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Focusing on earth this Earth Day

April 22nd, 2021

Earlier this week, as I took soil samples for a project assisting farmers in adopting soil health practices, I started thinking about how so much of AFT’s work fits into this year’s Earth Day theme: Restore our Earth. For me, much of my personal and professional work is built upon that same guiding purpose – advocating and acting for the restoration and regeneration of our Earth. Here at AFT, we are working with farmers both nationally and regionally to restore the land that sustains us all. Whether that be working at the federal level advocating for greater support in the next Farm Bill, or the work we are doing on the ground, sometimes even with our hands in the soil.

I’m a soil scientist, a climate scientist, and an educator and I came onboard AFT to expand our ground game in the battle against climate change, both literally and figuratively. That is why this Earth Day’s call to action, the call to restore the earth, is particularly meaningful to me and to my work here in New England. Restoring the earth means improving soil health, increasing the resilience of farmland, and protecting food security. After a year and half of fundraising, grant writing, and program planning – we are ready to take it to the field, where right now, this very minute, farmers across New England are already out there.

Here is what we’re doing in New England: 

Soil Health Demonstration Trials – We are working with farmers to establish on-farm demonstration trials that will track changes in soil health, water quality, yield, and farm viability over the next 5 years. The data collected during this time can help us create Soil Health Economic Case Studies to share with other soil health curious farmers in the region. 

Targeted and Innovative Technical and Financial Assistance We’re developing focused assistance programs for dairy farmers, vegetable producers, women farmers, urban agriculture operations, and livestock producers through farmer-to-farmer mentor programs, expanding access to state and federal conservation programs, and paying farmers for adopting practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere.  

State-Wide Soil Health Programming – We’re launching the Massachusetts Coordinated Soil Health Program to provide farmers across the state with a suite of wrap-around services to lower barriers to adopting soil health practices – a project guided by a diverse advisory team of farmers, soil health experts, and community partners.  

Advancing Regenerative Agriculture – And soon we’ll being work on our Western New England Regenerative Agriculture project. We are really looking forward to engaging and working with new partners including University of VermontUniversity of ConnecticutXerces SocietyNew England DairyQualiTru, and the Consider Pastures brand from Pete and Gerry’s Organics. With their partnership, farmers will get financial and technical support for their journey to adopting regenerative farming practices. These practices are proven to reduce soil erosion​, add soil organic matter, improve soil health​, increase land resiliency, and raise the farmer’s bottom line.​ Our goal with this project is to operate at a scale that brings about real change and provides lasting benefits to New England farms, while enhancing the region’s ability to combat climate change. 

Advancing Policy: In Connecticut, Working Lands Alliance has been doing incredible work to support policy that protects our natural and working lands. New England lost 105,000 acres of farmland to development between 2001 and 2016nearly 50% of which was prime farmland or farmland of statewide significance. And over the last 2 years, I have seen firsthand the impact of strong policies that were built out of cooperative efforts to effect long-term, holistic change. Throughout New England we are increasing farmland preservation, getting agriculture a seat at the table when discussing climate change solutions, advancing smart solar siting that protects agricultural production – while advancing solar energy, researching dual-use solar for energy AND food production, and promoting restorative farming practices. These practices, whether you know them as regenerative agriculture, agroecology, soil-health or climate-smart, are the solutions to counter-act decades of soil degradation and carbon emissions. These practices are the tools we need to restore our earth. 

On a national level, AFT’s initiative, Farms Combat Climate Change is supporting farmers in adopting climate friendly practices such as regenerative ag and solar; while also working on a policy level to pass legislation that sustains this work for the future. This project is a broad-based, holistic approach to mitigating climate change with the help of individuals, policymakers, government leaders, and society.  

Supporting farmers and the land they farm is what AFT was created to do more than 40 years ago. Here in New England, we’re proud to do our part – but more importantly, we’re proud to support farmers who are out there doing this important work every day.  Because – while Earth Day activities will end this week, every time a farmers plants cover crops, transitions to no-till, or rotates their livestock to the next paddock, that action is restoring the e/Earth.

 

If you missed John Piotti, AFT President, on the Earth Day Live – Regenerative Agriculture panel – Watch it here!