To save the planet we may need to turn it into an edible paradise... help me write the book that explains how and why.
Perennial crops and regenerative farming practices can help stabilize the climate by sequestering carbon. How does it work? Plants use photosynthesis to turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbohydrates in their tissues. In perennial plants (like trees) this carbon is stored or "fixed" in their woody parts and below-ground roots. But there's more: in no-till systems where the soil is not turned over, substantial quantities of carbon can be stored as organic matter in the soil. This book focuses on non-destructively harvested perennial crops that can provide staple foods and other essential products, and on no-till or reduced-tillage farming systems that help soil hold carbon.
These practices don't just provide food and fight climate change. Multifunctional perennial agriculture offers: ecological benefits like stabilizing slopes and improving rainwater infiltration; on-farm services like nitrogen fixation and living fences; and social benefits like income for rural people. More broadly, these crops and practices can contribute to broader social goals like climate justice and food sovereignty.
Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stabilizing the Climate with Tree Crops and Regenerative Agricultural Practices will, for the first time, bring together these powerful tools in one place. I hope the information and ideas it provides will soon be as accepted a part of the climate strategy discussion as clean energy from solar and wind - and that citizens, farmers, and funders will use it to transform degraded lands around the world into productive carbon-storing landscapes.
Why am I the guy to write this book? Well, many people seem to think I write good permaculture books. My books include Perennial Vegetables and Edible Forest Gardens (with Dave Jacke). Both have won awards. My latest book is Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City. I've recently had some nice press in the New York Times and Heifer World Ark Magazine.
I'm dedicated to the book and the larger project. I left my urban farm manager job in 2009 to devote myself to this book. I've pursued many channels to find a way to fund the writing, including fellowships, a PhD, multiple publishers, and articles for mainstream magazines. Even those few who wrote me back were unable to provide the funds I need to devote serious time to writing. But I haven't given up.
I've kept plugging away late at night and in every free moment, and I've completed much of the necessary research. I published two foundational articles in 2011 in the Permaculture Activist, one on Stabilizing the Climate with Permanent Agriculture, and the other an inventory of Perennial Staple Crops of the World. I've also found venues to teach about it including keynoting the Northeast Organic Farming Association summer conference and presenting at the Carbon Farming Course alongside big shots like Wes Jackson, Joel Salatin, and Elaine Ingham.
What's in the book?
Prelude: Case Study in the Cloud Forest
The book begins by telling the story of Las Canadas, a remarkable permaculture operation in Veracruz, Mexico where virtually every practice I profile in the book is being implemented. This profile gives an overview of regenerative perennial agriculture and its social and ecological benefits.
Part One: A Promising and Multifunctional Solution
Here's where I cover the realities of climate change and what must be done about it: get atmospheric carbon dioxide back below 350 ppm, by drastically reducing emissions and sequestering 200 to 250 gigatons of carbon. I'll show the remarkable potential of perennial crops and farming systems to draw down and safely store as much as half of that total, while simultaneously reducing emissions. When compared with massive geoengineering projects, this toolkit can provide multiple benefits to people and the environment, restoring degraded land while serving climate justice and food sovereignty efforts. In fact, it already does to a significant extent, on millions of hectares of agroforestry farms around the world. I hope to briefly lay out how this strategy intersects with the broader and complete transformation of global civilization that addressing climate change requires.
Part Two: Global Toolkit of Practices and Species
This is the heart of the book and the part I'm most excited about. I hope to start by demonstrating that small and diverse farms can do the job better than giant industrial monocultures. I'll give an introduction to the wonders of plant breeding, and my critique of GMOs. Reducing emissions (and achieving global justice) means an end to the global shipping of commodities and the need to develop local production and processing infrastructure in every region where people live. The chapters in this section will look at practices and species from around the world and for all climates, with an emphasis on exploring the native species of any given region first.
A range of practices based on perennial plants can sequester carbon, restore degraded land, capture rainwater and more. Some of these practices are well–researched and established, while others are still under development. These practices include agroforestry techniques that integrate nitrogen fixing trees with annual crops, practices like silvopasture and rotational grazing that integrate livestock to reduce labor and fossil fuel inputs, and all–perennial systems from food forestry and plantation polycultures to “woody agriculture”. Along the way we'll profile innovative organizations and individuals who are blazing the trail.
