Creating Open Data Schema With Carbon A List

At the end of last year, OpenTEAM was awarded a grant through the Community Funding Program by Regen Network for “Designing Quality Assets” resulting from ecological interventions, such as implementing sustainable agricultural practices, at the farm level. This grant will build the foundations for other organizations and communities of land stewards to build on top of.

Carbon A List is leading the charge on the grant, leveraging OpenTEAM community and partners like Regen1, Point Blue Conservation Science, Our Sci, FarmOS, Regen Farmers Mutual, and others to map out activities in their programs that show how land stewards can benefit. The work is creating Use Cases around specific asset types – such as a carbon offset, inset, insurance premium, grant, or other market incentive.

Founded in 2016, Carbon A List supports a wide range of organizations and land stewards in tackling climate mitigation projects. From supporting farm groups in capturing ecological data to helping large commodity organizations determine what to do next to drive soil health outcomes, Carbon A List often sees themselves as a hardware store that provides the necessary tools to support those in the agricultural sector in their climate projects.

“We are creating a hardware store. We don’t necessarily build the tools but we can provide tools already built that can get the job done,” says Christophe Jospe, founder of Carbon A List and previous co-founder of Nori.

“Our tagline is ‘Come for the Carbon, Stay for the Ecosystem.’ We have carbon in our name, but our real hope is for anyone we’re working with to recognize that for true systemic change, we need to move beyond tracking carbon, or even seeing carbon as the end-all be-all asset class,” he continues.

Their projects represent hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland where land stewards are capturing data and being rewarded for their positive impacts. As much of their work requires collecting data to support these projects, Carbon A List joined the OpenTEAM community not only for this grant but to support their other work streams too.

“Our goal is to create equity in enabling farm groups to have input and a voice in the institutions that govern how they do things. We are excited about OpenTEAM because we can do this in an open and collaborative way,” says Jospe.

Through OpenTEAM, Carbon A List supports a collaborative process of designing programs and rules that suit the individual needs and interests of farmers and ranchers in their local regions. This supports the creation of open schema, allowing data to move around more easily and help land stewards to utilize their data more fully in accessing various opportunities and benefits.

This is exemplified through the use case Carbon A List is exploring with Our Sci and Regen Farmers Mutual in Australia, thanks to the Regen Network grant. They are designing the right program that ensures land stewards are compliant with rules and regulations set forth by the Australian government. Through this, the government can more easily compensate farmers and ranchers for their positive impacts to the climate through the Australia Carbon Credit Program.

The use case primarily explores creating aggregated data sets and data warehouses which form data coops to encourage large groups of farmers and ranchers to enroll in the program.

“Through a data coop, those who collect data to monitor ecological improvements can gather their data collaboratively and go to market together,” says Jospe, “Making them stronger together than they are apart.”

Through OpenTEAM, Carbon A List can support more open schema to make environmental claims such as these not only compliant with what the government requires, but helps farmers and ranchers make the right changes to their farm to increase productivity, build soil health, and implement sustainable changes.

Building Soil Health and Biodiversity Through Research

Caney Fork Farms is an organic diversified vegetable, chestnut, and livestock operation using regenerative farming practices to build soil carbon levels and ecological biodiversity. Historically owned and operated by the family of former Vice President Al Gore, the farm became Caney Fork Farms in 2015.

“There was a pretty intensive planning operation,” says Zach Wolf, Farm Manager at Caney Fork. Since officially becoming Caney Fork Farms, they have developed market gardens, field crop systems, high tunnels, and a sizable livestock operation to raise grass fed beef, pasture-raised pork, and entirely grass fed lamb.

In 2020, they obtained over 250 acres of conventionally farmed land and are slowly transitioning it to organic production. Now, managing almost 700 acres of land, 550 of which are certified organic, Caney Fork is building more integrated farming systems by producing their own hay forage, grain, and agroforestry crops in addition to managing their market garden and vegetable CSA.

For Caney Fork Farms, the reasons behind using organic, regenerative, and integrated farming practices is backed by science.

In 2019, they took a series of soil carbon samples of the main farm acreage to get a baseline of certain metrics, such as soil carbon levels. When Caney Fork obtained the over 250-acre plot, locally known as Lock Seven Farm, they took another series of carbon samples. Using that baseline data as a comparison, they can calculate changes in soil health metrics as they transition the newly acquired land to organic agricultural production.

As they transition the land, Caney Fork is seeing exponential increases in soil carbon levels compared to baseline measurements. Although farms usually see the most dramatic change in soil carbon within the first years of transitioning from conventional to organic farming practices, to see such growth is still gratifying.

“We’ve seen a 35% increase in soil carbon within the first 20 months of implementing regenerative practices,” says Shaylan Kolodney, Research Coordinator and Livestock Hand at Caney Fork Farms who was a part of the original team that collected baseline soil samples.

While research at the farm has primarily surrounded exploring soil carbon and general soil health, researchers have begun biological monitoring and collecting data on nutrient quality of crops.

“The biological monitoring piece is just starting to unfold,” says Kolodney. For Caney Fork Farms, biological monitoring involves assessing the biodiversity of the farm environment across plant and animal species. In combination with soil health, this data can paint a more comprehensive picture of how farm operations and the local environment interact with one another. With a heavy emphasis on bird monitoring, they have identified over 50 species on the farm since beginning biological monitoring in 2021.

Among other research initiatives they are implementing at the farm, they are collaborating with Walter Goldstein from the Mandaamin Institute in a corn trial to assess different corn varieties and their ability to both fix nitrogen and perform under their organic growing conditions while also participating in a mung bean trial with Matt Blair from Tennessee State University to determine the suitability of the legume in southeastern organic growing conditions.

While Caney Fork Farms works with its own network of researchers and soil scientists, that network has grown much larger since joining OpenTEAM in 2019.

“The biggest benefit that we’ve had with OpenTEAM is the community aspect of it and learning from other Hubs in terms of how they’re doing things when it comes to research,” says Kolodney, “One of our goals at Caney Fork is to tell that story of conventional management transitioning into organic and, with the support of OpenTEAM and our Research Board, telling that story to the scientific community.”

Research remains a central part of the work that Caney Fork is doing to ensure their practices are yielding positive impacts on the environment and their food production.