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Sunday, December 11, 2022

SOIL & WATER: the foundation of life

 In September 2020, Elemental Impact (Ei) announced the Nature Prevails platform with the Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) Magazine article, Nature Prevails: an new Elemental Impact platform, to complement the Soil Health and Water Use | Toxicity platforms. Within the Nature Prevails premise, the Earth heals herself and nurtures renewed life forms, no matter the calamity caused by humans, natural disasters, or extraterrestrial activities.

With a commitment to align work with Nature, Ei defined The Principles of Nature with three broad categories:

  • Diversity
  • Dynamic Balance & Nutrition Cycles
  • Necessity of Cover & Ability to Roam
Bigger than Us podcast  promo graphic
Bigger than Us podcast
promo graphic
Healthy, balanced water and soil microbial communities are the foundation to life on Earth and integral to the Principles of Nature. As featured in her May 2020 Bigger than Us podcast interview, Ei Founder Holly Elmore is known for the following quote:
In order for life as we know it to survive and thrive on planet Earth, we must - absolutely must - get our soil and water microbial communities back to a healthy, balanced state.

A Sacred Marriage 
Soil and water are in a sacred marriage and support life on Earth and must be addressed in unison. Healthy well-structured soil is a living, breathing ecosystem and retains significantly more water than depleted soil. Additionally, healthy soil filters water and removes contaminates as it flows to aquifers. In return, water keeps a healthy soil ecosystem hydrated.

Insects are the base of predator/prey hierarchy, integral to the natural ecosystem foundation, and essential to supporting the Earth’s life web. Many insects, such as dragonflies and mosquitoes, live their juvenile or larva stage under water and their adult lives on land supporting plants and soil systems; aquatic larva is similar to a butterfly's caterpillar stage. 

A red-bellied woodpecker feeds on
tasty insects living in the utility pole.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Insect Apocalypse
At the base of the prey hierarchy, insects are food for fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In addition to recycling soil-system nutrients, insects play an essential role in the decomposition portion of nature’s circular-life cycle.

Since the 1970’s, the Earth’s insect population suffered from severe population declines as well as loss of diversity.

The NY Times 2018 article, The Insect Apocalypse Is Here. What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?, reported: The German study found that, measured simply by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. If you looked at midsummer population peaks, the drop was 82 percent.

According to the November 2019 Somerset Wildlife Trust Insect Declines and Why They Matter Report by Professor Dave Goulson, 41% of insect species are threatened with extinction.

Thus, the Insect Apocalypse is well underway.

Contributing factors to the demise of insect populations include:
  • Common thread-waisted wasp
    feeds on a native stoke aster bloom.
    Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
    Prolific use of pesticides in commercial and residential landscapes, corporate and municipal-grounds maintenance, and industrial agriculture.
  • Loss of habitat due to urbanization, transportation systems, farming, and landscape-maintenance practices.
  • Infiltration of non-native plants; insects evolved to thrive on native plants, and non-native plants are often not food sources for local populations.
  • Intangible pollution, including artificial light, noise (leaf blowers,) and electromagnetic fields.
According to American biologist Edward O. Wilson: 

Insects are the little things that run the world!

Evolution Towards Soil Integrity
The RiA Magazine article, From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity, establishes that organic certification is a first, yet far from final, step in achieving healthy, balanced soil ecosystems.

A vibrant young food forest thrives within 
the backyard of a urban home.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Organic certification prohibits the use of "cides*," GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds, and petrochemical fertilizers. Thus, organic food is non-GMO and reasonably "toxin-free" Yet, organic certification does not address soil health or the nutritional value of food produced on the certified farm. Often, organic food lacks in flavor and nutrition due to unhealthy soil.

In addition to adhering to organic-farming practices, regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring and maintaining a healthy-soil ecosystem. Diverse crops, including cover crops, and no-till farming practices are basic regenerative-agriculture protocol. Food grown on regenerative farms and home gardens is nutritious and delicious due to thriving soil ecosystems.

As important as it is to restore healthy-soil systems, produce nutritious food (for human & wildlife,) and drawdown carbon, regenerative agriculture does not focus on native plants. Thus, it often contributes to, versus alleviates, the insect apocalypse. 

Beyond regenerative agriculture and landscape practices, rewilding land restores the natural ecosystem that evolved over thousands of years. Rewilding land requires the restoration of native plants and cultivates food for indigenous insects. Strong insect populations are the foundation for restoring wildlife predator/prey hierarchies that once thrived prior to human intrusion.

In his New York Times bestseller, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard, Doug Tallamy encourages citizens to rewild their yards via replacing toxic lawns with native plants that support local insect populations.

