By Deb Habib and Ricky Baruc Gazette Contributing Writers
America’s industrialized agriculture system is ecologically unsustainable. It requires 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy, and uses fossil fuels for fertilizers, pesticides, transport and packaging. Repeated tilling of our earth releases carbon dioxide from the soil into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Food grown through this arrangement travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table.
There are better ways to feed our communities. The Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Education Center in Orange works to find such ways by providing people with the inspiration and practical skills to grow food at home and to use renewable energy in their communities.
Growers in Orange face the agricultural challenge of producing food on soil very different from that of the fertile Connecticut River Valley. This challenge, though, has been an opportunity for us to focus on soil- building and extending the growing season.
Without relying on fossil fuels, for example, we’ve extended the growing season using solar greenhouses from which we harvest 40 varieties of salad and cooking greens for restaurants, food co-ops and schools nine months a year. No-till, raised growing beds host garlic, field and storage crops, as well as experiments with grains. We’ve worked closely with nature to turn marginal land into fertile land. and taught our “Grow Food Everywhere” approach to thousands of Pioneer Valley residents for use in home, community and school gardens.
To grow soil, we use the “cardboard technique.” Lay cardboard on sod, cover with straw mulch, inviting worms and microbes to churn the sod and cellulose into fertile land. This can be done in the fall or in the spring. Placing cardboard covered with mulch around seedlings in spring conserves water, keeps weeds down and keeps worms and microbial life happy and fed in the cooler, moist soil. Later, the cardboard will decompose. This approach results in a no-till garden that supports soil life and abundant crops. And no-till methods sequester carbon in the soil, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
There are many approaches to building fertile soil but this works well for us and inspires others in its simplicity.
Today we’re seeing more and more people wanting to grow their own food—on lawns and rooftops, in urban and rural youth programs, in community gardens and farms and at schools. The challenging economic times, numerous health and food-contamination crises, environmental and energy concerns, and a sense of disconnection from the source of our sustenance are combining to draw folks into gardening.
We respond to this need and growing interest in local food through our SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden program for North Quabbin teenagers; partnerships with eight schools in Orange, Athol, New Salem and Greenfield where we’ve helped cultivate gardens and greenhouses along with related curricula, as well as a new Wellness Garden in partnership with Athol Memorial Hospital
Growing food close to home is an antidote to the industrialization of our food and invites us to reclaim a landscape of food self-sufficiency. We can feed ourselves and the soil at the same time. Growing food everywhere nourishes and revitalizes us, our families, communities and planet.
Deb Habib and Ricky Baruc are founders of Seeds of Solidarity Farm and Education Center in Orange, Mass., where Deb serves as executive director and Ricky as farmer/educator.
Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 525 South Pleasant St., Amherst, appears every other week. For more information, call 413-256-6006, or write to us.Click here to return to full list of Earth Matters articles.