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Converting fallow land in New York into biomass and silvopasture

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I’m continuously amazed when witnessing the tenacity of life in the world around me. In particular is the viewscape along the highway between Western Massachusetts and Central New York. While driving along the highway, the scenic beauty and hundreds of years of agricultural history is obviously there, what strikes me particularly is how extensive the shrubland has become in these communities. New York estimates there’s nearly 3 million acres of unused and underutilized non-forest land in the State.

And there’s a confluence creating this enormous fallowing, including high tax rates, changing demographics, and socio-economic instability etc. So, what I’m witnessing on that drive is hundreds of miles of mid-succession in the northeast temperate forest biome, or more simply fields turning back to forest.

You might be asking why is this so interesting or striking? I could answer, what I am, you are witnessing, is the collapse of New York’s farm economy. You can find other indicators from increasing unemployment, to a rising opioid epidemic, political disfunction (I’m talking about you Mr. T), the constant threat from the hydraulic fracking industry, and there are many other signs.

So, what might a regenerative agricultural practitioner, like myself, offer in such a situation? How might these “problems” point to a solution?

I think it is important to connect this regional observation to the larger web of disruptions throughout the globe. One of the largest being the rise in global CO2, from 280 ppm in the interglacial period to 407 ppm today. There is no doubt, clearing of forests, destruction of soil, and the burning of fossil fuels, all human disturbances, have gotten us to this accumulation. One that is creating a wildly undulating global weather situation, with a difficult to predict outcome (although it is now pretty clear the outcome will be dire if business as usual continues.)

What comes out from this analysis is not only is our global socio-economic system, and humanity for that matter, under overwhelming stress, but, from a scientific perspective the carbon cycle is, well, TOTALLY FUCKED UP!

YYYEEET, at the same time, the old fields, like the picture above, continue to grow into shrubland.

What are those fallow field shrubs, perennial grasses, and soil their roots are in made of?


The same carbon in the C of CO2. Carbon as problem becomes carbon as solution.

More and more this realization is leaking into the halls of power. We need this solution to move up to the top of the priority list. We need communities throughout New York and everywhere to see underutilized, degraded, and fallow land as an opportunity for healing, an opportunity for economic renewal, and an opportunity for regeneration.

What I’m proposing is a grand project for New York, what I’m calling reNewLand.

Picture by Jonathan Bates of Shelterbelt Farm (example of what could be)

reNewLand draft mission statement:

"We are a one gigaton carbon drawdown project that covers millions of acres over multiple Northeastern states leveraging biomass and silvopasture to renew marginal and underutilized non-timber agriculture lands. This project is a jobs program starting in New York that plants millions of trees for energizing a cascade of regeneration, manifesting true wealth for local economies, including clean water and food, healthy soil, increased biodiversity and real work."

Below I've included a mindmap that generally outlines the different parts of the project

This project is not about bringing us back to some golden bygone age of economic prosperity and industrial agricultural growth. The pinnacle of the 20th century was “better living through chemistry”, in the 21st century BIOLOGY is remembered as the driver of a clean, healthy food system. Food being the foundation of any human endeavor, might a redesign of the local, regional and global food system be a creative way to meld a more thoughtful, kind, and rational society?

This project will need lots of money, land, hands and minds. Call me to get involved 413-588-8435

You may also enjoy these ideas put to story...

"Imagine walking into a warm, vibrant, supportive space where people come together to celebrate themselves, their families, and the community, land and animals around them. People are laughing, drinking and eating and gathering the foods and other life supporting needs for the week… fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, companionship, fresh air, inspiring beverages, and many other goods.

You go outside to enjoy the abundant fruit and nuts dripping from orchard branches, see happy sheep munching breakfast, and watch bees making their golden honey. You meet up with a few folks gathered around an artesian spring, drinking down the sweet refreshing water together. You remembered to make one last stop inside and see that the space is heated with prunings from the orchard and woodlot.

Waving goodbye to your friends on your way out you grab a few bags of biochar to take home for the garden. Following you on the bike ride home is a co-operatively owned bio-oil truck caring the carbon negative fuel you and your neighbors will need to stay cozy during the coming winter."

Photos by Eric Toensmeier and others.

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