this, you and JJJ Auto Repair, will always remain a dear friend of Agraria and our mission, ‘’to explore and demonstrate the benefits of regenerative practices at multiple levels—from the environmental, economic, psychological and social, to their impact on human health and well-being.”

We would like to donate a plaque after you and JJJ Auto Repair as a thank-you for your wonderful donation and support of our mission.  The Nature Conservancy will soon begin to remove invasive species of trees and plants on our 128-acre property along the Jacoby Creek.  Native trees will be planted in their place, and a plaque will be displayed next to a tree of your choice to always remember your support and kindness.  

Will will keep you posted as we approach a date for the tree naming.

Sincerely, with all our hearts, we here at Community Solutions thank you!

New Grants for Agraria - Kids Get the Dirt on Soil Education

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Originally posted on

Written by Megan Bachman

The architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller often used a metaphor to illustrate how small targeted actions can move massive systems. Fuller noted that the “trim tab,” a tiny mechanism of a ship’s rudder, can change the ship’s course with a minute movement.

At the Agraria Center for Regenerative Agriculture, soil is seen as the “trim tab,” according to Susan Jennings, executive director of Community Solutions. 

“We are thinking of soil as the leverage point,” Jennings said last week. After all, soil health affects everything from water quality to climate change to human health, she said. 

To spread its work on soil restoration and sustainable agriculture, Community Solutions recently received several grants for educational initiatives at Agraria, its 128-acre farm just west of the village. 

Read more…

One Size Fits None: Excerpt


By Stephanie Anderson

I’m in western South Dakota, rolling across the prairie in a blue 1970s-era pickup truck, when I first see them. Buffalo—faraway brown dots on a hillside that become massive bodies outside the passenger window as we approach them, their faces accented with beards and curved black horns. They are primeval, ancient, mammothlike. They have a wise look about them, but also a wildness, as when they flash the whites of their eyes, spin around, and gallop off, showing us they’ll never be completely tamed.

I’m at Great Plains Buffalo Company, a ranch where Phil and Jill Jerde and their children raise more than a thousand grass-fed buffalo. These buffalo will eventually be slaughtered, providing consumers with meat, but they are much more than food sources. They are the keepers of this grassland. With their hooves they aerate the soil and push seeds into it. With their waste they fertilize it. Through their grazing habits they encourage the growth of grass instead of woody plants. They maintain symbiotic relationships with birds and insects. They make the prairie function in a way it hasn’t since their ancestors walked it, before we converted the Great Plains to corn and soybeans.

The buffalo show us what the prairie once was and how humans have changed it—to some, destroyed it—and this in turn is a reminder of all the landscapes we’ve changed. “Wrong side up,” said a Sioux Indian who watched a white sodbuster rip the grassland open with a plow. The Native Americans knew why soil was best left undisturbed: roots, twenty-five miles of them in a single square yard of prairie turf just four inches deep, held the soil in place, had done so for thousands of years.2 With a single plow swipe the settlers set it free to blow. Result: the Dust Bowl. Later result: desertification turning the Great Plains into a desert. Less than 4 percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains, and those defiant acres are rigorously protected. Still, it is feasible that the tallgrass prairie could be gone before I die. A human being’s lifespan is roughly how long it took to destroy 96 percent of it, which does not bode well for the last 4.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The buffalo before me represent a new agriculture that can help restore the prairie and other landscapes without sacrificing the amount of food produced. These animals show us that there are many ways to farm and ranch, that we can change how we define those terms, that we can reverse the damage we have done and create a better agricultural future. The buffalo are walking, breathing proof that human beings do not have to destroy the earth in order to eat.

Years ago, I would not have seen the buffalo as keepers of the range. I grew up about twenty miles from Great Plains Buffalo on a conventional ranch outside of Bison, South Dakota, where my parents raise cattle, wheat, corn, and hay. Had I not discovered a love for writing that drew me to college, I probably would have stayed there the rest of my life, working alongside my father until I could start my own operation. I’m serious about this.

Read more here…

Tree Teachings: How Fossil Fuels and Climate Change Are Altering the Global Forest

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Originally posted on

Written by Andrew Nikiforuk

The world’s most ancient trees are failing.

And their demise is telling us something about the dramatic impact of climate change on the natural world, says famed botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

The tree expert, who is also a medical biochemist, is clearly concerned, if not shaken.

These trees provided food, shelter and medicines for civilizations more ancient than the Romans and “are the backdrop to nature.”

In her bestseller The Sweetness of a Simple Life, Beresford-Kroeger described the global forest as “a molecular memo” that harvests one carbon atom at a time and “pulses that sweet gas we call oxygen, needed for every single breath we take.”

But the most ancient denizens of this forest are now dying and disappearing.

The botanist, who has been studying the health and importance of global forests for decades, rhymes off one example after another.

She begins with evergreens in the Atlas Mountains across northwest Africa.

For thousands of years cedar forests mixed with oak and juniper in the mountains have served as reservoirs for the entire region, ensuring flowing water for its rivers.

But warmer temperatures have dried up groundwater in mountain catchments and the blue cedar forests now are shrivelling.

Drought has concentrated the region’s 800,000 livestock, which has added to the deforestation. The illegal logging of valuable cedars has also taken a toll.

Lebanon’s great Biblical cedars are suffering a similar fate.

In one historic grove where Jesus is believed to have revealed himself to his followers after his resurrection, it used to snow and rain 105 days of the year.

Due to man-made climate change the trees can now only count on 40 days of moisture.

Climate change has also tipped the balance in favour of the cedar web-spinning sawfly, a pest unknown to science until 1998.

Global warming has brought earlier snowmelts that allow the insect to emerge just in time to munch on new cedar shoots. In the last decade the bug has killed nearly 10 per cent of Lebanon’s Tannourine forest…

Read more…

‘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

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

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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