All About Soil Health

As stewards of the land, farmers are responsible for maintaining fertile land for future generations. A big part of this is preserving rich, healthy soil, which is important not only for a sustainable future but also for the crops these farmers grow. Soil health is a science and can be tricky to master, but there are plenty of resources available to farmers to help.

Not sure how the quality of soil impacts you? The Rodale Institute created a Soil Biology webinar to explain why healthy soil is important to individuals and the ecosystem as a whole. “The soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance,” J.I. Rodale wrote in Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Composts. “It is very much alive and dynamic. It teems with bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms.” The webinar goes on to explain what elements should be abundant in soil and how to maintain those levels.

A crucial aspect to preserving healthy soil is testing. Cooperative Extension offers soil testing resources and guides to help with this process. Click here to find an Extension agent near you. Many Cooperative Extensions provide online educational resources. University of Maine Extension offers this publication with a step-by-step guide to soil testing. Cornell University Cooperative Extension has an entire webpage for soil health, including the “Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual,” a soil health management plan and informative videos dedicated to proper soil testing. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension also offers a soil health webpage with various publications, updated news on soil health science and a list of websites that can provide further help.

While these organizations provide an overview of how to sustain soil health, there are many outlets that offer information on the nitty-gritty of related topics. The Rodale Institute compiled reports and publications related to soil health research discussing specific issues the organization is working on. Many of these can be viewed online here. Rodale also provides an informative, focused webinar, “Impacts of Plastic and Cover Crop Mulches on Weeds, Soil Quality, Yields and Season Length for Tomatoes.”

ATTRA also compiled a list of publications the organization created that discuss specific topics surrounding soil health, ranging from “A Brief Overview of Nutrient Cycling in Pastures” to “Rye as a Cover Crop” to “Alternative Soil Amendments.” ATTRA also offers two educational webinars discussing soil health: “Organic Research and Needs: Cover Crops, Crop Rotation and Soil Health” and “Innovative No-Till: Using Multi-Species Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health.”

New report released on food system policies in New England

The American Farmland Trust, Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group joined forces to release the exciting new survey, New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System. This report examines different policies impacting the food system in New England that either hinder or support its capacity to grow sustainably. The survey was created through interviews with people in food and farming in combination with two years of research.

Through this research, the survey explores opportunities for new or amended policies that can help New England’s food system thrive. In doing so, the report specifically looks into five topics in public policy: land, food production, food safety, markets and waste streams. The survey looks into ways that policies can improve on a state and national level, but also how the New England states can work together to achieve collaboration and change.

The Conservation Law Foundation’s website explains:

The New England states have a deep history of cooperation. This history offers promise for our states to work together on complex food system issues. We hope this report serves as a call to action to help policymakers, food and farming leaders, and citizens in each New England state to identify, support, and implement public policies that can have the most significant impact on strengthening our food system.

For more detailed information on the findings from each of the five public policy areas, click here for the conclusion from the report.