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Life as a Carbon Negative Farmer

I lived a carbon negative lifestyle, and it expanded my definition of sustainability. How did I do it? I literally went back to the roots of real estate.

I volunteered (through the wwoofing site) on a self-sustaining organic vegetable farm- Wilde Gärtnerei in a small town near Berlin called Rüdnitz. The farm is essentially a contained negative carbon ecosystem, and as a volunteer, I inserted myself into its life cycle.

The Carbon Negative Farming Life Cycle

Agriculture produces approximately 10% (!!) of greenhouse gas emissions. But this farm eliminated a lot of the carbon and nitrogen emitting practices. There was no livestock- a huge culprit in methane emissions. We mostly used manual labor with the occasional mechanical tools. We didn’t produce carbon intensive crops like rice. We didn’t use pesticides and herbicides- weeds are small carbon sinks! And the farm owned a sizeable forest, which was also a massive carbon sink.

Furthermore, my personal emissions dropped to almost zero. I spent no money except when leaving the farm. I produced no trash- everything on the farm finds another useful life or purpose. I wasted very little water and electricity.

Here are the steps of the cycle:

Step 1. I provided my energy in the form of work on various tasks throughout the vegetable life cycle.

Step 2. We seeded new vegetables into seedling trays where they grow for up to a few weeks. We weeded them periodically.

Step 3. We prepped the field beds for new plantings. We turned soil, removed weed roots, and placed new compost on top. Depending on the crop, we created indentations at specific widths for new plantings.

Step 4. We manually transferred the plants from the seedling trays to the field bed.

Step 5. While the plants were still small, we weeded around them periodically. The weeds rob the target vegetables of precious nutrients in the soil, so in order to give the vegetables the best chance for survival, we have to eliminate their competition. (Side note, weeds are just plants unwanted in a certain context. We ate some of them in a salad.)

Step 6. At this point, many of the vegetables have not survived, but the ones that have are getting large. We covered the field bed with mulch materials like horse manure and straw to prevent further weed growth.

Step 7. Most of the survivors at this point make it to harvest. At no point did we use pesticides or GMOs. Bugs and worms were everywhere, and the vegetables were exposed to some of the freshest air I’ve breathed.

Step 8. We eat! This gave me the energy I needed to go back to step 1! With the exception of some grains, everything we ate was grown on the farm and was 100% vegan. Most of it was harvested in the days prior to cooking. Truly farm to table, and it tasted better than any “organic” vegetables I’ve ever eaten before.

Step 9. We only used compost toilets, so my solid waste would compost over a 10 year process. My urine would return nitrogen to the cycle.

My Takeaways from the Carbon Negative Farming Lifestyle

Living on a self sustaining organic farm is not a zero sum game. Mentally and physically, I took away so much more. The vegan diet left me feeling healthier and more energized. I lost weight and improved my cardio. Meditation and yoga was incorporated into the daily routine. I barely touched my laptop and phone. I listened to 5 audiobooks while working.

This experience was truly transformative and put my work in sustainable real estate into perspective. I will be incorporating many of these practices and ideas into my daily life and work going forward.

The Vegetables (in German!)

Here are the vegetables I encountered, along with their German names (in singular form):

Chili PepperChilischote
Green CabbageGrünkohl
Russian CabbageRosenkohl
BeetRote Beet


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