Can we sequester all of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the biggest side-effect being healthier soil?
My new feature-length documentary projectFarming Carbon hopes to answer that question.
Trillions of microorganisms live beneath our feet. These bacteria and fungi are the drivers of all life on Earth. Until recently, these microbes were a mystery. New technologies, as well as a reemergence of scientific studies dating back more than a century, are starting to unlock the secrets of this unseen biomass.
Researchers are realizing that these microbes are essential for many coveted soil features such as drought and flood resistance, as well as robust plant growth. They’re even starting to understand how healthy soil can sequester atmospheric carbon far cheaper and more effectively than any current technology. That rich, black soil that will grow almost anything? That’s the carbon. And the more carbon that’s anchored in the soil, the healthier and more productive the land becomes.
Farming Carbon will follow Steve Charter as he experiments with intensive grazing techniques and organic inputs in an effort to keep his ranch viable in the face of losing half of his land to a strip mine. Steve’s hands-on experience will serve as the backdrop for a story about rural resilience, and the science of healthy soil and carbon sequestration. The film will explore how pushback from the agriculture industry has hampered soil research as well as dig into the risks farmers face when challenging the status quo.
The film will feature the voices of soil experts including Nicole Masters, Director of Integrity Soils and many others. These experts will weigh in on the science behind soil’s ability to capture carbon and grow better food as a result. Farmers who have pioneered these practices in their own fields will also describe the challenges of implementing these new techniques on an agricultural scale and the results they’ve achieved.
Farming Carbon hopes to illustrate the food-based benefits of good soil practices as well as provide a blueprint to saving the world.
The Otter Creek Valley of eastern Montana sits atop the largest coal deposit in the lower forty-eight states. It’s also home to some of Montana’s most productive farms and ranches, as well as some of the last unindustrialized grasslands.
Wildlife filmmaker Dawson Dunning shares what makes the Otter Creek region a place worth protecting from extraction, whether mining or oil and gas development.
The Charter Ranch enjoys some of the best conditions of any ranch in eastern Montana. Their summer range north of Billings stays clear of snow most of the winter. Just a few miles up the slope of the Bull Mountains is a summer grassland with cooler weather and abundant water aquifers. The Bull Mountains also contain massive coal deposits, threatening the viability of the ranch.
Third-generation rancher Steve Charter has been fighting since the 1970’s to keep the coal operations from destroying his family ranch. Since those early days, he has watched the coal industry erode the safeguards he’s fought so hard to establish. Now, as the threat of a strip mine on his summer range looms, he is scrambling to keep the ranch alive.
Montana’s Tongue River Valley has been one of the most productive ranch lands in the state, owing much of its production on the massive fresh water aquifers lying just below the swaying grasses. Unfortunately, the water that supports Tongue River agriculture lies within the coal seams.
Jeanie Alderson’s family has been ranching Montana’s Tongue River Valley since the 1880’s, weathering two world wars and the Great Depression. Jeanie’s water, as well as the water of many family farmers and ranchers of southeastern Montana is threatened by the possibility of coal extraction, draining those aquifers to get at the coal. In dry eastern Montana, water is life.
Depending on the time of year, strong winds blow down from Yellowstone National Park or through the Bozeman Pass to hit the railroad town of Livingston, Montana—often with hurricane force (over 74.4 mph). Hundreds of coal trains roll through Livingston each year. When the wind hits these trains, it blows dust off the uncovered cars and spreads it all over town.
Single mother Rose Bolach began researching coal dust when she started seeing train traffic double, and then triple as the trains headed to the coal ports on the west coast. What she found scared her. BNSF Railway has testified that 645 pounds of coal dust can become airborne per car during a 400-mile trip, and these trains pull hundreds of cars through town each day. Coal dust has been linked to several chronic diseases that are especially harmful to children. With the elementary school situated just a few hundred feet from the tracks, she decided she needed to do something.