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Eat better, avoid cancer, reduce climate change impacts

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By Michele S. Byers

What does organic farming have to do with climate change, cancer, nutrition and food security?

Plenty, according to Stephanie Harris, president of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, or NOFA-NJ for short.

The connect is “regenerative agriculture,” an organic growing method that pulls carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil, helping to reduce heat-trapping gases that are warming our planet.

“If all of the agriculture in the world were using regenerative techniques, we would be able to offset all the carbon dioxide that’s being released in the atmosphere,” says Harris.

These same organic techniques would reduce cancers related to chemical pesticides, produce more nutritious vegetables and fruits, and provide greater food security.

Regenerative agriculture will be highlighted at NOFA-NJ’s 29th annual Winter Conference on Jan. 26-27 at the Rutgers University Douglass Student Center.

The annual conference educates the public, home gardeners and farmers on a broad range of topics relating to organic agriculture and food systems. This year’s theme is “Collaborate, Regenerate, Celebrate,” emphasizing opportunities for farmers and gardeners to build community and share information on regenerative agriculture.

“This is a critical issue for all farmers in the United States, and for anyone interested in climate change,” said Harris, noting that 30 to 40 percent of the carbon emissions in the United States come from conventional agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture boosts microbes in the soil that store carbon. Conventional agriculture, which uses synthetic chemicals, destroys these microbes.

“Every time you add chemicals, you kill the microbes,” said Harris. “But when you practice regenerative agriculture, you sequester the carbon.”

Not only do chemical pesticides kill soil microbes, Harris added, they may be linked to cancer. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the chemical glyphosate, an ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The keynote speaker on Jan. 26 is investigative journalist Carey Gillam. She has spent more than 25 years covering food and agricultural issues and is considered a top expert on glyphosate’s impact on the environment and human health.

Her book, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” won the 2018 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award, the 2018 Independent Publisher Book of the Year, the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award and other accolades.

The keynote speakers on Jan. 27, David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, will speak on “The Hidden Half of Nature,” the microbiome of soil. Montgomery and Biklé have authored several books, including Montgomery’s “Growing a Revolution,” a hopeful and inspiring work on the promise of regenerative agriculture.

The Winter Conference includes more than 50 workshops in five tracks: Crops, Gardening, Livestock, Business and Policy.

“We have something for everyone,” promises Harris.

Interesting highlights include a 4,000-year overview of agriculture in New Jersey and sessions on Korean natural farming techniques, vertical gardening, soapmaking, growing herb blends, how the federal Farm Bill affects hemp growing, and efforts to legalize the sale of raw milk in New Jersey.

Harris believes New Jersey is especially suited for regenerative organic agriculture due to its many small family farms.

Homeowners and gardeners are welcome, too. Anyone with a lawn can create a “Climate Victory Garden” with vegetables, fruits and flowers.

If you would like to eat better and healthier and help fight climate change, don’t miss the Winter Conference. To register and see a full schedule of workshops, go to https://nofanj.org/winter-conference/

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at info@njconservation.org

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