On Gardening: California’s Healthy Soils Initiative bringing change for the better – Santa Cruz Sentinel




When confronted with an existential threat, it’s good to know that you and your elected representatives are doing everything possible to mitigate the problem.

The most important threat imaginable is climate change, as we read frequent reports about the ways in which the accumulation of atmospheric carbon will bring (and is already bringing) changes for flora and fauna, including such fauna as you and I. A very recent story concerns the eventual inundation of Santa Cruz’s wastewater treatment plant.


This concern — and several others — arises in the future, but not the “very distant” future, like astronomical events, but far enough away for many of our corporate and political leaders to shrug it off in favor of the next quarterly financial report or the next election.

The good news is that California’s government has adopted practical goals and realistic strategies for combatting climate change — at least as it applies within the state’s boundaries. Happily, other states are drawing inspiration and models from some of California’s actions in the area.


The not-so-good news is that climate change ignores political boundaries: it is a global phenomenon and California’s climate will be influenced ultimately by the collective efforts of the rest of the world.

Returning what the people could do to reduce the threat of climate change, we discover that we could take productive actions individually, and that if everyone were to participate, the results could be significant.

We could describe reducing uses of fossil fuels and plastics, and recycling items that can be recycled, but in this column we will emphasize constructive actions that individual gardeners can take in the garden.


The guidelines for such actions are contained in California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, which has been in the works for a couple years, and take practical effect this summer.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which is the lead agency for the Healthy Soils Initiative, has advised as follows:

“Health of agricultural soil relates to its ability to build and retain adequate soil organic matter via the activity of plants and soil organisms. Adequate soil organic matter ensures the soil’s continued capacity to function as a vital living ecosystem with multiple benefits that sustains and produces food for plants, animals, and humans.”



Those multiple benefits include improving plant health and yields, increasing water infiltration and retention, sequestering and reducing greenhouse gases, reducing sediment erosion and dust, improving water and air quality, and improving biological diversity and wildlife habitat.

These outcomes are as good for home gardeners as they are for commercial farmers.

The Healthy Soils Initiative targets California’s agricultural industry, as it should, because it involves a relatively small number of players each of which is responsible for large numbers of acres. In comparison, California’s gardening community involves a large number of players who are each responsible for a small plot of land. A detailed comparison could show that home gardeners collectively manage a great deal of land, perhaps as much as commercial farmers.


The conclusion is that home gardeners are well advised to apply the principles of the California’s Healthy Soils Initiative, which in other circles are called the principles of soil regeneration.

We will review those principles in future columns. In the meantime, you can read them on the websites of the CDFA (preview.tinyurl.com/ybzmgzax) or Regeneration International (regenerationinternational.org)

Another resource on sustainable, climate-change-ready gardening is the 12th annual Garden Faire, which will be held tomorrow (Saturday, June 17th) at Skypark, in Scotts Valley. For information, visit www.thegardenfaire.org.


Tom Karwin is past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Visit ongardening.com for links to information on this subject, and send comments or questions to gardening@karwin.com.


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