Put Carbon in the Ground Toolkit

350VT Node Member and Volunteer Organizing Toolkit 

Introduction 

Some of the most powerful tools for climate justice are right below us–in the soil! We can transition off fossil fuels and draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. We can address a major problem–too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, heating up the planet–by supporting soil health solutions to the climate crisis and to many of the other social justice and ecological issues that the world is facing. The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be sequestered in plants and healthy soil that cool the planet, clean the air and water, and provide good food. We can promote these solutions in ways that contribute to sustainable livelihoods and thriving, just communities for all of us. 

Climate scientists are in agreement that it is equally important to transition away from fossil fuels and to sequester excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  One of the key methods identified by the IPCC to draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is a large-scale transition to regenerative agricultural and land care practices. Land with healthy soil can sequester 25 to 60 tons of CO2 per acre, according to Drawdown edited by Paul Hawken. According to a Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets report, “if all 80,000 acres of Vermont’s land used to grow corn” were cover cropped, “the amount of carbon sequestered would be equivalent to taking 51,290 cars off the road”. (Source: Agency of Agriculture Farms and Markets, January 25, 2019)  Maintaining a habitable future climate will mean reimagining the way we live, from the individual all the way up to the global level — our consumption habits, food systems, energy sources, transportation, and the way we relate to our land and water.

Current industrial agricultural and land care policies — such as constant tillage, and the application of chemical fertilizers — lead to degraded land and soil, fertilizer and pesticide runoff, erosion of healthy topsoil, decreased biodiversity, and threats to water quality. According to the IPCC’s recently published Special Report on Climate Change and Land: “When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This exacerbates climate change, while climate change in turn exacerbates land degradation in many different ways.”

350VT’s new Put Carbon in the Ground Campaign is a community driven campaign focused on building a grassroots movement to support a just transition to climate-friendly practices for growing food and relating to the land. The focus for this campaign was identified during the winter of 2018-2019, when several dozen 350VT activists across the state participated in study groups of Drawdown, Paul Hawken’s book which compiles the best and most practical solutions available today to mitigate climate change. Drawdown lists transitioning to regenerative agriculture as number 11 out of the top 100 potential solutions to climate change. Moving our state towards more “real organic” regenerative agricultural practices would contribute to a livable, just future for all Vermonters, and draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, build climate resilience, reduce erosion and runoff, improve water quality, reduce the use of pesticides, and address the risk to food scarcity caused by climate change. Implementing regenerative agriculture and land management practices can be accomplished at the local level, while also linking up with global movements like “4 Per 1000: Soils for Food Security and the Climate” (www.4per1000.org). Put Carbon in the Ground is also a climate solution that can be effectively and widely implemented in Vermont’s rural communities — leading to a broad statewide impact while bringing more rural residents into the climate movement.

Overview

This toolkit is provided to help individuals and communities get started in building healthy soil policies and practices at the individual, town, and institutional levels. Recognizing that communities in Vermont may be at very different stages of understanding and implementing regenerative land practices, and that there are various ways in which volunteers, node members and individuals are able to plug in, we have developed three different strategies for this campaign. 350VT’s field organizer will assist communities and volunteers in setting goals, developing and implementing these strategies, and designing action steps. We will assist in finding resources, organizing events, producing materials, and tracking and amplifying the regenerative land management stories throughout Vermont.  

Strategies

Strategy 1 Shift practices and local policies.  

This strategy is about working with others in your community to change local land care practices and sequester more carbon. 

