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Carbon Chasers Down on the Farm by ClimateYou Editor Abby Luby

For over 20 years Jay and Polly Armour have worked their organic farm using practices that play a key role in climate change. When ClimateYou toured their Four Winds Farm in Gardiner, New York, last week, we clearly saw how farmers can put carbon back in the soil and not into the atmosphere where it adds to the great amount of greenhouse gases causing changes in our climate.

The Armour’s essential practices would never be considered by this country’s industrial agriculture farm complex, but to local farmers they make a lot of sense for many reasons. There’s much more science than meets the eye on a farm, but basically, carbon farming practices are scientific in nature; among them are stop rototilling, plant  nitrogen fixing cover crops, create super-duper compost with beneficial organisms that will replace pesticides and fungicides. Although these seem straight-forward, farmers like Jay and Polly know the full scope of how soil works, what its many components are and its ability to hold moisture, plant roots and carbon.

“I always believed that the rototiller was my friend when it came to controlling weeds,” admits Jay Armour. “But I quickly learned that churning up the earth introduces oxygen into the soil which pulls carbon out of the soil and into the air.”

That’s where the fine science of composting comes in. With the right combination of organic matter in the compost that is then used in plant beds, it acts as a barrier between the soil and the sun; the soil doesn’t dry out and becomes drought resistant because the compost retains moisture. (The practice also yields better tasting veggies.) Since the compost inhibits weeds, the rototiller isn’t needed nor is the diesel fuel tractor that pulls it, which considerably lessens the farm’s carbon footprint.

Jay Armour in front of compost at Four Winds Farm
Jay Armour in front of compost at Four Winds Farm

“We also plant rows of comfry, a ground cover that acts as a water barrier and combats erosion,” says Polly, standing in a field of rows of carrot tops bordered by large comfry plants. “Since we don’t need the use of the tractor, our rows are closer together and we produce a lot in a small space.”

showing comfry ground cover
Polly Armour showing comfry ground cover

carbon restorationIn the white paper “Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology do the Job?” by Jack Kittredge, Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) policy director, you can get a better, in-depth look about the problem of carbon dioxide buildup and climate change here. It’s not just a practice for farmers, Kittredge lays out how each of us, gardeners, landscapers, consumers of local produce, can also add to mitigating and affecting climate change.

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