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Biodiversity as a primary food systems viability & climate resilience/ mitigation strategy on New England farms

Grow biodiversity in agroecological systems to maximize yield, enhance nutrient density, and broadly increase ecosystem services.

Photo of Suzanna Konecky
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Biodiversity for a Livable Climate

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Barre, Massachusetts

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Southern New England

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

In progress

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

What’s the single most important factor to consider when trying to restore degraded farmlands, increase crop yield, and combat climate destabilization? The answer is biodiversity - of plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, and, yes, even the primitive Archaea. In very broad terms, the history of agricultural innovation has trended toward the uniformity of agricultural ecosystems. Hunter-gatherer societies’ food management decisions consisted of burning forest to create more grassland for migrating herds, and selecting the biggest wild grains to sow in semi-wild plots. Today, however, we have a predominantly industrial agriculture system in which crop production begins with eliminating most of the life from a land area and then managing for a single species dominance of one variety of crop at a time. In converting biodiverse ecosystems to largely homogeneous agricultural cropping systems, we have reduced both the total carbon present in surface biomass and soil organic carbon (SOC). Soil carbon is held and sequestered in soil via the action of microbe-plant synergy; critically, studies show a direct relationship between plant diversity and sequestered carbon (see figure right from citation in link). Uniform agroecosystems make management decisions easier, speed harvest, and produce massive food surpluses. However, the cost has been a marked decline in SOC, which is appearing in our atmosphere as greenhouse gases. In fact, 50 to 70% of soil carbon stocks have been lost in cultivated soils, with a conservative global estimated soil carbon debt of 133 petagrams (Pg) of carbon (see historic reconstruction of estimated SOC loss from citation in link). The history of land use conversion to cropland and grazing land is a history of SOC loss-- and with it, healthy soil ecosystem functionality, including water storage, nutrient cycling, microorganism diversity, and flood / drought resilience.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

many wide-ranging, regionally adapted examples of traditional diversified food production systems, such as silvopasture (practiced on an estimated 351 million acres), multi-story tropical homegardens, shade-grown coffee, and various other unique practices can be found globally. For example, integration of woody perennials in the form of hedgerows in the 1930s midwestern United States was an agroforestry solution to topsoil loss during the Dust Bowl. Re-discovering, reinventing, and adapting regionally appropriate agroforestry practices into all forms of agriculture in the Northeast can help meet the New England Farmland and Communities Vision’s stated goal of increasing local food production without exacerbating deforestation (see figures 1 and 3 from this link). NOFA/Mass and Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (Bio4Climate) propose that, through leveraging our connections with NOFA chapters across the region, affiliated regional farming organizations, ecosystems planners, and ecosystems data management partners (e.g., OpenTEAM), we can facilitate regional biodiversity-centered farming practices that restore ecosystem function and soil carbon sequestration.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

NOFA/Mass and Bio4Climate envision a future for New England agriculture in which a majority of crops are grown in integrated, diversified agroecological systems. These systems would cycle nutrients, sequester carbon, naturally resist pests and disease, and produce multiple food products through stacked enterprises. Enhancing biodiversity on New England farms improves regional farm viability, climate resilience, and food security, and protects critical natural resources like soil health and both air and water quality. Through peer-to-peer farmer networks, conferences, and on-farm education events, NOFA/Mass and Bio4Climate propose to foster a cross-sectional, farm-driven network of practitioners, ecological designers, educators and researchers. These highly trained individuals will implement and track practices that help farmers increase biodiversity in the food system. Furthermore, they will educate the community-at-large about the benefits of regenerative agriculture. As a part of this vision, we see data management as a key component for modeling inputs and outputs of biodiverse agroecological systems. This component is also critical to supporting farmer decision-making to tracking subsidies to farmers who provide carbon sequestration and/or ecosystems services. Therefore, helping farmers in our network access evolving open-source data collection and farm management systems like OpenTEAM is a central tenet of our proposed work.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In progress

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Sofia Lopez Nunez

Hi Suzanna Konecky Great to see you joining the Prize!
We noticed your submission is missing responses in some questions. Feel free to make continue making changes and update it until January 31, 2020. We'd love to see a more developed version! This will help the community provide you with feedback and possibly even collaborate with you.