Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming by Acadia Tucker could really be titled, What One Homeowner/Gardener Can Do to Combat Global Warming. In fact, I would recommend Acadia’s new book to every gardener to learn how a person can impact the environment through one’s own garden.
Acadia speaks from experience in a simple, easy-to-understand manner. Acadia has a degree in Environmental Science from Pitzer College and a graduate degree in Land and Water Systems from the University of British Columbia. She has translated her farming experience and education for home gardeners to apply within their own garden. Acadia used to manage a market farm in Washington that originally had a “crappy dirt problem.” However, by improving the soil, she was able to produce 200 crops to sell at farmers markets. Currently she lives in New Hampshire growing hops for local breweries and with her own garden is purposely growing what is good for the environment.
She begins Growing Good Food with explaining how healthy soil, soil high in organic matter and living organisms, absorbs carbon dioxide emissions. The buildup of organic matter in the soil is the essence of regenerative or carbon farming. Gardeners, as well as farmers, should always be interested in building and creating healthy soil for their gardens. Healthy soil retains rainwater and prevents erosion, supports living organisms, and helps plants resist pests and disease. Now gardeners have a new reason, healthy soil absorbs carbon.
About half of the carbon released into the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans, plants, and soil annually. Soil does the most part, storing four times more carbon than plants. However, if the soil is degraded through plowing, stripping, chemicals, and erosion, it is unable to absorb carbon. The way that soil absorbs carbon is through plants. Plants take in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and eventually carbon goes into the soil. It will stay in the soil at a deep root level if the plant’s roots are left undisturbed. This is why it is important not to till and why perennials, plants that stay in the ground, as opposed to annuals that are usually pulled at the end of the growing season, are preferred.
Acadia does not say that one person’s home garden can change global warming but she does make the case that if you were to look at all the gardens in a community, from a bird’s eye view, then together gardeners can make a difference. She equates this to the Victory Garden movement during World War II. Today, gardeners can make a difference by making Climate Victory Gardens.
She emphasizes the importance of adding organic matter to the soil, composting and mulching, using sheet mulching to create new beds, and growing more perennial food crops than annuals. Perennials, like a bramble or a fruit tree, are deep rooted and are not pulled up every year, thus keeping the carbon in the soil. She does not advocate not growing annuals such as beans but explains the advantages perennials have compared to annuals in terms of creating a Climate Victory Garden.
To learn more about the concept of perennial foods, read Acadia’s first book, Growing Perennial Foods. In Growing Good Food, Acadia describes “starter perennials,” perennial plants that would be easy and of interest to home gardeners, such as the berries, herbs, rhubarb, and walking onion; and the “tender perennials” such as tomatoes and peppers. She also describes how to grow the “favorite garden annuals” such as beans, carrots, and cucumbers but explains how gardeners should re-think in terms of roots and try to minimally disturb the soil.
Acadia also covers gardening issues like where, when, and how to plant a Climate Victory Garden, how to keep it going throughout the year, common diseases and pests, and gardening tools. This 168-page paperback is an introduction to the larger conversation of making a difference on this planet with one’s own property. It underscores the importance of what gardeners have known all along, the soil is what makes the difference.