Researchers at the Rodale Institute have learned that organic soils trap atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, and convert it to carbon, a key component of healthy soil.
In the longest-running study of its kind, the Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial (FST) has compared organic and conventional farming side by side for the past 23 years. Important findings have included organic crops' ability to withstand drought-year stress much better than crops raised on a diet of chemicals.
The recent findings suggest that synthetic nitrogen fertilizers speed up the decay process of organic matter so that it is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide rather than stored in the soil as carbon. Both plants and organic soils, the studies demonstrate, operate as powerful "sinks," capturing the greenhouse gas considered by many scientists to be largely responsible for global warming.
"The increase in organic matter in the soil also helps preserve bio- diversity," says David Pimentel, Ph.D., a Cornell University agricultural ecologist working in collaboration with the FST. "All organisms depend on biomass—living and dead organic matter. The higher the biomass content, the more the biodiversity. You can see where organic farming and organic gardening fit in there clearly."
When you reject chemicals and choose instead to garden organically, Dr. Pimentel says, you address other issues of critical concern by embracing a system that is much less reliant on fossil fuels. "This has implications for our dependence on imported oil and natural gas as well as the climate change problem," he says. "You are preserving the soil and you are reducing the use of chemicals that are directly dependent on fossil energy use."