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How does soil actually function? Jon Stika of UnderstandingAg (recently retired from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service) emphasizes that all of us as students, managers, and caregivers of soil need to understand how soil functions as a living ecosystem with biological, physical, and chemical processes. All of us must become students of what makes soil healthy. It’s that simple and there are no shortcuts. Jon states from this starting point farmers, graziers, gardeners, and landowners will then be able to treat the problems limiting soil health and not just the symptoms. In Jon's career as a conservationist, agronomist, soil scientist, researcher, and teacher with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, an eye-opening experience was just how important biology is to the overall soil ecosystem and how carbon serves as currency to drive nutrient cycling, soil aggregation, and so many other processes. Jon encourages people to not be overwhelmed by the complexity of the system but to start small, follow the four soil health principles, focus on one principle out of the four that can be improved, and experiment with that principle on a section of your farm, pasture, garden, or backyard.A Soil Owner’s Manual: How to Restore and Maintain Soil Health is published independently by Jon through Amazon Books and is available on UnderstandingAg’s website.Learn more about the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, join the 4 the Soil conversation, and read the latest Soil Health Tip Tuesday blog post at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/ and https://www.4thesoil.org.
If you were an earthworm, what type of farm would you like to be living on? This question was posed to Mike Phillips of Valley View Farms in Mauzy, Virginia, who is a student of history and a champion of soil health. Jeff Ishee was able to catch up with Mike at a recent Soil Health and Cover Crop Field Day in Rockingham County to learn how Mike seeks to mimic nature in his farming and soil health principles. Mike is always cognizant of keeping soil covered, nurturing soil biology, and managing his above and below-ground livestock. He encourages us all to know we are part of a system and that all living things are sacred. Therefore, we should manage our lives, farms, and soils to be in harmonious balance. Mike has been inspired by many people throughout his life and he is fiercely intent on inspiring others, particularly young and beginning farmers, to farm and live as part of the land and sacred system.Context is a critical precept for customizing soil health to your farm and landscape. To learn more about Mike Phillips's passion for farming and care of the land, please take six minutes to listen to two of Virginia Cooperative Extension's Soil, Conservation, and Place videos at https://youtu.be/Sgbqt_AnA8s and https://youtu.be/HyW858Hb12k Learn more and hear the conversation on our website www.4thesoil.org or wherever you get your podcasts! As always, we encourage you to do your part to build soil health on your farm, in your garden, and in your landscape.
Who inspired you in your soil health journey? Lee Rinehart sustainable agriculture specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) shared about two people who inspired him in his journey into sustainable, regenerative agriculture and soil health. In sharing about his maternal grandfather's influence and the writings of Wendell Berry, Lee reiterates stories about the care of land and people being critically important for affecting change, building camaraderie, and inspiring new ideas that can be adopted and implemented. Lee also emphasized how we need to learn from one another what has worked, what continues to be a challenge, and what emerging opportunities are there to build soil health and regenerate landscapes. To join a dynamic community of people in Virginia and across the world who are curious about water and soil practices, please visit National Center for Appropriate Technology's Soil for Water initiative at: https://soilforwater.org/ The 1977 classic book that Lee referenced by Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, can be obtained online or from a local independent bookstore.To read the latest Soil Health Tip Tuesday blog post that Jeff mentioned about what to do with leaves, please visit https://www.4thesoil.org/blog/soil-health-tip-tuesday-ways-to-save-the-gold-and-red-and-brown-leaves.Learn more about the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and hear the conversation on our websites, please visit https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/ and https://www.4thesoil.org or wherever you get your podcasts!
