Ninety percent of Maine is forested land, which makes us the state with the largest carbon-storage service in New England. One important strategy in reducing the effects of climate warming is to store carbon in soils, trees and perennial agricultural crops. Maine already stores about 60% of the carbon it emits in our young forests. Maine has the potential to increase this storage capacity by providing incentives to forest companies to improve their forest practices.

Tony Marple stands on Sept. 8, 2021, in an area of forest on his Whitefield farm that he thinned in 2019 to encourage maple, oak and birch trees to mature, not for use as saw logs but for their carbon storage potential. Gregory A. Rec / Portland Press Herald file photo

Both large-scale agriculture and forestry can commit to management practices that increase organic matter in soils, called carbon sequestration. The Maine Legislature established a Healthy Soils Program which the Cooperative Extension, Maine Farmland Trust and other partners will share with farmers and forest owners. The goal is to create more soil carbon to feed microorganisms that break down plant matter to increase the productivity of soils and nutritional quality of crops. Forests can be managed to hold more carbon, also, by lengthening periods between harvest, thinning dense regrowth of evergreen, and preventing soil compression. In southern Maine, three-quarters of forest owners have no management plans, with harvesting decisions made by the contractor. Recent additional state foresters will offer management advice to forest owners to increase stored carbon in Maine forests.

Many readers are familiar with the idea of buying “carbon credits” from organizations doing tree planting or conserving forest land, practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere. This carbon offset industry is finally expanding to sell credits to large farms or groups of farmers who commit to increasing organic matter in their soils, use practices that reduce fossil fuel emissions like no- or low-till soil disturbance, or add cover crops for year-round soil coverage. The growing organic and sustainable farm movement in Maine is educating farmers to use practices that increase soil carbon, reduce fossil fuel emissions and return waste organic matter to the soils. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Natural Resources Defense Council programs, also has been promoting better soil management. These practices reduce soil erosion, improve the water quality of streams and reduce the need for imported fertilizer.

As an organic farmer in Monmouth, one of my goals in managing 4 acres of fields for vegetable and fruit production after initial addition plowing in of rock powders, was to build a self-sufficient, closed-loop farm that produced its own fertility. I came close to that goal by making my own compost from weeds and crop residue and bringing in only one truck load of manure each season to grow onions and garlic. To me, this was the best practical meaning of sustainability: The farm could continue to produce food indefinitely without outside addition of materials. We casually use the term “sustainability,” which actually means “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” With 8 billion people on Earth and many countries trying to increase their consumption of meat and consumer goods produced with fossil fuels, each of us can do our part to reduce our ecological footprint on our fragile ecology.

Buying local food at your local farmers market or grocery store and picking up gleaned produce at libraries or food pantries reduce the amount of gas used to bring produce from California or Florida. Maine produces all its milk, blueberries, apples and potatoes, yet only produces somewhat over 10% of its food consumption. Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation has a goal for Maine to produce 20% of its food by 2025, rising to 30% by 2030. You can be a part of this growth by seeking out local food and keeping more of your food dollars in Maine.

Keeping organic matter out of our waste stream to be turned into compost creates new valuable products while reducing the cost of disposing of solid waste and lowers the production of methane, a greenhouse gas with much larger global warming capacity than CO2. This has reduced pressure on rapidly filling municipal landfills and created new industries. If you don’t yet want to collect your food waste separately to compost at home, companies like Garbage to Garden will do the collecting, composting and return of usable compost to their Bath customers. Since Topsham, Brunswick and Bath require residents to pay per bag of garbage produced, residents have a good incentive to keep heavy, wet food waste out of their garbage. You can find Eric Sideman’s instructions to build a compost pile at Your garbage will not smell if you carefully keep all food waste out of the garbage bags.


Nancy Chandler studied Animal Behavior and Anthropology at Stanford University, then received her master’s in biology education in her home state of North Carolina at U.N.C. Chapel Hill. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how to use energy use efficiently to save both money and reduce greenhouse warming gases.

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