Inherent within rewilding urban landscapes are three primary benefits: 
  • Restoration of vibrant soil ecosystems and urban wildlife populations; production of nutritious food destined for wildlife and humans.
  • Drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere into the soils via plant photosynthesis.
  • Establishment of food-secure neighborhoods within a community.
* "cides" are defined as herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides.

Homegrown National Park
Via his recent book, Bringing Nature Home, how you can sustain wildlife with native plants, Doug announces his Homegrown National Park (HNP) initiative in partnership with Michelle Alfandari, business development consultant, entrepreneur, small business owner, and retimer.

HNP is a grass roots call-to-action to regenerate biodiversity. According to Doug,

In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators, and manage water.

National awareness is HNP's product along with a request for the below actions on the more than 40-million acres of private lawn in the United States:

  1. Reduce lawns.
  2. Plant more native plants.
  3. Remove invasive and/or non-native plants.
The What's the Rush 24-minute video by Doug is a superb overview of the critical status of the insect population along with simple lifestyle changes by individuals that collectively make a huge difference.

Local Food Security
In addition to the 
Insect Apocalypse, local food security is a a severe challenge for humanity. Depleted soils, broken food systems, and supply-chain challenges contribute to food insecurity for rural and urban populations.

According to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services, in 2020, 13.8 million households were food insecure at some point during the year. The World Food Programme made a dire announcement:

2022: a year of unprecedented hunger
As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. The number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared - from 135 million to 345 million - since 2019. A total of 49 million people in 49 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.

A regenerative home garden; beds are constructed
with tree trunks compliments of Hurricane Ian.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Similar to Doug's grass-roots approach to regenerating insect populations, Ei encourages individuals to embrace permaculture-oriented landscaping. Rather than follow the in-depth permaculture protocol, Ei provides a simple permaculture-oriented-landscape definition: if the plant is not native, it must produce human food or other direct benefits.

During the Great Depression (1929 - 1939,) local gardens provided a means of survival. According to the Gardens Role in Great Depression Research Paper, governments introduced relief gardening programs to combat emotional stress, poverty, and hunger. The relief gardens were also referred to as vacant-lot gardens, subsistence gardens, or welfare-garden plots.

In World War II (WWII,) the federal government called on citizens to plant victory gardens; nearly 20 million Americans answered the call in the name of patriotism. Victory gardens produced an estimated 9 - 10 million tons of vegetables, the equivalent of the commercial-agriculture-crop production. Thus, victory gardens made a tremendous difference and avoided food-shortage and hunger scenarios.*

Thus, the U.S. has precedent on preventing food insecurity on a mass scale during the Great Depression and WWII via home and vacant-lot gardening. Challenge: both programs were strongly promoted and supported by the U.S. federal government. Without government support, communities, non-profits, and individuals must create a movement for individuals to plant and nurture gardens, instead of lawns, at their homes.

* Facts provided by the Living History Farm, Farming in the 1940's, Victory Farms.

Permaculture-Oriented Landscapes (POL)
In the earlier referenced video, What's the Rush?, Doug refers to POL as ecological landscapes with the following four purposes:

  • Path leads to a banana-compost circle for
    yard debris and kitchen-food waste.
    Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
    Support food webs, human, and wildlife.
  • Sequester carbon.
  • Clean and manage water.
  • Support pollinators.

Ei partners with Zach Zildjian Design Services (ZZ Design) on promoting POL. Per Zach Zildjian, an ecological landscaper, POL have three main components:

  • Food forest (perennial food production.)
  • Vegetable & herb gardens.
  • Compost of landscape debris as well as home-food waste.
Ei Rewilding Urban Landscape Pilots
Black swallowtail caterpillar
devours a parsley plant.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images

Beyond regenerative agriculture and landscape practices, rewilding land restores the natural ecosystem that evolved over thousands of years. Rewilding land requires the restoration of native plants and cultivates food for indigenous insects. Strong insect populations are the foundation for restoring healthy predator/prey hierarchies that once thrived prior to human intrusion.

When she returned to her hometown, Sarasota, Florida, after residing in Atlanta for four decades, Holly dedicated her spacious approximately 8,500 square foot yard to two rewilding pilots. 

The Holly Elmore Images (HEI) Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes album documents the pilots' progress in a series of photo galleries.

Ei Native-Plant-Landscape Pilot
Native-plant landscapes provide urban wildlife access to food and habitat. When "cide" free, native-plant landscapes provide urban wildlife a safe haven amid urban life filled with buildings, roadways, and often sterile and/or toxic open areas.

