Young urban farmer plots growth of regenerative agriculture endeavor

Chander Payne digs dirt.

The budding farmer’s fondness for linking humans to the promise of the oft-disregarded ground beneath their feet spurred him to launch a social — and earthy — enterprise as a high schooler in metropolitan Washington, D.C.

His hands-on effort to connect farming with homeless shelters and schools in underserved communities has thus far delivered 3,600-plus pounds of fresh vegetables to residents of local food deserts.

Payne, now in college, named his city-centric endeavor Urban Beet. The ambitious effort to connect students with gardening, families with real food and everyone with the soil was awarded a Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes in 2020, the year he graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase, a top-ranked high school in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Colorado-based nonprofit affiliated with the prize annually recognizes 25 young, inspiring and public-spirited leaders across the United States and Canada who have made a significant difference to people, their communities and the environment.

Payne was introduced to the concept of regenerative agriculture at a summer job where he learned how pesticides and tilling had severely disrupted the natural carbon-capturing ability of plants and soil microorganisms. Reversing those modern trends can mitigate climate change in at least a couple of ways. Healthy replenished soil can store carbon underground, offsetting some of the emissions from fossil fuel power plants and vehicles. Urban gardens can also reduce what’s known as the heat island effect when they replace asphalt and other heat-absorbing hard surfaces.

These lessons led him to see his surroundings as a garden that needs tending. Beyond food, he wants his farms to offer joy, empowerment and healing to children.

“My work has led me to see the world as a regenerative farmer, to be perceptive and empathetic,” said Payne, now a freshman at Williams College in Massachusetts, leaning toward a major in environmental studies. “I envision a world where I walk into underserved neighborhoods and see colorful beets and tomatoes growing — a world where every kid has a close relationship with living soil and fresh food.”

Chemistry teacher Christopher Knocke was part of the team that nominated Payne for a Barron Prize. Author T.A. Barron established the prize two decades ago to honor his mother, Gloria, who labored for years to create a nature museum at the Colorado School for the Blind.

Payne’s idea for Urban Beet sprouted as a single raised bed filled with soil, compost and seeds in his high school’s courtyard. It’s still thriving and has expanded to 200 square feet, with an additional solar-powered vertical farm.

Now, the 18-year-old is executive director of what’s evolved into an LLC fueled by donations. His team of young go-getters has constructed farms at three high schools in suburban Maryland and five at homeless shelters and related facilities in the nation’s capital and Delaware. Urban Beet plans to create 10 additional farms in Virginia and elsewhere around the region later this year.

“I am eager to continue investigating the relationship between the well-being of soil microbiomes, families and farming communities,” he said.

In an interview with the Energy News Network, Payne explained how and why food insecurity, urban heat islands and soil degradation in his own backyard inspired his passion for global soil health and the climate fight. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Source:-https://energynews.us/2021/04/02/young-urban-farmer-plots-growth-of-regenerative-agriculture-endeavor/

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