By Mike Friend

Recently, a hardy group of Community Climate Solutions Team (CCST) volunteers braved the cold of a January afternoon to visit the Southdale and Fraust community gardens in the Town of Madison. We were brought together by hope for the future of our climate, passion for the well-being of our community, and curiosity about the natural world.

Perhaps that’s a little grandiose, but it was really cold! And, very much worth it.

The outing was organized by the Agriculture Policy & Practices (APP) project of the CCST Dane County Community Working Group. In line with its mission of promoting regenerative agricultural policies and practices in Dane County, APP is visiting places where sustainable and/or regenerative agriculture is happening — and inviting YOU to join!

The idea is to see, firsthand, what regenerative agriculture means — the many different practices, philosophies, and scales it can entail. We hope this will educate members of the community about how they can support sustainable growing operations directly, and about policies they can advocate for to do the same. During these visits, we also want to ask the growers directly what the Dane County government and community could do to support them.

We had additional reasons to visit these particular gardens. One of APP’s other big campaigns is citizen science. We hope to engage our community in creating knowledge about the ways that climate and agriculture interact. To that end, we’ve designed a scientific study to test what effects these community gardens have on the soil. Agriculture presents one of the greatest opportunities for carbon sequestration. We hope to show that certain markers of carbon sequestration potential are higher in the gardens than in the lawn just outside their boundaries. And we hope to be able to involve many more people in citizen science projects in the future.

But the Southdale and Fraust community gardens don’t only present an opportunity for citizen science and witnessing sustainable agriculture in action. They also represent collaboration with (and the hard work of) a group of admirable high school students. We were led on our visits by Noemy Lesieutre, one of the leaders and founders of In Pursuit of Sunshine (IpoS). IPoS is a group of Madison West High School students hell-bent on serving their communities. Their work with the community gardens is just one of many projects they’ve undertaken in addition to their campaign for climate action. They’ve organized massive plant sales; they’ve run a 13-week radio show (and they’re doing another!); and they’re developing a curriculum for an Environmental Issues class at their school! We’re planning to work with IPoS members to collect and analyze data for our study, and we hope to have it be an ongoing part of their class curriculum.

There is so much densely packed good that comes out of a garden, or a farm, if you put the right ingredients into it. These gardens are a tangible chance to further understand, through experience and science, how we can play a healing role in our ecosystem. They are a learning opportunity for the next generation. And they are a perennial source of delicious, nourishing produce! We would be delighted for you to join us on future visits to learn more about sustainable growing operations. The Agriculture Policy & Practices group will advertise future visits, and we look forward to meeting you.

Finally, we also encourage you to look up IPoS, listen to their past and future radio shows, and support their efforts. We look back with regret on our ill-spent youths, wishing we had been as enterprising as this bunch!