The young front-yard native-plant landscape
thrives as it matures.
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Local wildlife evolved to thrive on native foliage and, in general, do not eat or nest in non-native plants. Additionally, many non-native plants are invasive and choke out native plants, further challenging urban wildlife.

Holly's front yard was designated for only native plants with a focus on food and habitat for local urban wildlife. First steps included removing the non-native, decorative plants from prior residents and smothering the existing grass.

Pamela Callender of Lifelines consulted, designed, purchased the plants, and installed the native-plant landscape on November 18 & 19, 2021 and continues to provide support.

The HEI album, Ei Native-Plant-Landscape Pilot, documents the the front-yard evolution through a series of photo galleries.

Ei Backyard-Permaculture Pilot
Backyard in its "wild state."
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
The backyard follows POL practices with an emphasis on human-food-producing plants. A food-waste-compost circle surrounded by banana trees is integral to the design. Thus, the general rule for the backyard landscape: any non-native plants must produce human food.

While the front-yard landscape is strictly native plants and was installed over a two-day period, the backyard pilot is an evolutionary process. For nearly nine months, the backyard was permitted to return to its "wild state" with abundant plant diversity; a variety of happy insects frolicked in the knee-high grass infiltrated with flowering plants.

Beginning in early 2021, the backyard was slowly "tamed" with mulched paths, a banana compost circle, a row of native-blueberry bushes under the roof dripline, a pollinator garden, a food forest, and raised herb-garden area with sun protection. Once the invasive carrotwood tree was removed, the south-side yard was opened to ample sunshine and prepped for a vegetable, herb, and edible-flower garden.

Similar backyard view one year later
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
No herbicides or soil tilling were used in the taming process; Holly hand-weeded the majority of the areas before prepping for its destination.

ZZ Design oversees the backyard evolution and uses the pilot as a showcase for "what can be done" in a neighborhood scenario.

The HEI album, Ei Backyard-Permaculture Landscape Pilot, documents the the front yard evolution through a series of photo galleries.

Intentional Eating
Renowned journalist and author Michael Pollan's Intentional Eating MasterClass is exceptional; the class substantiates how the act of eating is integrated within establishing healthy water and soil systems and addressing the Insect Apocalypse; in a market-driven economy consumers vote with dollars spent.

In his MasterClass, Michael gives ample homework; the assignments are designed to showcase how one's relationship with food and their related choices impact the environment and societal injustices:
  • What are you eating? - a low-stakes food audit.
  • Identify your values - eating with heart.
  • Grow microgreens - even if you live in a concrete jungle you can witness the magic of nature.
  • Grocery store/neighborhood analysis - not all stores are created equal.
  • Eat with the seasons - for most of human history, people cycled eating along with trips around the sun. What changed?
  • The "Better" food questionnaire - a more meaningful food audit.
  • Track your food sources - be your own ethics inspector. 
In the class, Michael visits an urban-regenerative farm designed to provide nutritious food to residents in a fresh-food-deprived city sector. It was promising to witness how a dilapidated commercial property transformed into a thriving farm regenerating the environment as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

A future article will provide suggestions on how the average consumer can make a difference. The suggestions will range from simple and no-cost / inexpensive tasks to actions that require time and financial investments.

Individual Collective Action
Regenerating soil and water systems, at the microbial and macro levels, is key to sustaining life on Earth. Collective individual action will make a tremendous impact on system restoration and eventual regeneration.

Organizations like the Unitarian Universalist Church (UUC) in Sarasota, Florida are committed to taking action within their community. With a stated soil focus, the UUC Green Team invited Ei and ZZ Design to present at their November monthly meeting. The PPT presentation may be downloaded: Soil: The Foundation of Life.

Please consider taking action in what makes sense in your life, knowing that a key to success is "Taking Baby Steps, Lots and Lots of Baby Steps!"

____________________________________

About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

The Regeneration in ACTION Magazine articles, From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity and SOIL & WATER: the foundation of life, published to explain and substantiate the importance of Ei’s rewilding urban landscapes work within the Nature Prevails focus area.

The Holly Elmore Images Rewilding Urban Landscapes-album folder documents two active pilots: the Native-Plant Landscape Pilot and the Backyard Permaculture-Oriented Pilot.

MISSION:
To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-510-9336 | holly@elementalimpact.org


1 comment:

  1. Holly Elmore is an inspiration. Her energy, enthusiasm and drive are unbounded. Her dedication to nature conservation and restoration sets an example that needs to be emulated far and wide if we are to turn the tide on the destruction of nature that threatens the future of mankind

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