Dear Mr. Trudeau
I am writing you at 4 am because I can’t sleep for thinking about the opportunity that lies right in front of us: to be leaders both in climate change action, and in global agriculture.
I am currently writing from southern California, where drought is crippling the state’s capacity to produce the fruits and vegetables upon which many western Canadians currently depend. Much of North America, in fact, is dependent on the agricultural production of California’s Central Valley – and it’s drying up fast. After 6 years of megadroughts, many fields have become salinized, parched deserts, with water too expensive and too salty for farmers to be able to use. Water tables have dropped, and soils each year blow away or are eroded away during winter rains, ending up in the Pacific. These dead, parched soils have released thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. [Quantity of CO2 released by agriculture]
However, there is a rapidly growing shift towards agricultural practices that actively sequester carbon. As I’m sure you’re aware, climate change is one of the most dire and galvanizing issues of our times. Regenerative agriculture is a growing field of active research and practice that designed to both produce food and livelihoods, while enriching soils, improving ecosystem services and sequestering atmospheric carbon.
Post-Green Revolution, we are becoming increasingly aware of the damages that pesticides leave on our environmental and human health. Not just for hippies and fringe folk anymore, the organics movement is rapidly becoming mainstream as even organizations such as WHO and FAO recognise that an agricultural system that doesn’t harm the Earth’s capacity to sustain us is an absolutely critical part to mitigating climate change, feeding the world, and continuing to enjoy the benefits that the natural world offers.
But it’s not enough. Organic farming on its own has failed to deliver the benefits promised, of reducing ecological harm while providing higher nutrition and greater food security. Only agricultural systems that are expressly designed to achieve multiple goals, including ecosystem health, profitability, improved quality of life and better nutrition and production will succeed in the future.
This is where regenerative agriculture, permaculture and parts of the carbon farming movement are stepping in. With explicit design for improved soil health, livelihoods, productivity and reduced energy dependency, we are creating systems that satisfy our long-term needs for security of food, water, income, energy, and shelter. As I write, Darren Doherty and wife Lisa Heenan are on a tour around the
To this end, regenerative agriculture needs to be a part of Canadian agriculture. With the exciting and inspiring defeat of Stephen Harper’s conservative party last year – and a return to research-based, science-supported government policy – I am optimistic that we have entered a perfect time to change the course of Canadian agriculture and land management, and put Canada back in the forefront of environmental, social and economic leadership.
As we speak, international trainer and practitioner in regenerative agriculture Darren Doherty is half way through a world tour of 10-day training workshops in farm planning and design for carbon-centric farming. As the first Canadian and one of the first two women to complete this training, I immediately saw this as something that will be a critical part of turning Canadian, and global, agriculture from an ecologically devastating industry into a thriving, regenerative, and diverse set of practices that not only feed people but protect biodiversity, provide clean water and diverse livelihoods, and – most importantly today – sequester atmospheric carbon. This week, at least two more Canadian agroecologists will be completing the training at a 300-acre site in Albany, Oregon.
The world tour for this series of training sessions has coincided not only with post-COP21 and the disappointing lack of definitive, binding action on climate change by nations around the world, but also with rapidly rising interest in regenerative farming, soil health, and perennial crop research. Fortunately, it also coincided with the release of a manual, guidebook and reference for how to undertake the daunting task of improving our agricultural systems around the world. This book, The Carbon Farming Solution, has been endorsed by prominent agroecologists and researchers Dr. Ratten Lal and John D. Liu; its author, Eric Toensmeier, is well known for his previous work in developing polyculture gardens and systems, and his extensive research and attention to detail in developing better global agriculture. Toensmeier details not only what carbon farming is (hint: it’s not about carbon offsets and corporate greenwashing to simply displace emissions and avoid changing practices) but why it’s so necessary at this time in human history; the capacity of different types of agricultural systems to sequester carbon; the tools, techniques and historical systems on which we can build a regenerative agriculture system; and exhaustive inventories of perennial grains, trees, fruits and vegetables that can populate these systems to provide for human needs of fats, proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, minerals, fuels, fibre and energy.
Can carbon farming really be so beneficial, with no downside? It sounds like a tall order. But around the world, the local efforts of individual ranchers, farmers and land stewards that have become convinced of its benefits are beginning to be heard. This year the USDA released a set of information materials that teach people about life in the soil and how soil biology influences crop production, ecosystem services and global climate change. The topic of soil health and its capacity to sequester carbon – while providing myriad additional benefits – is rapidly gaining momentum. There is no deabte that the time in history has arrived to take definitive action not only on climate change but on how we as humans occupy the earth, providing for our own needs while avoiding eliminating global biodiversity and ecosystems in the process.
Currently The Carbon Farming Solution has only been available in short printing runs and ships only within the United States, so I have taken the initiative to order a copy from Eric and send it to you personally. I am also fundraising to send copies to the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Environment, and as many government rangeland and agricultural specialists as I can afford to. This fall, I will be taking a copy to the Minister of Agriculture in Uganda, who is already working hard to develop a nation-wide permaculture/regenerative agriculture cooperative system both on his private 1000 acre agroforestry site and throughout the country.
As a bonus, I have included a copy of the award-winning film Polyfaces that highlights the work of regenerative agriculturist Joel Salatin and his family in Pennsylvania’s Shenandoah Valley. I think you’ll find it both entertaining, informative and deeply inspiring, as many others already have across North America and around the world.
How do all of these things come together?
– California’s agriculture is collapsing
– As a global community, we need to become less dependent on fossil fuels, and have the technology available to do so now
– Concurrently, we need to employ the cheapest, fastest, and most multi-benefit route to sequestering atmospheric carbon: building soil organic matter
– Internationally, the knowledge, practices and experience are available; the USDA is already implementing these practices into their federal agricultural materials: will Canada follow suit or lag behind?
I would like to see the Liberal government:
– Priotize funding for research into regenerative agriculture practices for Canada, essentially implementing much of the research that has been done at a grassroots level over the last 30 years
– Increase funding and support for farmers adopting or already implementing these and related practices, beyond the Environmental Farm Plan
– Provide support for training a new generation of farmers, practitioners and agroecologists in regenerative agriculture practices, based on farmers’ existing knowledge and lived experience
– Support the development of a national system of materials, training, funding and personnel to help shift agriculture towards practices based on long-term perspectives
I am a Canadian who grew up farming, studied ecology, travelled around the world, and am at this moment in a town in southern California, a region on which we are frighteningly dependent for our fresh produce for much of the year. In the face of drought, climate change, the collapse of the oil industry and increasing awareness of the need for locally relevant, economically viable and multi-generational solutions, I firmly believe that we as Canadians can do this. It is my dream to see these practices enter into mainstream agriculture where they belong.
Thank you in advance for your support.
With my best wishes and highest regards,
S. V. Cousineau, M.Sc., BIT