Community Voices - Glenn Gall

Posted by Emily Belle
Emily Belle
Emily Belle is a second year Environmental Studies major at Oberlin College. Ori
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on June 26, 2014 in Community Voices

GlennGallWebGlenn Gall is an activist, a writer, and a farmer living in Oberlin. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Huntington University, and has training in permaculture and grazing techniques. He proposes the use of natural systems as a multidimensional approach to the problem of climate change. More of his ideas can be found on the website:

Q: What comes to mind when you think about Oberlin?

A: It is a very healthy community—in terms of, there’s sharing and caring going on. There’s always new relationships to be made…learning to understand where people are coming from, and what they’re working on. And enjoying the culture, and appreciating the activism. And a chance to explore my own ideas, and foster those, and try to prepare others for a future that can use some of these ideas.

Q: How did you become interested in the role of natural systems for addressing issues of climate, food, and the environment? What started you on this path?

A: Years ago, we lived in another house on the far east side of town…I learned about compost, and organic matter, and how that can help regenerate topsoil. I wasn’t satisfied with just organic gardening. I had to do biointensive and natural farming methods, as I learned about those.

It was six or seven years ago now that I really became interested and involved in the problem of our climate, and that took me to a deeper environmental level. I was concerned about reducing emissions, of course. I learned then about soil, and how rapidly that can take on CO2, and be transformed into humus – topsoil. So I got interested in that. Took a couple permaculture trainings. Took grazing and management training. Found a land-owner that had land that he wanted to have grazed.  He understood the value of that. It’s 8 miles from here. We started off 4 years ago. We bought the fencing, the sheep and the hay and everything. And we got through a year at the cost of a down payment on a hybrid car. Yet, I’m getting roughly 10 tons per acre of CO2 sequestered. So, five acres? Fifty tons. Boy, that’s more than my family carbon footprint.

Q: Can you describe your main approach, in farming and in developing natural systems?

A: I think understanding food, and how it relates to natural systems, and understanding the climate as how it relates to systems, and how to grow things that way—I think it’s all tied together. And that’s what I work on. I’m working with sheep. I’m getting a cow or two, to do more grazing. It all fits together. I’m growing food. But not eroding. Sequestering carbon at a pretty good rate. I figure my carbon footprint is more than offset in just a few acres, at a much lower cost than you could do by changing to a hybrid car, or insulating the house and all those things. I do those things, or want to do more of those things. But they are more costly than actually getting carbon sequestered. So my environmental choice is to work on more land and get more of that happening.

Q: How does the development of healthy natural systems help with our problem of climate change?

A: It’s very different from the typical climate approaches we have. And that’s one of the things I’m hoping to get at. It has to do with getting carbon out of the atmosphere, instead of simply reducing what emit. Look at all the damage you see being done by extreme weather, ice melting, sea level rise, a number of related types of things. It’s already happening. One estimate came out to $1.2 trillion dollars per year of damage, and 400,000 climate-related premature deaths…we have a problem already. That isn’t due to what we’re going to emit that we’re trying to stop: it has to do with what has already been emitted, that is still lingering in the atmosphere.

How do we deal with that? Photosynthesis is one thing that nature does all the time. It’s reversing that flow of CO2 from our emissions, and getting it back into living things.

We were at 400 parts per million let’s say back in May…And now in September, October, we reached in the range of 393 parts per million (of CO2). Well, what happened? Well, nature pulled a heck of a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Natural systems are capable of doing this. About a third of what we emit gets pulled back into soil and biomass, every year.

The climate movement and climate science seems to be more geared towards reducing emissions, instead of dealing with the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. And I think that needs to change. It needs to change rapidly…getting away from just a narrow approach to dealing with the climate, to a much broader approach that involves natural systems that provide all these services. We recycle everything else – why not carbon? We send it into the atmosphere, and we forget about it. “Well, I wanna stop the next ton,” ya know? What about the 200 gigatons that are extra, right now?

Q: And so how does this approach of developing healthy natural systems also tie into food, and sustainable food growth?

A: The thrust should be in growing the healthiest food possible. I think there’s also some value in some of the annual agriculture. But I think it’s limited, and needs to be a part of a natural system as well. There are people who understand how plants really work, and what it takes to grow the healthiest food possible. We need to find ways to…get our soils healthier, and renew them, and reverse what we’ve done.

What does it take to grow a plant? You need DNA. You need water and CO2…What else do you need? You need some minerals. You need nitrogen to make the amino acids. You really need soil biology to make this work. You need sunlight to get the photosynthesis started. You need warmth. You need some kind of warm temperature to make it work as well…Big Ag says you need to buy things. So, It seems to be harder and harder to buy all the things you need to do this right, according to Big Ag…A lot of times they’ll be buying seed. Well, you can also save seed – there’s ways to do that. A lot of farmers add a lot of minerals. Well, if you’ve got clay soil like we do here, you don’t need minerals. Almost all of them are there. Above every farm is well more than enough nitrogen to grow anything you could possibly want (with nitrogren-fixing bacteria)… Healthy plants can resist pretty much all pests and diseases…All these needs are there, are being met on the farm, if you do a natural method of farming.

Q: How do your methods of natural system development relate to ecosystem services, and the sustainability of the landscape as a whole?

A: Dr. Ratan Lal…he’s the well-known soil scientist at Ohio State, estimates that for every ton of carbon in the soil, the value is about $200 in services of minerals, and mineralization, and topsoil, and avoiding topsoil loss, and soil biology.

Plus, if these practices are adopted on a broader scale, that would mean less extinction, and less desertification. There’s more abundance of timber and forest crops and things like that. The benefits are huge. More than just climate. They have to do with extinction, desertification, and food. I’m looking at successes and saying, “Boy, if we harvested water better, if we were able to graze more at-risk rangelands—it could be a whole different picture here. More forestry. Bring back these forests that we had—and provide for our needs. We’re talking energy; we’re talking timber; we’re talking food; medicinals – forest medicinals are important. And we’re talking less erosion too. So, I think it’s all important. All ties together.

Q: What do you envision for yourself, for others in the community, and for the world in terms of future directions relating to these sorts of practices?


A: [It’s] kind of my motto: more life. We need much more life in a hurry…More life. Get more life going. We don’t have a lot of choices but to…I think we need to recreate Eden, basically. That’s what our choice is. We don’t – we extinct ourselves out, or we warm ourselves to death, or we run out of land, because we’re creating deserts and urban spaces that just consume it. So, that’s the trajectory we’re on now. That has to be totally turned around. So, how do you do it? Recreate Eden. That’s our choice. I’m one that looks at my little sheep ranch and multiplying that kind of thing by two billion or ten billion acres, and figuring: “Yeah, if we did that, that would be huge.”

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Emily Belle is a second year Environmental Studies major at Oberlin College. Originally from Ithaca, New York, she loves waterfalls, woodland adventures, and growing and eating tasty food. Emily works in the Oberlin community as a Bonner Leader and America Reads Tutor.


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