Bio4Climate: Hi Charlotte, thanks for taking some time to chat! Please tell us a little about Terra Lingua Farm, this project you started this past year.
Charlotte: Terra Lingua is a dryland farm, meaning it is non-irrigated and uses minimal water. The farm will have seven layers of plants, including fruit trees, nut trees, perennial plants, and lots of herbs. The idea is to have a wealth of crop diversity. We use microbial inoculation to increase the soil carbon content of the soil, so we need significantly less water than typical farming operations.
Bio4Climate: What are the ecological benefits of a dryland farm?
he microbial system of plants exists outside of them, in the soil. Microbes are essential for healthy plants, but industrial agriculture removes almost all the microbes from the ground - so the plants can't do a proper job. That's why the pests come: the self-defense system of the plants isn't working right. Furthermore, without microbes in the soil, we're not getting the immunity from nutrient-dense plants; this leads to nutrient deficiencies in our diets.
The farm only requires 8 to 14 inches of water per year to grow food. We get about 1 inch of rain per month in the Oregon desert, and it's typically done raining by 9 AM. But when you have all these green absorbent plants, the soil really retains that water. The only way to have a system where you don't have to water or fertilize is to increase the carbon sequestration of the soil.
In addition, our yields come throughout the year, not all at once. You're not dependent on one crop. So if one crop doesn't produce that much in that season you have a wide diversity of other crops to fall back on. This also makes for happier pickers because you don't have a transient work force; you can have 10 people who harvest year-round.
Bio4Climate: How do you create a productive farm in the desert?
Charlotte: You inoculate the land with microbes, which store carbon. The microbes build humus - the organic matter that retains moisture and nutrients in the soil - and the soil becomes water efficient and also increases the nutrient density of the plants.
Aranya's Farm: a Permaculture Farm in India that inspired Charlotte. PC: permacultureindia.org
Bio4Climate: Do you see this as a viable replacement for large-scale agriculture?
Charlotte: This system requires skills that are much more in tune with the land. This is what is lacking in industrial agriculture. The European method is very intensive: when farmers aren't physically doing work, they're having machines do it. There is a paradigm blocking many people from engaging in this work but we can solve many of the problems facing industrial agriculture - the decrease in nutrient density, pest control, colony collapse disorder - by treating our land properly. Industrial mechanisms have almost no microbes in the ground, so plants can't do their job and that's why the pests come.
We've stripped our ecosystems and compromised the seeds, the soil, and the pollinators. We can solve these problems by regenerating the land - by treating the soil with microbes. If you reintroduce microbes to the soil, you don't have to buy pesticides and fertilizers or spend money on irrigation, and you'll reap higher profits for your crops. Essentially this makes industrial farming obsolete.
Bio4Climate: It's very interesting to hear about the potential of dryland systems. You also host permaculture workshops. Who are they for?
Charlotte: I've been working with people in Cambridge and Lexington, MA who want to take out their lawns and replace them with a more sustainable alternative. I work as a consultant, and show people how to spray microbes into the space where lawns use to be, in order to make it a carbon sequestering system.
Bio4Climate: What are some of your upcoming projects for 2017?
Charlotte: On Terra Lingua, we'll be planting fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and lots of herbs. The plan is to show people in the desert and in California's Central Valley that if they choose these methods they can both make money and retain precious water. We can demonstrate significant yields in places that were once solely desert. Most farmers are stressed. Farmers in Massachusetts experienced a severe drought this year, and many know they need to do something different, so I'd like to help them out as well.
Bio4Climate: You also spoke at our most recent Oceans conference in November! Any thoughts on the weekend?
Charlotte: Yes, I spoke about Terra Lingua and on farming practices that can sequester more carbon. I really enjoyed the conference and loved the format of having 30-minute presentations, and then a Q&A session. This is how we can get scientists out of their silos and achieve a better sense of the wider world.
Bio4Climate: Thanks for chatting with us, Charlotte. It sounds like you have exciting plans for the upcoming year. Where is the best place for interested home gardeners, farmers or readers to reach you?
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