PETALUMA (KPIX 5) — California farmers and researchers are helping rethink approaches to climate change by reworking traditional farming practices.

At Green String Farm in Sonoma County, Bob Cannard grows produce for some of the most celebrated restaurants in California.  “The soil is the foundation of all life, and it can hold so much carbon, and produce so much bounty,” says Cannard, walking through fields that might look overgrown.

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This ground cover explosion, however, is entirely by design, because the life and death of these weeds will bring new life to this dirt.  “It doesn’t all burn out in one year,” says Cannard. “You build carbon into your soil.”

That’s the big idea California will now invest in, moving carbon out of the atmosphere and back into our soil.  This summer the state of California will spend seven million dollars encouraging farmers to embrace practices that would make their soil more carbon absorbent.

It’s just a trial program, but the practices that are being encouraged have already been adopted by many climate-conscious farmers.  “The atmospheric carbon, bringing it in and doing positive things with it instead of frivolous or negative things,” explained Cannard, who has embraced the idea of so-called carbon farming for decades.

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“I love that soil is becoming part of the story line, that people are saying the word out loud,” said a beaming Kate Scow, soil scientist with the University of California, Davis.  Near the town of Winters, Scow and a team of researchers are conducting a 100-year study on how land responds to different farming practices.

There’s growing evidence that better use of our land can also help us clear the air. “And that’s part of the climate change discussion,” said Scow. “It is in the below ground where there is a lot of potential for storing carbon.”

Climate change solutions often involve complex ideas like carbon offset programs and changing the nation’s energy paradigm, but maybe the solutions don’t have to be that complicated.  Maybe one tool in the climate fight is as easy as being nicer to the land, and letting the land do some of the work.  As Cannard explained: “Your digestive system is in here, the digestive system of a plant is in the soil.”


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