What are appropriate and inappropriate technologies for soil to benefit water? Lee Rinehart of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) shares the history behind this question as well as how the question relates to their ongoing Soil for Water initiative. People may hear of appropriate technology in relation to an international context but Lee reminds us that no matter the context appropriate technology should be locally-adaptive, place-based, and people-centered to be most beneficial socially, ecologically, and economically.Lee tells several stories of when technologies were introduced and did not have the desired anticipated benefits but disrupted relationships that were naturally more integrated such as the carbon cycle and the integration of livestock in agricultural and rural landscapes. To learn more about the National Center for Appropriate Technology's Soil for Water initiative and join a dynamic community of people in Virginia and across the world who are curious about water and soil practices that create resilient, profitable agricultural systems, please visit: https://soilforwater.org/ The classic book by E.F. Schumacher that Lee referenced, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered, can be obtained online or from a local independent bookstore.We can all be 4 the Soil, 4 the Water. Therefore, we encourage you to do your place-based, locally-adaptive part to build soil health on your farm, in your garden, and in your landscape. Learn more about the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and hear the conversation on our websites, please visit https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/ and https://www.4thesoil.org or wherever you get your podcasts!
The 4 the Soil: A Conversation podcast was collaboratively launched on October 12, 2021, to bring farmers, graziers, market gardeners, agricultural professionals, educators, researchers, conservationists, and community leaders together to hear and share stories about agriculture, soil health principles, and shared values. The First Anniversary Edition is aimed to be a "best-of" episode to celebrate the milestone and offer a sample of memorable conversations of the first year. Special thanks to all of our guests and listeners. We hope you will join us in this celebration and continue to support and share the 4 The Soil: A Conversation podcast as we work together for the common good and health of the soil and the future.Learn more and hear the conversation on our website www.4thesoil.org or wherever you get your podcasts! As always, we encourage you to do your part to build soil health on your farm, in your garden, and in your own backyard.
Will soil health work on your farm? That is a question that farmers often ask related to soil health-building principles and practices, particularly in relation to multi-species mixtures and diversified enterprises. Brian Downing of Crooked Row Farm is a second-generation farmer located in Randolph County in central North Carolina. He shares his perspective on farming by the square foot and making soil health work on his farm. Faced with a soil compaction resource concern, he began experimenting with cover crop mixtures, a diversity of livestock and crop species, and enhancing the carbon currency on his farm. Brian highlights the need to understand what is happening on your farm by the square foot and to realize your farm has its own micro-economy that requires investments and savings in carbon and soil health. Additionally, farming and soil health accounts require sound recordkeeping to know where, how, and if wealth and health are growing and accruing as part of a stable micro-economy that naturally includes deposits and withdrawals. Learn more and hear the conversation on our website www.4thesoil.org or wherever you get your podcasts! As always, we encourage you to do your part to build soil health on your farm, in your garden, and in your landscape.
What do you want to accomplish on your farm, in your garden, or in business? Do you have a specific resource concern such as lessening tillage? Do you want to provide your family, friends, and customers with nutrient-dense food? Cover Crop Coach Steve Groff shared in the previous episode about keeping the soil alive and well. The conversation continues with Steve emphasizing that farmers need to learn all they can and understand how soil health concepts, principles, and practices are applicable to their individual farms and context. Similarly, Steve encourages farmers, graziers, and gardeners to visit with other farmers locally as well as virtually for camaraderie and peer-to-peer networking. There are many ways to learn and continue to self-educate ourselves as we face challenges of living longer than ever, and unfortunately, in many cases, being sicker than ever. For more information about soil health for your farm, pasture, garden, or backyard, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition's Tips and Resources website at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/resources-1. To take the pledge to follow and educate others about the four core soil health principles, please visit the 4 The Soil website at https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html.To learn about Steve Groff's soil health journey, mindsets, and the changing context of farming, you can read his new book The Future-Proof Farm: Changing Mindsets in a Changing World, which is available online at https://stevegroff.com.
