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Walking Lightly On The Land

Our inherited colonial-capitalist-industrial food system is deeply rooted in colonialism and contribute to 50% of all greenhouse gasses[1] emitted into the atmosphere. Global food processers’ business model generates $89b[2] in revenues a year and their environmental externalities [a cost not included when calculating profits] is 224% of that. Compare this with oil and gas which generates $670b/annum with the environmental externality of just 23%. Our plate and the climate is intimately linked.

So, if we as farmers care for our climate and care for our community, we will have to unlearn and relearn what it is to be farmers. We will have to build a new relationship with the land and soil. RETURN to indigenous traditions of landculture[3] where we see ourselves not as property owners, but as land curators wherein land is connected to our identity, our spirituality and our culture. This new but old sense of landculture guides us today to make our farm walk lightly on the climate. In examining our carbon footprint we found we not doing badly at all.

Examining our carbon-positive practices;

1. farm tools: we use hand tools on all the jobs on the farm- even designed a broadfork. We don’t farm with any carbon spewing machinery,

2. minimum tillage: this results in almost zero carbon loss into the atmosphere,

3. soil cover: this adds carbon and protect carbon in the soil,

4. we don’t remove crop roots: this locks-up carbon in the soil,

5. indigenous plants: trees, shrubs, groundcovers are a large source of carbon storage,

6. compost: this adds carbon in the soil,

7. food waste: the farm recycles all its food waste into compost. There is very little produce waste as we harvest in the morning and as needed what we sell for the day.

8. recycling: bins are dedicated to plastics, steel, paper and glass. The bins are ‘picked’ by waste pickers once a week,

9. overall, through the above practises carbon increased in the soil from 0.5% to 2% in three years

10. on-farm Organic+ Farm Stall: no food is transported to the market. Consumers emit no extra carbon emissions shopping with us because the Farm Stall is on an existing transport route

Where then do we spew carbon?

Bakkie: uses petrol, emits carbon- used for picking up farm supplies, manure. We can reduce trips with the bakkie if we plan trips better and eliminate unnecessary trips. We could possibly save between 20% and 30% on energy and emissions.

Chipper: uses petrol, emits carbon- turns the local community’s garden waste into material to compost. The question is does the CO2 emissions of the chipper cancel the CO4 emissions that would otherwise have been emitted if the green waste has ended up at landfill? My guess is yes.

Electricity: coal/nuclear energy, emits carbon- used for irrigation pumps, cooking, lighting, refrigeration. We could install biodigester to power our stove. Invest in solar power to go ‘off-grid’. However, this comes at a cost and not high on our priority list. Solar panels are made from mined materials which has its own carbon footprint. Implementing a stricter energy savings protocol on the farm is more practical for now.

The farm irrigation is a case in point. We are busy switching to overhead sprinklers[4] after repurposing some Campaign funding and a generous donation of a 10 000 litre water tank by Christian Alexander. But this was NOT what we planned and is very counter intuitive for me. We planned on going to drip irrigation after our cheapy 1000 micro-sprinkler system. But the lack of adequate compost- we apply approximately 25% of what’s needed to build soil fertility which in turn build soil’s capacity to hold water, which means more irrigation and electricity use. The summer of 2021/2022 was hotter than usual. Switching to overhead sprinklers – with bigger water drops- will save us some energy for now.

Sanitation: we use electric pumps to move water into septic tanks and soak-away. We hope to start cleaning the farm’s black and grey water. This would really be worthy exercise. I talked to Dr Kevin Winters of UCT’s Future Water Institute recently and hope he can assign me a student to design a practical water recycling system[5]. This could be an innovative model in how to deal with waste water on farms on top of the aquifer.

Compact tractor: uses diesel, emits carbon. This is on our needs list. Working with the chipper we already have, will a tractor’s CO2 emissions cancel the CO2 and CO4 emissions that would otherwise have been emitted if the garden and food waste ended up at landfill? My guess is yes.

In assessing how our small farm is doing in our responsibility of care for the aquifer, our ecology, on climate change and towards our customers, overall, I'd say we having small but positive impact.

Video: Bumble bee on the farm's sunflower windbreaks

references: [1] [2] [3] Landculture: a culture of land stewardship and care; linked to identity, spirituality, responsibility, as opposed to agriculture narrowly focused on property ownership, and the exploitation of the environment, labour and community. [4] [5]

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