  • Volunteers and node members will focus on getting local Department of Public Works (DPW) and grounds maintenance crews, Selectboards, City Councils, conservation groups, business owners and other community members to implement practices that help build the soil carbon sponge on public grounds and campuses. A perfect example of an institutional shift in practice is Harvard’s adoption of organic lawn care (The Grass is Greener at Harvard, New York Times, 9/23/2009). 
  • By advocating, lobbying, and the use of community organizing, node members and volunteers will work to produce a shift in the way Vermont’s towns, cities, and major institutions care for land. 
  • With the help of 350VT, volunteers will organize public outreach events to educate town officials and DPW employees, grounds crew, maintenance workers, and others about how to effectively build soil health and how it is a climate change solution. 
  • Determine the best strategies for your community. Your group may decide that the best strategy is to pass a Town Soil Health Ordinance or focus on mobilizing around specific issues, such as the statewide “Raise the Blade” campaign, a movement to better protect the soil on town greens and other public lands by raising mower blades to four inches which significantly increases soil health and carbon sequestration capacity as well as reducing the use of fossil fuels by decreasing the frequency of mowing.
  • If your town has a Department of Public works, contact them to set up a meeting to learn about their maintenance plan and to present information about soil health principles and how these practices can be applied to a grounds maintenance plan. 
  • Pursue educational opportunities on the soil health principles and on regenerative agriculture practices and how these practices can help build resilience and mitigate climate change. 
  • If your town does not have a Department of Public Works, contact your Conservation Commissioners or Selectboard members to learn about the Town’s maintenance policies.
  • Contact businesses in your communities that have large campuses to learn about their grounds maintenance practices. 
  • If you decide to pass a Town Ordinance, collect signatures to get the ordinance warned for a Selectboard or Town Meeting. This will require the collection of signatures from 10% of the town’s registered voters. 

Strategy 2 Implement demonstration projects on public and private land. 

This strategy is about creating community projects that demonstrate ways to improve soil health, and raising awareness about how regenerative agriculture supports food justice and climate justice. 

  • Mobilize community members, landowners and local organizations to plant fruit trees on the town square, build community gardens, edible gardens, or rain gardens, or focus on getting residents to change their land care practices. For example, landowners and tenants can reclaim part of their lawns for wild plants to grow, raise the blade on their lawnmowers, and plant pollinator gardens, vegetable gardens or diversify their lawns.  
  • Connect with groups like Edible Brattleboro, Montpelier Tree Board, permaculture groups, Master Gardener groups, community garden groups, farmers and others to organize education and outreach events, and to design project and work on projects together. 
  • Research what groups are in your communities and who might be working on this or might be interested in collaborating on projects.  For projects on public lands look at municipal ordinances (re: what is allowed, not allowed, what would need to change, for example, to plant fruit trees on the town square?)
  • Work with other community members and/or with organizations to build community gardens/gardens for New Americans, edible gardens, rain gardens, and land care projects that help build soil.  
  • Organize community wide Raise the Blade or Grow Wild Plants campaigns. 
  • In some cases residents will need to approach selectboard members or neighborhood association members to change lawn care policies. 
  • Connect with and support farmers in your area who are implementing regenerative agricultural practices.
  • Set up volunteer events at farms to help glean unsalable product to donate to food shelves or the food bank.
  • Organize with local regenerative farmers to hold community workshops.

Strategy 3 Support statewide policy. 

During the 2019 legislative session, Vermont passed a broad agricultural bill (Act 83), which established the Soil Conservation Practice and Payment for Ecosystem Services (SCPPES) working group. This group is tasked with coming up with recommendations for a system that creates financial incentives for farmers to implement practices to improve soil health, enhance crop resilience, increase carbon storage and stormwater storage capacity, and reduce agricultural runoff. 

For this statewide campaign, 350VT will follow the lead of allied organizations organizations (Rural Vermont, VT Healthy Soils Coalition) who are leading statewide agricultural policy reform. We will work to mobilize our base of activists to participate in their events, actions, and advocacy. For this strategy, there are several ways to plug in. 