What research is emerging around plant health and soil biology in relation to nutrient-dense food? What role can farmers and gardeners play in building soil health to grow nutrient-dense food? Farmer, on-farm researcher, author, and Cover Crop Coach Steve Groff shares his experience and insights on keeping soil biology alive and well for soil and human health. Steve is a third-generation farmer based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who was an early innovator in using a roller-crimper in his no-till commercial vegetable operation to manage and terminate his cover crops. His grandfather was an early adopter of cover crops in the 1950s. Steve was at the forefront in using a daikon radish or "Tillage Radish" to naturally bio-till the soil with the plant's tuberous roots to alleviate compaction and encourage biological life. Steve also emphasizes that farmers need to continue to do their own on-farm research and have an adaptive mindset for the ever-changing world of agriculture, particularly as research on nutrient-dense food as prevention and medicine continues to grow and be rediscovered. To learn about Steve Groff's soil health journey and mindset, you can read his new book The Future-Proof Farm: Changing Mindsets in a Changing World, which is available online at https://stevegroff.com. For more information about soil health and cover crops, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition's Tips and Resources website at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/resources-1. To take the pledge to follow and educate others about the four core soil health principles, please visit the 4 The Soil website at https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html. Please visit the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Library of Medicine at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ for emerging research studies and findings on soil and human health connections. The 2007 NIH-supported Human Microbiome Project is a multi-year research study that specifically includes research on the connections between soil diversity and the microbiological life of the human gut.
How does soil health relate to clean, abundant water? Dr. Ryan Stewart is an Associate Professor in Virginia Tech's School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. Ryan's research focus is on the interactions between water, soil, and plant communities. His sustainable water resource management work spans soil science, ecology, engineering, agriculture, and urban systems. He shares the science of measuring and quantifying soil health and the effects of management principles and practices on how soil functions. Ryan and his research colleagues identified 42 different indicators, but in our conversation emphasized the importance of systematically building soil organic matter and enhancing biology for plant life and water cycling. For additional Tips and Resources and to pledge your commitment to restoring and maintaining soil health, please visit the 4 The Soil website at https://www.4thesoil.org/tips--resources.html and https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html. A free downloadable version of the fourth edition of Building Soils for Better Crops: Ecological Management for Health Soils is available from USDA's Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) at https://www.sare.org/resources/building-soils-for-better-crops/The Virginia Soil Health Coalition welcomes your participation and collaboration in building and supporting soil health. To learn more, please visit https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/
There cannot be agriculture without culture. Duron Chavis executive director of Happily Natural Day shares his passion for soil health and cultural activism as a means to address systemic issues and transform the built environment. Duron is a thought leader, educator, activist, and changemaker in the Greater Richmond region. He integrates music, art, and cultural identity in his work in urban agriculture, gardening, farming, and orchards as a tool for social change, public health promotion, and community transformation. Duron emphasizes that healthy, fertile soil is an imperative and the crux of landscape resilience, food security, and environmental justice. To learn more about Happily Natural Day's mission and dedication to holistic health, cultural awareness, and social change, please visit https://thenaturalfestival.com/. For additional soil health resources, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition's website at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/resources-1.We also welcome you to show your support 4 The Soil by taking the pledge to build healthy, fertile soil at https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html
How can we purposefully enhance soil life? Lydia Fitzgerald is an integrated cropland agronomist with Virginia's USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Virginia Tech. Lydia grew up on a family farm in Nelson County, Virginia, and was inspired by her family to take active participation in Future Farmers of America (FFA) in high school to dream of and pursue a career in agriculture and natural resources. In her outreach and education role, Lydia uses hands-on soil health demonstrations and research to encourage farmers, ranchers, market gardeners, and land managers to take an integrated approach to soil, crop, and natural resource management. Lydia shares that purposeful cover cropping and no-till systems that enhance deep root development and minimize disturbance are essential for enhancing soil life and resilience.To learn more about educational and technical assistance programs as well as possible career opportunities with Virginia USDA-NRCS, please visit https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/va/home/ For additional soil health resources and information, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition website at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/resources-1. To make your pledge towards improving soil health and to become an ambassador, please visit https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html
