Planting Seeds of Climate Hope

graphic showing the cycle of a regenerative garden
Graphic by Jes Walton

One calorie of food grown on a conventional farm takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce. That’s because industrial agriculture relies on energy-intensive chemical inputs and results in difficult-to-manage waste. This linear system is wreaking havoc on our planet and it just doesn’t make sense.

Conventional agriculture depends on the production, transportation and use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Even though these chemicals are expensive, they’re often used in excess in conventional systems, with waste polluting nearby ecosystems and waterways because yields take priority over environmental health. In industrial agriculture, imperfect produce is often wasted and animals are raised on concentrated lots where manure causes additional pollution concerns. The systems that once defined agricultural and nutrient cycles are broken.

Emissions from our global food system account for nearly one third of all climate change-causing greenhouse gases. But research by the Rodale Institute has shown that widespread adoption of regenerative growing methods could sequester a significant amount of the world’s current emissions.

There’s hope, and it can start at home.

With the right practices, your Climate Victory Garden has the potential to be an efficient, climate-friendly closed loop. Instead of relying on fossil fuels, you can harness the energy of the sun and soil for your food.

Tina Jacobs, owner of Devine Gardens, supplies gardeners with compost created on her 70-acre regenerative farm. For her, soil health, and nutrient cycling are key to closing the loop.

“When plants grow, they take up nutrients from the soil. They pass these nutrients to you when you eat them and it’s your job as a Climate Victory Gardener to return nutrients to the soil for future growing seasons,” says Jacobs. “Nourish your soil and your soil will nourish you.”

Acadia Tucker, author of Growing Good Food from Stone Pier Press, looks to healthy ecosystems for guidance.

“Think of a forest: Nutrient-rich leaves fall to the ground where insects, fungi, bacteria, and other critters incorporate the fallen material into the soil,” says Tucker. “This cycle builds topsoil packed with nutrients that support more plant growth. It’s a process that replenishes ecosystems the world over, from forests to grasslands.”

When you start looking for ways to reduce waste and close the loop in your garden, you’ll find that minor changes can have major impacts. Instead of raking, bagging, and discarding leaves, you can compost them on site, creating fodder for healthy soil microbes. It’s easier on the wallet and beneficial for your garden. Plus, it eliminates the pollution associated with single-use plastics, waste pickup services, and fertilizer production.

Dr. Sasha Kramer is the co-founder and executive director of SOIL, an organization that treats and transforms human waste into agricultural-grade compost in Haiti. She advocates for ditching commercial fertilizers and instead regenerating soil fertility with organic matter.

“By recycling waste into the soil, we are reestablishing the broken nutrient cycles that tie us to the land,” Kramer says. “Compost helps the soil sequester carbon and increase plant growth—a win for both climate and agriculture.”

Curious about “humanure” and safely composting human waste? Read more about Dr. Kramer’s work to transform a public health issue into an environmental solution on her Soil SuperHero profile. [Editor’s note: We don’t recommend composting human waste unless you’re an expert or working closely with one.]

Looking for more ways to close the loop in your garden? Seed saving, sharing excess harvest, and using graywater are all great ways to decrease your garden’s footprint and become even more self-sufficient. For Climate Victory Gardening tips, visit our guide.

From Green American Magazine Issue