You may choose organic at the grocery store, but if you’re not a farmer, you might not understand the complex ways in which organic farming methods are beneficial to the Earth’s climate. Research shows most people know that organic farming practices reduce conventional pesticides in our environment. What is often not as well understood is the importance of organic farming to preserving and building healthy soil. Yep. Dirt is profoundly respected by organic farmers. We’re here to help you understand why to say, “I choose organic for the climate.”

Agriculture is one of the major contributors to climate change, but it can be a source of mitigation as well. Research from the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, the longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture, shows that, “If only 10,000 medium sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store so much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road, or reducing car miles driven by 14.62 billion miles.” In short, organic farming practices generally contribute to healthier soil, which leads to less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, slowing climate change.

How is that possible? It starts with something you may remember learning about in elementary or middle school: photosynthesis. In brief, people and animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Plants take in that carbon dioxide and transform some of it into oxygen, releasing it back into the atmosphere for people and animals to breathe back in. The remaining carbon, however, stays in the plant tissue. When the plants die and decompose, the stored carbon goes into the soil. This is called “carbon sequestration,” and it contributes to the overall “soil organic matter,” or SOM. (In case you were wondering, SOM also contains decomposing animal tissue, microbes, and minerals.)

Photosynthesis and carbon sequestration happen whether the plant is certified organic or not. However, through organic farming and ranching practices, we can increase the speed and length of carbon sequestration, reducing the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Farming practices that are part of the organic certification process required by law, include:

* Diversified crop rotations

* Cover crops

* Integrated pest management

* No fossil fuel-based fertilizers

* No petroleum-based pesticides

* Use of compost or manure for fertilization

Think of organic farming as feeding the soil and caring for it, instead of depleting it. All of these practices add beneficial nutrients and natural organic matter to the soil, create a thriving environment for helpful bacteria and microbes, and make the soil more capable of storing carbon long-term.

Help that carbon stay in the soil: Choose organic for the climate.