Keeping local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay clean requires everyone to be actively involved in protecting water quality, managing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, and building soil health. Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt caught up with Matt Kowalski of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) at a recent field day to talk about soil health and water quality. Matt serves as a watershed restoration scientist in Virginia for CBF and specifically focuses on agricultural best management practices and projects to restore wetland and riverside areas. Matt emphasizes that keeping water clean needs to happen farm by farm and lawn by lawn, and that we all can do our part to improve water quality and save the Chesapeake Bay.To learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Mountains-to-Bay Grazing Alliance, please visit https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/programs-initiatives/multi-state-grazers-alliance.html and https://www.m2balliance.org/. For information about year-round lawn care and ways to possibly incorporate a legume like Dutch white clover into your lawn for water quality and pollinators, please visit https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil-and-water/document/yardcare.pdf and https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/soil-water-conservation/you-your-land-landscapeAs always, please join the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and 4 The Soil movement. You can commit to doing your part to build soil health and protect water quality by taking the pledge at https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html
In this second part of our conversation with Michael Carter Jr. of Carter Farms in Orange County, Virginia, Michael shares his unique insights and perspectives on history and its ongoing relationship to soil health and farming. Michael is a fifth-generation farmer with a passion for small farm outreach, the decline in the number of black farmers and black-owned farms, and efforts to restore equity and justice in farming and access to land. Michael recounts the foresight his grandmother and her family had in buying their farm and land in Orange County after World War II. He also shares the significant role and contribution George Washington Carver had in extension education and outreach related to cropping and the care of the soil. Michael points out the spiritual elements of soil health and how many religious traditions recognize the value of soil in building community, trust, and faith. To learn more about Carter Farms and the interdisciplinary teaching platform Africulture, please visit https://thecarterfarms.com/.For book recommendations and other resources, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition website at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/ . We also encourage you to join the soil health movement and take the 4 The Soil Pledge at https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html.
How do culture, history, and mindset influence soil health? Michael Carter Jr. of Carter Farms in Orange County, Virginia shares his insights and perspectives in this 4 The Soil: A Conversation episode. Michael is a fifth-generation farmer who grew up on a century farm and learned from the many agricultural teachers in his family and community. Michael provides historical context and examples of mindsets that can affect and limit soil health much like a compacted hardpan layer below the soil surface. Michael offers that cultural richness, racial literacy, and microbiological diversity are essential to soil health-building processes and community life.To learn more about Carter Farms and their work growing ethnic, African tropical vegetables organically and its Africulture interdisciplinary teaching platform, please visit https://thecarterfarms.com/.In recognition and celebration of National Soil Health Day on June 23, 2022, please remember to take the 4 The Soil Pledge at https://www.4thesoil.org/take-the-pledge.html.
How did a grandmother's passion for gardening inspire her grandson's career in taking care of the soil? In this episode, Cory Guilliams, district conservationist with Virginia USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), recalls the influence and lessons learned from his grandmother about soil health and winter cover crops as he helped her as a youth in picking and weeding beans and potatoes. Cory shares the history and definition of no-till farming in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic Region and how important the practice is for aggregating soil particles and reducing erosion. Tillage can be extremely destructive so minimizing soil disturbance is critical. We can all be 4 The Soil and do our part to build health from the soil up.To learn more about soil health and possible careers in natural resources conservation and environmental sciences, please visit the Virginia USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/va/home/. For more information about cover crops, no-till practices, and other ways to build soil health or share your own story of how you became interested in taking care of the soil, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition website at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/resources-1.
