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Organic Farms Are Slowing Climate Change

Good news for food co-op and farmers market fans—buying that fresh, organic food you love has been identified as an excellent (and delicious) way that you can help slow global warming—how cool is that?

Environmental benefit has always been on the list of reasons to buy organically grown food, and now emerging climate science has identified that the soil-building practices used on organic farms are very effective at slowing climate change. Hold onto your stats, because the research we are going to share with you here is inspiring!

New to organic? Read up on the basics over here.

For many years, the main story shared about organic farming has focused on how organic certification avoids the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs. But organic agriculture is so much more than that—it is a system of farming that is environmentally constructive. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rich, healthy soil of an organic farm.

A side by side study conducted by the Rodale Institute comparing organic corn and soybean production with conventional methods has shown that after thirty years of research, soil health on organic farms increases over time, while soil on a conventional farm remains unchanged at best. The Organic Center also found that compared to conventional farms, the average organic farm’s soil has 44% higher levels of humic acid, which is found in humus, the part of soil made up of composted plants and manure. It’s not accidental—certified organic farmers are required to build soil health by applying compost, planting cover crops and practicing crop rotation, among other methods.

But why does soil health matter when it comes to climate change? Climate scientists have identified that in order to slow or reverse global warming, we must find ways of more efficiently drawing carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere while also reducing and minimizing carbon emissions of all kinds. Organic farms do both! It just so happens that humic acid increases soil’s ability to hold (or sequester) carbon pulled out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis by plants. Building soil health greatly improves soil’s ability to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

Want more dirt? Watch this 3 minute video to learn The Soil Story.

That’s not all, though—not by a country mile. That same study by Rodale demonstrates that even long term, organic yields match conventional yields, with potential for higher profits for the farmer, mostly because organic farming uses 45% less energy. Most of that energy savings happens because organic farmers do not use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which require an enormous amount of energy to manufacture, transport and apply. Less energy use is good for the environment and the farmer’s pocketbook, but using less nitrogen fertilizer in particular has enormous benefits for the climate.

According to Project Drawdown, excess synthetic nitrogen fertilizer chemically destroys organic matter (that valuable carbon sponge), reducing soil’s ability to hold carbon. Worse, naturally occurring soil bacteria convert nitrogen fertilizer into nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Organic farms don’t use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers by law—instead, they plant nitrogen producing cover crops like hairy vetch and clover and apply properly composted animal manures. According to the Rodale study, conventional farms may emit nearly 40% more greenhouse gases per pound of crop than organic farms, with the bulk of that being nitrous oxide.

From organic to regenerative: The Future of Farms and Food

While more research is needed, we are excited to share this great news about the potential benefits of organic farming and its role in helping to mitigate climate change. As we continue to see climate change impact our environment, we are confident that solutions like organic farming will continue to gain momentum. You can find delicious, nutritious organic food at food co-ops across the country—what a tasty way to make a difference!