  • Attend SCPPES working group meetingscontact Ryan Patch at VAAFM to request being added to the email notification list for meeting dates/locations and resources.
  • Generate letters to the Editor and social media content, and collaborate with other organizations to urge the passage of a Soil Health Bill that focuses on the soil health principles.
  • Increase attendance at actions and events planned by our allies, and to engage in citizen lobbying for a Soil Health Bill and other bills that incentivize regenerative agriculture and local food production.   
  • Push for financial incentives for farmers growing “climate friendly food” and for those that transition to a real organic regenerative ag production model.  
  • Become familiar with soil health bills that have passed in other states.
  • Connect with the Pesticide Coalition to learn about their work in limiting the use of pesticides in Vermont.  

Tactics

  • Reach out to 350VT for resources and information on how to get involved with the campaign. 
  • Take the Put Carbon in the Ground Pledge. 
  • Seek out educational opportunities and resources to learn about the soil health principles and real organic regenerative agriculture practices and how these practices can help build resilience and mitigate climate change.
  • Set up meetings with members of organizations or community members who might be willing to collaborate.
  • Determine what the best strategy or project is for your group or community. 
  • Hold educational events and demonstration workshops in your communities or on your property.
  • Organize letter writing parties
  • Partner with other organizations to set up events. 
  • Hold educational events in your communities, such as panel discussions, film showings, community potlucks with soil health expert speakers, book group discussions and so on (350VT staffhub can help with publicity and logistics planning for these events).
  • Talk to your family and friends about soil health and how it is an important solution to climate change.
  • Connect with and support farmers in your area who are implementing regenerative agricultural practices.
  • Post on social media about your community’s efforts and achievements.
  • Table at farmer’s markets, at your co-op or at other community events. 
  • Write op-eds and letters to local and statewide newspapers explaining the soil health principles and the importance of regenerative agriculture in mitigating climate change.
  • Share your success stories with the 350VT staff hub so we can amplify them! 

 

Resources

  • Tabling Materials
  • Soil Health Bills
  • New Mexico Bill
  • Resource list
  • Example individual action steps. 
  • Plant trees, shrubs and perennials
      • Raise the blade of your lawn mower from 2” to 3 – 4”
      • Mow a quarter less of your lawn
      • Allow wild plants and trees to grow back on a quarter of your land
      • Apply compost tea on your lawn and gardens
      • Keep the weeds on your lawn and plant your lawn with diverse species to increase biodiversity, such as dandelions, clover and deep rooted grasses. 
      • Stop spraying herbicides and pesticides.
  • Decrease food waste. Food waste in landfills creates methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas.  
  • Stop applying chemical fertilizers – use compost instead
  • Hashtags
  • #PutCarbonInTheGround
  • #RealOrganicRegenerativeAgriculture
  • #ClimateFriendlyAgriculture
  • #ClimateJusticeFoodJustice
  • #GrowTheSoilCarbonSponge
  • Facebook

Here are some example posts about Regenerative Agriculture! You can post about examples in other communities, your own garden or about projects you or people you know are working on!

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3sM2Y8JZkQ/?utm_source=ig_web_options_share_sheet

  • Glossary 
    • Carbon sequestration: Carbon sequestration can be defined as the capture and secure storage of carbon that would otherwise be emitted to or remain in the atmosphere (Science Direct).
    • Regenerative Agriculture: “Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle (Regeneration International).
    • Agroecology: an agricultural research and practice that applies ecological principles to farms and ranches, regarding them as ecosystems embedded in broader landscapes (Lexicon of Food).
    • Permaculture: One of the founding fathers of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, has defined Permaculture as “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems” (Never Ending Food).
    • Draw down: drawing carbon out of the atmosphere 
    • Soil carbon sponge: The soil structure that allows for the movement of air and water and carbon cycling that supports basic human needs such as quality and quantity of human food and fiber, breathable air, drinkable water, biodiversity, and climate regulation (Soil Carbon Coalition).

Sources

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/carbon-sequestration 

https://regenerationinternational.org/2017/02/24/what-is-regenerative-agriculture/ 

https://www.lexiconoffood.com/definition/definition-agroecology 

http://www.neverendingfood.org/b-what-is-permaculture/ 

https://soilcarboncoalition.org/recognizing-soil-carbon-sponge/