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The Carbon Gatherer

By CHARLIE SILER

The Carbon Gatherer - Craftsmanship Magazine

Wick’s ranch is part of a study group in Marin County, Calif., that is measuring how grass, cows and their manure interact to slow climate change. And Wick may have taken the findings further than anyone else in the world has so far. Photo by KathleenGoodwin.net

As John Wick, a California cattle rancher, walks across his porch, past some metal jugs and pipes still wrapped in shipping plastic, he tells me that the gear is part of a still to produce alcohol for fuel. Stepping inside with him, I see hanging strands of multi-colored wool, which he says are part of a separate project aimed at getting the clothing industry to switch to plant-based dyes.

Neither project sounds like anything that a rancher — even one with a hand-picked team of scientists — should be able to pull off on a significant scale. Wick’s big ideas would be easy to dismiss if not for the fact that six years ago, on this Nicasio ranch where we’re meeting, he scored a slam-dunk on an even more audacious goal. He and his team figured out new ways to run cattle on pastureland in order to fight climate change.

For more than a decade, people have been experimenting with this idea. Allan Savory, a well-known biologist and farmer, advocates the use of livestock, bunched and moving, to mimic nature and thus improve soils. Another fan is Rattan Lal, distinguished professor of soil science at Ohio State University, who has been exploring various approaches to “carbon sequestration” for 50 years, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the cornfields of Ohio. Tony Lovell of Soil Carbon Australia has said that if land is grazed properly, a pasture can contain more carbon than a tropical rain forest.

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