Co-owner of the Nicasio Native Grass Ranch and Co-founder of the Marin Carbon Project
I actually come from a family of farmers. My grandfather was a farmer in South Dakota and like most farmers and food producers, he believed he was doing something really responsible. He was contributing and carrying his weight and helping society thrive, but what was lacking in those earlier eras was the actual ability to measure the overall impact of these practices and so in a grazed rangeland system which we’re in here, we’ve never before looked at what’s happening in the soil system. We’ve always paid attention to grass population and animal performance but the net result of just focusing on that has been a slow and steady loss of soil carbon over the last couple hundred years. Now the system’s actually crashing and collapsing and we’re seeing an invasion of weeds and all kinds of problems. So, I’m actually a carbon farmer
What is the problem with soil in America today?
Our system has changed dramatically and now what we see are dominant oat plants which come in sooner than the native populations. They get all the sunshine basically and they crowd out the sun and crowd out the other plants from getting sunshine and that has shifted the species. That, plus overgrazing, which we didn’t know we were doing but have actually been doing for centuries; a consequence of a couple hundred years now of not fully understanding the ecosystem. We’re basically introducing cattle into the system and trying to maximize beef production and milk production and that’s a good thing; we need to feed people. Unfortunately, by doing that and not being aware of the different management options available we’ve actually over time now watched carbon loss from the systems and that’s not a good thing.
What is the solution?
Soil carbon sequestration. Applying carbon back into the soil topically using compost which is a biologically stable form of carbon. Microorganisms can then pull the soil as a part of their normal life processes and feed the microorganism population. Looking at agriculture as the art of providing food, fuel, fiber and flora, we’re at this moment now with research and measurement that we can inform agriculture in a way that removes massive quantities of this free untapped resource which is what actually CO2 is while producing all of our culture material needs which is food, flora, and fiber.
What is your earliest childhood food memory?
My mother was a great cook, I remember regular abundant food and that gave me a real sense of security and peace. I always enjoyed having family meals, that was a very important part of my upbringing. We always shared a family meal, we did not have a television in the room; it was a different culture, so it was more the circumstance around the food which I remember very fondly and it had to do with family.