FARMING TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE
A PLAN TO SAVE THE WORLD. SERIOUSLY.
After almost a year of grueling full-time Sandy work, it dawned on me that the extreme weather caused by climate change meant I could spend the rest of my life cleaning up after natural disasters. And if Sandy was any indication, I knew the effects of "climate chaos" would continue to hit hardest people who are already poor and living on the margins. I came to realize that climate change is a social justice issue. So I committed myself to doing something about it. With a friend from Occupy Philly, whom I met doing urban gardening through the “Occupy Vacant Lots” initiative, I started the Experimental Farm Network (EFN).
In early 2014, I moved to South Jersey. I lived in my ex-girlfriend's falling-apart 1986 Toyota Dolphin RV, parked on a field in Pittsgrove Township, where a generous couple still allow us use a large portion of their property for the flagship EFN research farm.
The purpose of the non-profit organization — thriving as we begin our fifth season — is to facilitate collaboration on sustainable agriculture research, with a particular focus on breeding resilient new crop plants (or studying old ones) capable of shifting agriculture from a major driver of climate change to a major weapon against it. Every time a field is plowed, it releases carbon into the atmosphere. Most agriculture, therefore, contributes intensely to greenhouse gas emissions (by most accounts it rivals transportation and energy for the top spot on the list). EFN is working to breed perennial crops, which take carbon from the air and trap it underground, including perennial wheat, rye, and sorghum. Perennial staple crops could one day replace the genetically engineered, chemical-dependent annual corn and soy that have become ubiquitous across the world. Continuing to farm as we do threatens our health, our environment, and the future of the planet. We need revolutionary change in agriculture.
Plant breeding generally involves producing lots and lots of seeds by crossing two or more varieties together, then growing them out to look for uniquely beneficial combinations. It has been described as looking for a needle in a haystack. The purpose of EFN is to enable plant breeders and other researchers to tap into a vetted army of volunteer growers. With ten people, or a hundred, looking for the same needle in the same haystack, it becomes much easier to find. Widespread collaboration thus has real power to drive innovation in new crop development.
EFN applies the same ethos of volunteerism and crowdsourcing which had enabled Occupy Sandy to mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers (often more effectively than the Red Cross or FEMA) to the profound problems of modern industrialized agriculture. We can't rely on chemical companies like Monsanto or energy companies like Exxon-Mobil to solve the problem of global climate change. Corporations like them got us into this mess. This is a generational problem and it's up to all of us to do what we can to solve it.