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There's a Lot to Learn at Rodale

July 26, 2010 – Isn’t it extremely odd, now that BP has drilled to within inches of the Gulf well, that it is revisiting the idea of killing the well with mud? What about the relief well has suddenly gone awry? Has this all been a charade, a performance intended to mute the endless barrage of questions? What – as usual – are we not being told? This whole thing, start to finish, stinks to high heaven.

CNN reported last week that 38 million Chinese people have been evacuated, either temporarily or permanently, because of flooding this year. Their website reports that 30,000 Pakistani’s are currently dealing with a similar fate. Back here in the Midwest, Milwaukee’s airport was closed because of two feet of standing water, which, incidentally, caused a sinkhole to open up and swallow an SUV. The driver was not hurt.

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The good people at the Rodale Institute have been leading the charge for organics since 1947. The Institute, located near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, was started by J.I. Rodale, a man fascinated with the possibility of improving nutrition by farming organically. Rodale’s recently published report, Regenerative Organic Farming: A Solution to Global Warming, written by Dr.’s Tim J. LaSalle and Paul Hepperly, is one of the most hopeful documents I’ve read in quite awhile now. Published in 2008, it has deserved widespread notice. Let me tell you why.

The authors begin with some historical information. Midwestern soils, which back in the 1950s consisted of as much as 20% carbon, are down to 1 – 2 %. What I never realized was that carbon-containing organic matter greatly increases the soil’s ability to retain water. Organic soils are particularly valuable during drought years, because of their superior water retention. Furthermore, organic soil holds far more carbon than the vegetation that grows in it. Adding carbon-containing organic matter, especially manure, to soil helps renew its fertility while building fresh soil. Adding nitrogen to soil, as conventional farming methods have done ever since the end of World War Two, does nothing to improve soil quality. We have been mining the soil for over 60 years now.

Organic soil’s superior carbon sequestering ability was demonstrated at Rodale during its Farming Systems Trials (FST), which are ongoing. These are the longest-running, side-by-side comparison of conventional farming with organic in this country, or anywhere else. LaSalle and Hepperly conducted all of their research during FST, where they learned that organic soils can sequester up to 2,000 lbs. of carbon per acre per year. Conventionally farmed soil loses 300 lbs. per acre per year. This is carbon which is added to the carbon dioxide load already in the atmosphere, thereby increasing pollution. Organic farming, on the other hand, puts carbon where it belongs: in soil, not in the air.

This discovery must become a driver of government policy. Educating farmers, educating the public, and monitoring of the air and the soil are all tasks needing to be conducted on a national scale. Tasks the cost of which pale in comparison with the cost of doing nothing.

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