The Power of Food: Turn Food into Fertilizer with Composting

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Mackinzee Macho | March 5, 2021

Mackinzee Macho is an undergraduate student and Senior Program Manager in Human and Ecological Systems Transformations for the Foresight Lab. The Foresight Lab is a think-tank that shifts culture toward social, economic, and ecological well-being through consulting. This series, “The Power of Food,” will explore topics like carbon sequestration and regenerative farming.

Yard trimmings and food waste make up a quarter of America’s municipal solid waste. At the landfill, this organic matter breaks down anaerobically, releasing methane-a potent greenhouse gas. Seventeen percent of anthropogenic methane emissions come from landfills decomposing organic matter. If we redirect our organic waste into composting piles, we could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

Composting involves collecting organic waste and allowing it to decompose into a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer. Compost is extremely high in nutrients and can be used on houseplants, gardens, yards, and more. This fertilizer is organic and maintains soil health in such a way that its microorganisms thrive. Also, it nourishes plants in the best way possible.

This all works because organic matter is made up of carbon, including leaves, grass, sticks, vegetable and fruit scraps, cardboard, and even human or pet hair. It is important to maintain the correct balance of nitrogen, carbon, moisture, and oxygen in your compost. Typically, a 25-30:1 ratio is recommended for carbon to nitrogen-rich materials or browns to greens. Carbon-rich brown ingredients are straw, twigs, dried grass clippings, and cardboard. Nitrogen-rich green ingredients include food scraps and fresh lawn clippings. Moisture is needed for the decomposers to break down the organic matter, so keeping an eye on moisture levels is key. Lastly, turning the pile every so often incorporates oxygen. Mixing your compost pile prevents anaerobic decomposition and promotes a healthy process.

Residential composting can be done indoors, outdoors, or off-sight at a municipal composting facility. Vermicomposting is typically practiced indoors with worms while cool or hot composting is performed outside.

Whatever you choose to do, composting is an important action individuals can take to reduce anthropogenic climate change. Compost improves soil health and promotes microbial growth, nurturing healthier plant growth. By diverting compostable materials out of landfills, we are reducing the amount of methane released, aiding in the fight against the climate emergency. Our food originates from the ground, so why not put it back to work there? 

A few useful resources for the know-how on composting can get you started: “7 Secrets to Perfect Compost”, “Backyard Conservation Tip Sheet” and “A Place to Rot: The Modern Farmer Guide to Compost Bins”.

Facebook Takes Actions to Tackle Climate Misinformation

Maxwell Bernstein | March 2, 2021

Facebook is taking action to label posts about climate change to tackle misinformation, according to EcoWatch. In late February in the U.K., Facebook launched a trial that automatically placed information banners on posts about climate change to direct Facebook users to recognized organizations.

These banners, which are created by Facebook’s Climate Science Information Center, direct people to organizations such as NOAA, NASA, the UN, the World Meteorological Organization, and more.

“The Climate Science Information Center connects people on Facebook with science-based news, approachable information and actionable resources from the world’s leading climate change organizations,” Facebook said on their news page. “The center includes detailed deep dives that go beyond the basic facts, as well as ways to get involved.”

Similar trials to the one in the U.K. are expected to expand to other countries.

The Power of Food: Create a Thriving Ecosystem in Your Backyard

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Mackinzee Macho | February 26, 2021

Mackinzee Macho is an undergraduate student and Senior Program Manager in Human and Ecological Systems Transformations for the Foresight Lab. The Foresight Lab is a think-tank that shifts culture toward social, economic, and ecological well-being through consulting. This series, “The Power of Food,” will explore topics like carbon sequestration and regenerative farming.

In just under two months, spring seedlings can be planted outdoors. Now is the time to begin planning what you want to plant in your garden. Vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruits can be used to create a thriving garden, but the real opportunity is to use regenerative gardening practices to promote healthy soil and nutritious plants. 

Carbon gardening maximizes your soil’s sequestration and carbon storage potential through regenerative and sustainable agricultural management practices. These practices include using natural fertilizer and integrated pest management. Carbon gardening is better for plants, soil, and surrounding ecosystems since it promotes a healthier soil environment. In contrast, synthetic chemicals from inorganic fertilizers and pesticides can leach into nearby waterways, burn your plants, and damage the soil ecosystems that are crucial to plant health. The choices are between positive methods that build health and vibrancy, or degenerative practices that cause harm.

