How is it possible for one little crop to change anything? My seeds are still sheltering in the soil on our farm, but it feels as though summer has finally arrived this week and it won't be long before they are turning their leaves towards the sun. The trial crop my friend has been tending in the warmth of her windowsill has shown uneven growth: happily, my favourites look strong, but the little egg-shaped Ontos Oval popcorn might struggle to yield.
The seaweed sprinkled over the surface of the soil will act as a tonic. Now pulverised by the weather, it contains a wide range of micronutrients, and will encourage organisms to release nutrients previously locked up in the soil. This should then encourage the plants to grow strongly, while at the same time improving the nutritional profile of the crop.
The idea of mulching and tending the soil also serves another crucial purpose. When soil is exposed, the carbon long stored within is released, and combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2). Millions of tonnes have been released into the atmosphere over the past century, but increasingly we are learning how to re-capture this CO2 and return it to vast carbon 'sinks' in the soil. The potential is enormous: scientists estimate that rehabilitating degraded soils alone could remove 1-3 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. .
Complicated financial structures to 'trade' carbon and efforts to reach global agreement on cutting emissions are important efforts, but the scale of any change would pale in comparison to nourishing the soil through the growth cycles of plants. A leaf draws carbon from the air and sends it out through the roots to feed the millions of micro-organisms under the soil. Feeding these microbes mean they can nourish the plant in turn, creating a virtuous circle.
Avoiding monocultures when planting, and using 'cover crops' to protect the delicate surface of the soil are just two very simple ways that I will adopt in trying to understand how a small crop like mine might eventually help contribute to a new understanding of how, as farmers, we can care for our bodies, our soils and our planet.