Soil health becomes even more important once we realize our food supply is at risk due to conventional agriculture practices merging with climate change weather events that increase droughts and extreme heat. Currently, according to US Drought Monitor, there are 14 states experiencing extreme and exceptional drought conditions, with the following states having the highest exposure:
- New Mexico
In the center of California’s prosperous farm belt in the San Joaquin Valley, farmers are struggling to stay afloat after four years of extreme drought. In June 2021, the Fresno Bee published an article with the headline: “San Joaquin Valley needs to stop waiting to be rescued.” The piece outlined that the Bureau of Reclamation issued an update for the Central Valley Project for Agriculture, informing farmers that water deliveries to famers were being reduced from 5% to 0%. Farmers would now have to rely on groundwater, which would likely be challenging due to reduced snowpack and little to no rain.
“Soil. Earth. Ground. And due to its vast scale and its ability to sequester immense quantities of greenhouse gases, it could just be the one thing that can balance our climate, replenish our freshwater supply, and feed the world. That’s why some people are racing to save our soil, in hopes that our soil just might save us.”Award winning documentary, Kiss the Ground
Pioneer soil health expert, and North Dakota rancher, farmer and author, Gabe Brown, knows the perils all too well and has been working tirelessly since the mid-nineties to educate and promote the six principles of regenerative agriculture to farmers across the country in an effort to help prevent the precarious downward spiral that leads to soil degradation when heat and drought set in. Additionally, Gabe was invited to speak to the House Agriculture Committee back in spring 2021 about the impact of climate change on farming.
I recently spoke with Gabe and asked him what he recommended for homeowners in states experiencing drought conditions. Is it better to conserve water, or plant diverse no mow plants? He explained that the regenerative soil health principles are the same everywhere, and can be applied to lawns despite tough conditions. He suggested the following:
- Plant diverse native species that are low water users.
- We need living plants in order to get more rainfall (“people don’t often believe this, but it’s true”).
- Living plants attract moisture conditions.
- Plus they emit moisture.
- Way better off to grow something than not.
- We’re compounding the problem by NOT growing things.
- Need to grow the right kind of plant that can tolerate these conditions.
- Not only will plants create rain, they’ll also boost soil health and store more carbon above and below ground.
This can seem challenging to wrap our minds around, so I better repeat. If we want rain, we have to start planting the right native species. Live roots in the ground generate the rain.
- A quick search online populates lists of plants that grow well in drought conditions.
- Become a citizen scientist and test to see which species grow best in your community.
- Diverse mix of no mow, drought tolerant grasses are ideal.
- Once we feel more certain about which plants will survive we can pass the word to neighbors as well as the environmental department at town hall. Collective action will turn us all into rainmakers.
- Let’s give it our best shot.
by Noreen Wise
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