Composting: Rethinking Food Waste

Introduction: With the growth of the human population comes a demand for resources, an increase in consumption and consequently, waste. Greenleaf Communities understands the growing implications of waste – namely food waste. Consumer habits and food supply chain inefficiencies lead Americans to throw out the equivalent of $165 billion each year (Gunders, 2012). Considering the various inputs to food production, producing food requires 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, 50 percent of US land, and 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the U.S. (Gunders, 2012).  Not only is food waste an economic loss, it is a detriment to the environment as well. Food that ends up in landfills releases large amounts of methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas. Composting is a method that can be utilized to reduce the impacts of food waste by transforming organic waste into a useful product that can enhance soil quality and, in turn, water quality. What is Composting? Composting is the utilization of aerobic (oxygen-requiring) decomposition processes to produce organic matter, compost, that can improve soil health. The aerobic process is carried out through the activity of microorganisms naturally present in organic material. Optimal levels of oxygen, moisture, and food (e.g. decomposing food waste) create an ideal environment for microbes to thrive (USCC 2008a). These microbes break down material and release water, heat and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the decomposition process. The CO2 produced during this process is considered part of the natural short-term carbon cycle, and is not considered in greenhouse gas emissions computations (USCC 2008b). On the other hand, as organic waste piles up in landfills, it undergoes anaerobic...

John Andersen celebrates dedication of Trout Bay Conservation Area

On June 16 and 17, John Andersen joined Nature Conservancy of Canada and its many conservation partners from the U.S. and Canada to celebrate the dedication of Trout Bay Conservation Area on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  You can read more here about why those assembled have been working 15 years to protect these coastal lands and waters that support so many wide-ranging species and natural communities, including the Canada Lynx, grey wolf, peregrine falcon, arctic disjunct plants, and migratory birds. Read Wendy Cridland’s thoughtful piece on the importance of this area and it’s meaning to...

Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters 2017 in Denver a Success!

The 2017 Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters (HSHW) Symposium took place February 1st in Denver at the National Association of Conservation Districts Annual Meeting with a national audience learning from expert producers and researchers. The symposia series is dedicated to integrated and whole systems approaches to agricultural land management practices that protect the availability and quality of land and water resources while generating profitable crop production. At this symposium, 6 of the 25 recognized “No-Till Legends” were panelists or in attendance. This year we brought together the speakers below whose work preserves resources in the Western, Midwest, and Southern United States and as far as Australia. Brian Richter is Chief Water Scientist at The Nature Conservancy and the Founder of Sustainable Waters. As a Colorado native who has counseled governments and institutions around the world on sustainable water resource solutions, it was only natural that Brian served as the keynote speaker. Brian presented a “recipe for a sustainable water future” focused on setting sustainable limits on water extraction, reducing water consumption, quantifying rights to use available water, and enabling water trading. Brian has authored many articles and books including Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability. Brian presented on how we can save water through improving irrigation practices, changing crops, using no-till farming and other practices, and how water markets and water rights trading are being utilized to advance sustainability goals. See Brian’s slides here. Jeff Mitchell is a Cropping Systems Specialist at the University of California-Davis Extension whose research focuses on soil and water management in vegetable production systems in the Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions...

Innovation Drives Sustainable Solutions

Turn on an electronic switch, and a myriad of services flows our way – increasingly from sustainable energy sources that are being delivered to us in intelligent fashion – just ask our colleagues at Intelligent Generation or GreenCity Power who deliver clean affordable power to customers as profiled below. Turn on the freshwater tap, and a seemingly endless flow of refreshment springs forth – however its sources are increasingly stressed by over-use and pollution – just ask our colleagues participating in the Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Initiative, or EP Purification whose affordable ozone products are cleaning water in 24 countries. Below are a few highlights from 2015 wherein Greenleaf clients and partners advanced innovative solutions to the sustainable use of land, water, material and energy resources. GreenCity Power demonstrated to New York City how best to design efficient co-generation energy systems when it re-commissioned the city’s largest natural gas sourced system at One Penn Plaza.  It also raised $100 Million to deliver highly efficient systems for electricity, heating, and cooling to customers seeking improved profits and energy security which is of special interest to communities at risk of ‘Sandy’ type storms along the coastline. Aaron Walters, Managing Partner of GreenCity Power, will be presenting on cogeneration at the CleanMed Conference in Dallas this May. Intelligent Generation was issued its third patent protecting the Intellectual Property created by IG founder, Jay Marhoefer, who operates IG’s network of energy storage assets like a virtual power plant to participate in wholesale power markets, making solar profitable across the thirteen state PJM marketplace (Midwest to Mid-Atlantic). EP Purification advanced the development and market application of...