Non-destructively harvested perennial staple crops are a class of food plants that we rarely think of. Yet they have tremendous potential as the anchor of a transformed food system, providing protein, carbohydrates and fats in long–lived, no–till systems. We will look at nuts, perennial beans and grains, woody pods, staple fruits, aerial tubers, starch–filled re-sprouting trunks, and trees with high–protein leaves, among other fascinating categories. Here again we will review widely–grown crops as well as many under development, and get to know the farmers, breeders, and researchers who are making a new kind of agriculture possible.
Replacing fossil fuels means more than converting to green energy. Many of the products we use every day are made from petroleum, from plastics to tires to the clothes we wear. Industrial crops can step in to fill some of this need, but we must be wary: vast corporate monocultures of these species, even more than food plants, have created social and ecological disasters. I'll try to frame this chapter by looking at crops and technologies in light of their ability to serve regional self-determination with appropriately–scale technology. What kind of products can be made from non-destructively harvested biomass, sugar, starch, oil, naturally hydrocarbon–rich species, and fiber crops? Compostable bio–based plastics, for example, can be made at a fairly small scale in a non-toxic fashion with simple technologies. Writing this chapter has been blowing my mind and I hope it will get all of us to consider what transforming civilization will really entail.
The final chapter of this section looks at other categories of non-destructively harvested perennial crops. We'll look at the incredible potential of timber bamboo to both sequester carbon and construct hurricane–resistant housing that can survive our new, extreme weather events. I will introduce the reader to agroforestry working trees and other species that, while not for direct human use, can provide the fertility, erosion control, livestock fodder, and other critical benefits necessary to flesh out a regenerative perennial agriculture.
Part 3: Roadmap to Implementation
Technical solutions are the easy part of addressing climate change. Mobilizing the political will to get things done on a massive scale and in a fairly short time frame is by far the bigger challenge. Though I am by no means an expert in this area, in this section I will lay out what readers can do to make this vision a reality. How can we get this strategy to become as well–known as clean energy and part of every climate discussion? What barriers must be overcome, at the farm, NGO, national and international levels? What policy changes would help or hinder this project? We'll look at some successful case studies of implementing sustainable practices on a large scale from different parts of the world. I'll profile activists, research institutes, UN and government programs, and other efforts that form the beginnings of a global network, and discuss a diversity of tactics at different scales to give climate activists, policymakers, social entrepreneurs, farmers associations, scientists and philanthropists ideas for how to plug in.
If you choose to support the project, you'll receive exclusive and regular updates on the book. Species profiles, progress reports, new charts and tables, even chapters for review.
Thanks for your support
With your help I'll be able to set aside the big blocks of time needed to get "in the zone" and crank out this book I've been waiting so long to write. The more funds are pledged, the faster I can write it. Then the really hard work begins - working together to promote and implement this solution as part of the larger struggle to stabilize our planet's climate while making it a better place for all of us.
Risks and challenges
I'm happy to say that I feel confident about my ability to a) write and b) publish this book. I've written (and co-written) a number of books before including some award-winners. I'm loving writing this one so far, and much of the research is completed. I've done some interviews with important figures in the perennial crops world (like the Land Institute and others), and I have more lined up. Though I've not yet sought a publisher, I feel confident that I can find one just fine (just not one willing to pay enough advance for me to write the book, thus this campaign). Should I be unable to do so, self-publishing is easier than it has ever been.
Setbacks can always happen in writing - health challenges, family crises, etc. So far none have ever stopped me from writing for long. And I've built in a cushion to allow for a few slowdowns - January 2015 printing is a relatively conservative date for a book this far along.
Book fulfillment should be pretty straightforward. I'll pre-order a bunch and have them shipped here direct from the printer.
The perennial staple foods sampler should be an interesting challenge as I've never done anything exactly like it before. However, it is similar enough to the seed company I used to run (buy in bulk, divide it up, package, ship) that I don't foresee major difficulties. The hardest part might be testing all the recipes, but that sounds kind of fun...
For those of you interested in the phone consult and species list, I have resources on useful species for every gardenable climate in the world in my personal library. I'm also booked for workshops in various US states and some additional countries that will allow me to plant staple crop trees in your name in high deserts, Mediterranean shrublands, deciduous forests, and/or subtropical savannahs.
- (28 days)