This blog was written for Working Lands Alliance by our Co-Chairs Kip Kolesinskas and Jim Smith
To those of us who work with the land every day, Jim as a farmer and Kip a soil scientist, every day is Earth Day. On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, however, all of us should give special consideration to our impacts on Mother Earth—the only known habitable planet. The theme this year’s Earth Day is climate change, which is the greatest threat to the survival of all species on the planet. We continue to think that we are separate from nature and that the decisions we make that pollute our water and air and reduce biodiversity somehow won’t affect us, or that “technology will fix it.” Nothing is further from the truth. So what does the priority mission of the Working Lands Alliance—farmland preservation—have to do with preventing, reversing, and adapting to climate change?
Less than 2% of the Earth’s surface is capable of producing the food and fiber we need for current and future generations to survive. At the same time, we expect these soil landscapes to provide places to live, habitat, clean air and water, recreation, spiritual connections, and scenic beauty. Yet we continue to squander the soil resources that can produce agricultural products with the least environmental impact and that are the most resilient to the impacts of climate change. The USDA has identified these as important farmland soils because they require fewer inputs while producing high yields with little environmental risk, or they produce specialty crops because of their features and climate. In addition, when farmers are provided with information, incentives, and a fair return on their product, they can make investments in these soils. In turn, this will mitigate climate change by storing carbon in the soil, reduce the use of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, and decrease methane emissions through conservation practices.
The COVID-19 crisis, like the climate-change-induced weather extremes of more powerful and unpredictable storms, also exposes the vulnerabilities of our current food system; of not having a network of local food production and distribution near where people live. Protecting the loss of farmland from sprawl development patterns and supporting production in rural, urban, and suburban areas not only prevents a food crisis, but it also mitigates climate change through reducing emissions from transporting food long distances and from food waste. Farms in urban and suburban areas can help cool warming cities, improve air quality, store carbon, infiltrate water to prevent flooding, provide habitat, and provide healthy food and environmental justice for residents.
So, on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, what are some actions that we can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and that also promote farmland preservation?
- Contact your elected officials about supporting farmland preservation. Discuss with local planning, conservation, and economic development commissions what they are doing to support farms and local food systems.
- Support local agriculture in your community. Eat and shop seasonally and locally. Join a CSA, shop at farm stands, farmers markets, garden centers, and nurseries. Ask restaurants and grocery stores to carry and use Connecticut farm products.
- Support the implementation of climate change action plans in your town/city, and Governor Lamont’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) Plan, which will include strategies for agriculture’s contribution to mitigation and adaptation.
The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day is a call to action on climate change, our biggest threat. It should also be considered a call to action on farmland preservation as a critical strategy. Supporting, restoring, and protecting the diversity of ecosystems (which includes farms), food systems, and humanity will help us mitigate and adapt to a changing world. Working Lands Alliance is here with you to create the brave, innovative solutions we need.