Celebrating World Soil Day today – Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Conference in Memphis

December 4, 2015 – World Soil Day Celebrating World Soil Day today – Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Conference in Memphis This week 200+ of the nation’s agricultural leaders assembled in Memphis, TN at the Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters (HSHW) symposium to advance sustainable practices and supportive policies for feeding a growing world population while protecting the fertile soils and surrounding water resources we depend upon.  The timing of our gathering was perfect given that today is World Soil Day with global events echoing our call for preservation of the planet’s envelop of productive soils that drape our globe.  You can find here the full agenda of the Nutrient Management conference that focused on the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds, which drain two thirds of the continental United States.  The day one HSHW symposium included presentations from across the business, policy, research, and environmental sectors and you can find summaries of their talks here. Days two and three saw a continuation of the HSHW themes with presentations from various regions. But allow me to highlight just a few comments, especially from the producers (farmers) who know best what it takes to manage and protect their lands. Dan DeSutter, a producer from Indiana, reminded us that ‘nature is our template’ … it is complex and we must study and mimic it in our actions as we work to effectively pump carbon back into plant roots to grow organic matter, while facilitating soil biology and increasing diversity which is a hallmark of healthy natural systems.  He reminds us there ‘is more living matter in a teaspoon of soil than people...

Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters and Dennis Dimick of National Geographic

National Geographic’s executive editor for the environment, Dennis Dimick, has come aboard as a keynote speaker for the Nutrient Management and Edge of Field Monitoring Conference held in conjunction with the Healthy Soil for Healthy Waters symposium from December 1-3, 2015 in Memphis, TN. His post, “Do We Treat Our Soil Like Dirt?” stresses the importance of soil management and health, an issue central to Greenleaf Communities and Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters. Drawing attention to the vital responsibilities of soil, ranging from the growth of the food that feeds us to the quality of the water that sustains us, Dennis puts the priority of healthy soils into perspective. Simply stated, “the future rests on the soil beneath our feet.” With the Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters symposium taking place the same week as World Soils Day, it seems only fitting that Dennis Dimick, along with a consortium of researchers, conservation professionals and farmers, are coming together to discuss and evaluate best management practices for protecting and preserving Earth’s humble hero –...

Research results in Indiana show gypsum reduces soluble reactive phosphorus on agricultural lands

Poor soil conditions in Midwest agricultural lands can reduce plant uptake of nutrients leading to over-application of fertilizers and pesticides. Excess nutrients run off fields into waterways where they contribute to toxic algal blooms that threaten public health, as well as eutrophication that harms aquatic life. One best practice that improves soil conditions is the use of calcium sulfate (gypsum) as a soil amendment; it improves nutrient uptake by the plants and reduces loss from the fields into the waterways. Dr. Pierre Jacinthe of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) just completed the first year of gypsum research in the Walnut Creek Watershed in Indiana. Indianapolis Power & Light and GYPSOIL sponsored this project that Greenleaf originated and oversaw. Ron Chamberlain of GYPSOIL provided agronomic consultancy. Dr. Jacinthe’s team selected two fields near North Salem, IN and managed them with identical crop rotation, fertilizer application, and other farm practices. The researchers collected and analyzed soil and water samples. The results: gypsum application reduced soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) concentrations by an average of 41% during the growing season. SRP is the limiting factor in many regional waterbodies; this means that it is the primary contributing factor to problematic algal blooms.   In the study, gypsum application also increased electrical conductivity, microbial biomass carbon, and soil respiration. Microbial biomass carbon and soil respiration are related to soil health. The Indiana study complements a research project underway in Ohio, where Greenleaf assists Dr. Warren Dick of The Ohio State University in the Maumee River Basin.  This three-year study has reduced soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations in tile water runoff at the gypsum-treated fields by an average...

