UNITY – It may have been snowing on Saturday morning, but the chill in the air did nothing to cool the discussion at the Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association’s ninth annual Spring Growth Fair.
Scientific experts and farmers were focusing on climate change, global warming, renewable energy and carbon sequestration at MOFGA’s Education Center.
Both George Jacobson of the University of Maine Climate Change Institute and Tim LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa., a nonprofit group that works on worldwide soil regeneration, agreed that following and dramatically expanding the organic food philosophy could positively affect and reverse current soil, air and water damage.
While Jacobson’s scientific charts and graphs regarding carbon emissions and global warming were disheartening, LaSalle told the more than 60 organic farmers at the conference that they held the power of change, despite being in the minority.
“You are looked at as the hippie, back-to-the-landers,” he said. “But now, with technical, scientific studies validating and legitimizing the value of organic production, you can finally be effective in affecting public policy.”
More good news, LaSalle said, is the continuing demand for organic food by consumers. Organic production was a $3.75 billion business in 1997 but a $20 billion business by 2007. “This will continue to climb,” LaSalle said.
“We need to be talking to our policymakers in a more concise way,” he said. “If we look at the organic initiative, it affects energy, peak oil, human health, conservation, nutrition, and safe water and streams. We need to get the fertilizer out of our system and put organics back in.”
LaSalle maintained that the world has “overshot sustainability, and we must re-create what we are destroying.”
To the common catchphrase “reduce, reuse and recycle,” LaSalle said “rethink, refuse and regenerate” should be added.
He said it is taboo to talk about population control but “we can’t sustain this growth curve. We are running out of fish in the ocean, space, oil – everything. China, for example, is adding one coal-fired plant per week. Globally, we are losing 4 tons of topsoil per person, per year. We need three and a half planet Earths to feed our current consumer demand. We are beyond sustainability.”
But moving away from conventional farming, “getting this cultural change, this shift from the way we’ve always done it, will be problematic,” LaSalle admitted.
“People still believe that soil is just an anchor so the plants won’t blow away,” he said. “We need incentives to save the planet. We need to pay our farmers handsomely to regenerate the soil.”
Jacobson said UM scientists have used farm diaries dating to 1830 to learn that there have been significant changes in Maine’s growing season. This climate change in Maine indicates that farmers will have longer growing seasons, hotter summers and rainier winters.
“Projections are for temperatures to increase from 3 degrees centigrade to 5 or 6 degrees. That’s a lot. When you think about growing zones, this type of change is dramatic,” he said.
“This is extremely important information,” Jacobson said. “We are outside the norm and the carbon dioxide levels are going up extremely rapidly.”
MOFGA’s executive director, Russ Libby, said the climate change theme “cuts across the practical to thinking ahead. If we think about energy and conservation, we must think ahead to possible adaptations and make the leap to changing our growing systems.”
Other presentations at the conference focused on wind energy, biofuels and solar energy.