The relationship between soil, microbes, and plants – all under ideal conditions – sequester carbon. When soil is healthy and soil organic carbon levels are high, it has the structure to capture carbon, enhance water retention capacity, and build higher fertility rates. Soil organic carbon is determined by the growth and death of plant roots along with the transfer of carbon-rich nutrients from plant roots to soil microbes. The plants supply fungi with carbon-rich sugars which allows the fungi to produce integral nutrients for plant health and growth. As organic matter increases – which includes microbes, plant roots, and stocks – carbon is stored within them. You can reverse the effects of climate change, harvest delicious food, and feel good about boosting the health of your soil, and your family.

Using compost and native weeds to attract pest-consuming insects maintain soil health. These practices restore and regenerate soil, sequester carbon, and increase your yield. Soil that is full of microbes and soil organic matter improves its wellbeing and the food it produces. Healthy soil creates healthy people and a healthy environment. When we nourish our soil, we nourish ourselves and the environment.  

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack Confirmed to Lead USDA for Second Time

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Maxwell Bernstein | February 24, 2021

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was confirmed by the senate in a 92-7 vote on Tuesday to head the Department of Agriculture for a second time, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

During his confirmation hearing, Vilsack discussed his plans to meet climate change goals, food insecurity, supply chain problems, and address inequalities that Black farmers face. “I will ensure all programming is equitable and work to root out generations of systemic racism that disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous and People of Color,” Vilsack said. “I will build the most diverse team in the Department’s history, one that looks like America, and will extend that commitment across all USDA agencies and offices.”

Out of the seven senators who opposed Vilsack, 6 included Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator of Vermont also opposed Vilsack.

According to The Hill, Sanders said, “I like Tom and I’ve known him for years. I think we need somebody a little bit more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and taking on corporate agriculture…I think he’ll be fine, but not as strong as I would like.”

The Power of Food: Do You Really Know Your Food?

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Mackinzee Macho | February 19, 2021

Mackinzee Macho is an undergraduate student and Senior Program Manager in Human and Ecological Systems Transformations for the Foresight Lab. The Foresight Lab is a think-tank that shifts culture toward social, economic, and ecological well-being through consulting. This series, “The Power of Food,” will explore topics like carbon sequestration and regenerative farming.

If you think your food comes from the grocery store, you’re not wrong. Where does it truly originate? Ninety-five percent of our food comes from the soil, but most Americans don’t cultivate it themselves. In fact, only 1 in 3 Americans grow any portion of their own food. We have become severely disconnected from nature, our soils, and the origins of our nutrition.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service states that six pounds of soil are lost per pound of conventionally cultivated food eaten annually. Topsoil is nutrient-rich and crucial to plant and soil health. In addition, our food has become less nutritious. This has serious environmental and human health implications, and at the rate at which we are degrading soil, this leaves us with only 60 harvests left.

Now is the time to reconnect with the source of our food: 81 million Americans own a piece of land and most of that is covered in turf-grass. There are 63,000 square miles of planted grass yards in the United States, which is an area three times larger than the total acreage of corn. Imagine if more Americans converted carbon-intensive lawns into luscious food gardens? Gardening is rewarding and satisfying, and it also teaches how nature works not for us, but with us.

Growing your own food is a creative activity, combats climate change, and saves money. Organic, regenerative, or carbon gardening are the most environmentally beneficial ways of contributing healthy food to your diet. These practices use compost, mulch, and natural pest management to increase soil nutrients and decrease pests.

Gardening reconnects us with nature and provides a great weapon in our arsenal to combat the climate emergency. Creating a symbiotic relationship with nature will generate a greater well-being for our economy, ecology, and society.

For more resources on gardening, check out some of these links:

Dr. Witold F. “Witek” Krajewski Elected to the National Academy of Engineering

Maxwell Bernstein | February 17, 2021

Dr. Witold F. “Witek” Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center and the University of Iowa Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

“As a sports analogy goes, it’s like being in the hall of fame,” Larry Weber, a research engineer for the IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering said. According to the National Academy of Engineering press-release, “Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”  

“Witek’s recognized accomplishments as an academician, his scientific creativity as expressed through the technologies he developed, and his service to our state and nation to better protect people from the devastation of floods, transcend the requirements for induction into the NAE and make him exceptionally well-qualified for this highest honor,” Weber said. “Having members of the academy are very important for our institutions. The flood center, IIHR, the college, the university; having an NAE member here brings additional notoriety. We had one, Jerry Schnoor, and now we’ve doubled. That’s wonderful.”