Greenleaf and Partners Present Webinar: “Gypsum as an Agricultural Soil Amendment” to The Nature Conservancy

Greenleaf partners, Dr. Warren Dick of The Ohio State University, Ron Chamberlain of GYPSOIL, and Joe Nester of NesterAg, presented to The Nature Conservancy this week on the use of gypsum as an agricultural soil amendment and its environmental benefits. Dick spoke on the state of the science, including recent research on farms draining into the Maumee basin that demonstrated water quality benefits of reduced soluble reactive phosphorus loadings of 39%.  Chamberlain and Nester presented on producer benefits with soil and crop response to gypsum that aided water infiltration and reduced runoff. John Andersen and Ron Chamberlain then provided a policy update including the new national practice standards for gypsum that Greenleaf and its partners, including Dr. Darrell Norton, have been working on for years – NRCS Conservation Practice Standards. You can view the slides here: Gypsum webinar slides Resources Greenleaf Advisors Greenleaf Partner Resources Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters  Join the HSHW mailing list GYPSOIL Research Library Gypsum as an Agricultural Amendment, Warren Dick Nester Ag...

Modern Agriculture’s Impact on Nutrient Loading

Overview Modern agricultural practices are very effective at producing high crop yields and increasing overall food security. However, many of these practices have significant environmental externalities that affect human welfare in various ways. Our Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Initiative focuses on nutrient loading, a widespread and destructive byproduct of intensive modern agriculture. Eutrophication Nitrogen and phosphorus are important nutrients for plant growth and farmers commonly add them to soil to increase crop productivity. Rain easily washes away some of these added nutrients and in the case of the Mississippi River basin, eventually collects in the Mississippi River and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. This warm, nutrient-dense freshwater from the river floats above the cooler, saline water of the Gulf.  The extra nutrients, usually a limiting factor in algal growth, enable excessive phytoplankton growth in the top layer of water. The plankton die and eventually sink to the bottom layer of the gulf, where they decompose and use up the oxygen in the bottom saline layer. Marine life needs oxygen to survive just like we do, so those organisms that are unable to move away from the oxygen-depleted “hypoxic” zone, such as lobsters, crabs, and young fish, die. With the current unstable state of nearly all fish stocks, these die-offs from hypoxic zones are making an already precarious situation even worse. In 2014, the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico measured in at 5,052 square miles. The zone fluctuates in size from year to year, but this is due to varying weather patterns, not any real overall reduction in pollution (Maryland DNR, 2005). See the Greenleaf Advisors article:...

Greenleaf Communities June Board Meeting

Greenleaf Communities, whose mission is to mitigate the environmental causes of human health concerns, hosted a successful Summer 2014 Board Meeting last week. True to Greenleaf’s collaborative approach, we brought together leaders in business, science and policy to share our latest in leading research teams to inform business practices and government policies. We discussed current projects, such as our healthy soil study in the Eagle Creek watershed near Indianapolis and the importance in demonstrating reproducible results to strengthen best practices. We also considered the idea of Greenleaf Communities as an incubator for experiments that test how to best advance a sustainable world. Board member Dr. Janet Hock presented her work studying links between environmental exposures and incidences of cancer in Maine. She and her colleagues mapped lifestyle, behavioral, and geographic environmental exposures with cancer cases. This research could benefit healthcare by enhancing diagnosis and prognosis, improve health risk assessments and help healthcare centers determine where to place specialists. The Ohio State University, with support from Greenleaf Advisors, is launching a workshop and symposium series later this year. The Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Workshop will take place September 14-16th in Columbus, Ohio with the goal of improving agricultural management practices on lands that impact our nation’s waters. The workshop will bring together researchers and representatives from a variety of disciplines to approach this watershed issue. Additional details will be posted on this site as they become available. After reflecting upon our current and upcoming work, the Greenleaf board members strategized on addressing other issues of critical importance to environmental and human health, namely water scarcity and the effects of...