Glossary of Important Terms

Agriculture - The practice of growing plants for food, clothing, animal feed, and other resources humans need or desire. It also includes raising domesticated animals (livestock).

Atmosphere - A thick layer of air that surrounds the Earth, supports life on Earth, and protects living things from the sun’s harmful radiation.

Biodiversity - Biological diversity is the variety of life in an area. Examples include the variety of individuals in a species, the variety of species in an ecosystem, and the variety of biomes or species on earth.

Carbon - An element that is in all living things (e.g., humans, animals, and plants) and many nonliving things (i.e., rocks, soil, water, and our air/atmosphere). Atmospheric carbon is often attached to oxygen in the form of carbon dioxide.

Carbon footprint - The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that a person or group of people puts into the atmosphere from their use of fossil fuels.

Carbon sequestration - The process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon from the atmosphere. The natural process of sequestration stores carbon in soil and bodies of water. The human-designed processes using technology to capture and store carbon.

Carbon release - The process of carbon being released from the soil. This happens naturally as soil organisms breathe (respire), and can be sped up through human activities such as tilling or plowing.

Climate change - The global long-term change in temperature and weather patterns due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, mostly due to use of fossil fuels.

Conventional/degenerative agriculture - Industrial practices of farming which include large single-crop farms, intensive tilling and irrigation, and the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. This way of farming is very productive, but requires high amounts of energy, adds toxins to the soil, and increases carbon release from the soil rather than carbon sequestration (capture).

Decomposer - Any organism that breaks down dead or decaying organic matter such as dead animals, fallen trees, or leaf litter.

Ecosystem - A place where all the living things (plants, animals, microorganisms) interact with each other and with nonliving parts of their environment (water, sun, temperature, rocks and soil).

Erosion - When rocks, soil, or other landforms are gradually worn down by ice, water, or wind.

Fertilizers - Any substance, natural or man-made, added to soil to increase the level of nutrients it contains and speed up plant growth.

Greenhouse effect - The natural process of the Earth’s atmosphere trapping heat from the sun. Human use of fossil fuels has increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, leading to more of the sun’s heat being trapped (global warming).

Herbicides - Chemicals used to kill unwanted plants. Also known as weedkillers.

Microorganism - A living thing such as bacteria or fungi that is too small to be seen without the use of a microscope or other magnification.

Macro-organism - A living thing that can be seen by the naked eye.

Monoculture - The practice of growing or producing only one crop, species, or animal in the same place at the same time.

Pesticides - Chemicals used to kill unwanted organisms such as insects, rodents, plants, or fungi.

Photosynthesis - The process by which plants use the sun’s energy to create carbon-based sugars from carbon dioxide and water.

Polyculture - The practice of growing or producing multiple crops, species, or animals in the same place at the same time.

Regenerative agriculture - Farming and grazing practices that focus on restoring soil health and biodiversity, and sequestering (capturing) carbon in the soil.

Soil - The material on the surface of the Earth in which plants grow. It is a mixture of eroded rocks, minerals, and organic matter. It holds water and air, provides nutrients and structural support to plants, and supports a diverse ecosystem of living micro- and macro-organisms.