The Power of Food: We Can Reverse the Climate Emergency by Working Together

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Mackinzee Macho | February 12, 2021

Mackinzee Macho is an undergraduate student and Senior Program Manager in Human and Ecological Systems Transformations for the Foresight Lab. The Foresight Lab is a think-tank that shifts culture toward social, economic, and ecological well-being through consulting. This series, The Power of Food, will explore topics like carbon sequestration and regenerative farming.

Collective action can alter the course of history. The climate emergency is intimidating, but together we can change our behavior to reverse it. The science is clear: the Earth’s average temperature is rising at rates our modern civilization has never seen before. Extreme weather events are occurring more often and with greater intensity, climate change will only become worse with the degradation of our ecosystem from the continual release of greenhouse gases. It took us decades to get into this situation, but we do not need decades to dig ourselves out.  

Recently, President Biden signed multiple executive orders that accelerate action in the face of the climate emergency. Rejoining the Paris climate accord, increasing offshore wind usage, and ending reliance on fossil fuels are key, but imagine the impact if each of us added our individual local actions to the effort.

Collective action and a call for sustainability will further combat the emergency. We can harness the potential of our soils to sequester carbon. Sequestration pumps carbon out of our atmosphere into the ground along with improving soil and plant health. Citizens can sequester carbon by gardening and composting. Growing one’s own food is healthier for our soil, the Earth, and ourselves. Placing our food and other compostable waste into piles reduces waste in the landfill and improves soil and plant health when applied. These simple steps when performed collectively can offset emissions and reduce climate change impacts.

Choosing greener energy, regeneratively grown foods, and responsibly sourced materials creates a market for them. Citizens must urge producers, vendors, farmers, and more to evolve into regenerative and sustainable practices. If we are driven by hope in the face of what seems impossible, nothing can stop us.

Advocates Call for Moratorium on Factory Farms

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Maxwell Bernstein | February 10, 2021

Iowa advocates calling for the moratorium on factory farms are urging the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature to approve their request, according to The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Emma Schmit, an advocate for Food and Water Watch said in a virtual news conference, Iowa has, “more than 10,000 factory farms (and) more than 750 polluted waterways…If we want any semblance of an agriculture sector in Iowa left for our grandchildren, we need to take bold action right now.”

Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids along with 18 others have co-sponsored a bill to put a moratorium on the expansion of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations due to threats toward health, air quality, and drinking water.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford said the bill was, “dead on arrival” to which his spokeswoman Melissa Deatsch said in The Courier, “The speaker has been consistent on this point: You can’t begin a conversation on this issue with one of the most radical proposals there is.”

NASA Creates Senior Climate Advisor Position

Image via NASA

Maxwell Bernstein | February 5, 2021

Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, will serve as NASA’s first senior climate advisor according to a NASA press release.  This role is intended to effectively fulfill the Biden Administration’s climate science objectives for NASA.

This position was created to help fulfill the Biden administration’s push to integrate climate policy and science throughout the federal government, according to Scientific American. Gavin Schmidt is an expert in climate modeling where he has authored or co-authored over 150 research papers. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the senior climate advisor, NASA specified that he will work to:

  • “Promote and engage in climate-related investments in the Science Mission Directorate’s Earth Science Division.”
  • “Promote aeronautics and other technology initiatives focused on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and broad climate impacts.”
  • “Demonstrate and communicate the societal impacts and breadth of NASA investments related to climate.”
  • “Foster communication and coordination within and outside the science community at NASA.”
  • “Actively engage in amplifying the agency’s climate-related research and technological development.”

NASA Chief of Staff Bhavya Lal said in the press release, “The appointment of Gavin Schmidt will help ensure that the Biden Administration has the crucial data to implement and track its plan toward the path to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, and a healthier, safer, more prosperous planet for our children.”

Iowa Researchers Study Connection Between Beaver Dams and Water Quality

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Maxwell Bernstein | February 3, 2021

Researchers from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the department of natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State, and the Iowa Nutrient Research Center will study the connection between beaver dams and water quality, according to Aberdeen News.

The research will examine the efficacy the dams have at reducing nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations in Midwest agricultural watersheds. 

Central Iowans who have a history with beaver dams or beaver activity on their property are encouraged to contact Billy Beck, an assistant professor and Extension forestry specialist at Iowa State University to discuss potential water quality monitoring related to the research. He can be reached by phone at 515-294-8837 or by email at