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“Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots”

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

The average person usually doesn’t think much about the bottom half of the plant. Above the ground, there’s green foliage, fruits, flowers. But the stuff under the dirt is equally or more important than what appears above the surface.

One hundred fifty years ago, there was almost 40 inches of topsoil on agricultural land. Now it’s down to only 18 inches of topsoil and clay underneath. The remaining soil has half as much carbon left as 150 years ago, so, if you calculated that, what you find is that in 150 years they burned through 75% of their carbon.

According to Project Drawdown’s list of the top 80 ways to reduce greenhouse gases, “Regenerative Agriculture” is number 11 and “Conservation Agriculture” is number 16.

Regenerative agriculture practices include refraining from tilling the land, planting diverse cover crops, eliminating use of external nutrients to promote in-farm fertility, eliminating pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and practicing multiple crop rotations. Carbon loss in soil is also a major problem: by bringing it back to the soil through regenerative agriculture, we can address human and climate health as well as the financial well-being of farmers.

And this all takes us back to roots.

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens has an exhibition, “Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots,” that has been running this summer all about roots. Locals and visitors who haven’t seen it yet should stop by the education center, because the exhibition closes on Nov. 2.

Jim Richardson, a photographer for National Geographic who specializes in the environment, paired up with the Land Institute in Kansas and the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C., to present the eye-opening exhibit. Richardson grew up in Kansas, so he knows the soil there.

“I came from a farm and live on planet Earth,” said Richardson as to why he took on this project. “Agriculture is the biggest impact on the planet. It’s the biggest human endeavor; it covers 49% of the habitable land. I expect that in 25 years, the 49% will grow to 65%. If we expand to 10 billion people and they all want to move their diet into the ‘middle class’ diet that we enjoy, lots of cheeseburgers and steaks, we will have to double food output in the next 25 years. How do we do that, without just taking more land and enlarging the footprint?” he said.

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