Soil is an amazing foundation for all of us. Soil nourishes, fuels, and sustains all life. In this episode, Janet Aardema and her daughter Sylvie of Broadfork Farm share their enthusiasm and experiences with farming and soil health as the basis for their business and educational outreach. Janet and Sylvie discuss how they use the core principles of soil health but also composting, permaculture, forest farming, and food recovery to capture carbon and decrease our carbon and ecological footprints. They elaborate on specific practices they use to keep the soil covered and maximize living roots as they grow more than fifty diverse vegetable crops but also how they are working with their peers and classmates. To learn about Broadfork Farm's and Teens Acting for Carbon Capture's (TACC) ongoing work with soil health, vegetable production, and their educational efforts on climate resilience and mitigation, please visit their websites at https://broadforkfarm.net/ and https://tacc.earth/. For additional resources on agriculture, soil health, and climate change, please visit the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) websites at https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/ and https://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/
In the episode, Virginia's Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr shares his passion and perspective on soil health, conservation, and the future of farming. As a fifth-generation Virginia poultry and beef farmer, Secretary Lohr sees the progress farmers are making to move the needle and build soil health to benefit water quality, agricultural production, and climate resilience, specifically with cover cropping, crop rotations, conservation tillage, and farmer-to-farmer mentoring. Virginia farmers are doing well but farmers and all of us can do our part and do better. Education, outreach, and peer-to-peer learning continue to be important to make people aware of what financial, technical, and educational assistance is available at the local, state, and federal levels. Secretary Lohr also reiterates that new and beginning farmers should not go it alone but realize mentors and resources are available to help aspiring farmers learn and succeed.To learn more about Virginia's commitment to supporting rural economic development, preserving farmland and forestland across the state, and priorities to ensure that all Virginians, especially those who are most vulnerable, have access to safe, healthy foods, , please visit the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry's website at https://www.ag-forestry.virginia.gov/To become involved in the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and join the 4 The Soil movement, please visit https://www.virginiasoilhealth.org/ and http://4thesoil.org/
Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt spoke with Dr. Alan Franzluebbers at the 2022 Winter Forage Conference. Dr. Franzluebbers is a professor and researcher of soil ecology and management with North Carolina State University and USDA's Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) based in Raleigh. Alan played in the dirt at a young age and this early interest grew into a lifelong career in studying and researching soil microbial life. He speaks of how important soil organic matter and biology are to nutrient cycling and how earthworms are an indicator of resources for decomposition being present. Additionally, he encourages a whole-system view of agriculture to enhance diversity to improve soil structure and overall ecosystem activity. Dr. Franzluebbers recommended 'Managing Cover Crops Profitably' published by USDA-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) to anyone interested in learning about cover cropping systems and soil health, which is a free online publication available at https://www.sare.org/resources/managing-cover-crops-profitably-3rd-edition/For a list of Dr. Franzluebbers' recent research articles, please visit https://cals.ncsu.edu/crop-and-soil-sciences/people/ajfranzl
In celebration and recognition of Earth Day 2022, Mary Sketch Bryant, Eric Bendfeldt, and Jeff Ishee share a deeply meaningful and inspiring conversation with Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm about soil health, intergenerational knowledge, and heeding nature's wisdom. Karen recalls how planting a tomato seed changed her life and introduced her to nature, land, and soil. She emphasizes the importance of having hard conversations about eating healthy so people and communities are all part of the solution and meet people where they are with soil health and environmental justice. There is room for everyone to grow food. Additionally, Karen Washington encourages all of us but especially the youth to sit down with our grandparents and parents to understand history, capture the intergenerational knowledge, and listen to Mother Nature. What is nature telling us about soil health and the environment? What do previous generations know about soil health and nature? In the end, Mother Nature can guide us in what is needed; sometimes that means stopping and listening to the land and soil.To learn more about Karen Washington and her ongoing work, please visit https://www.riseandrootfarm.com/. We also encourage you to check out the new 4 The Soil blog at https://www.4thesoil.org/blog
Thomas Bolles of Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Master Gardener Program joins Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt on this episode of 4 The Soil: A Conversation. Thomas is an extension agent for agriculture and natural resources based in Prince William County and works with homeowners, gardeners, farmers, landscapers, and the community. He shares how soil health should be a passion and a responsibility for everyone. He encourages everyone to test their soils on a regular basis to get a baseline and be able to understand the trends in soil fertility and health. A baseline and trendline allow everyone to know when nutrients and soil amendments such as compost might be needed. Whether growing a lawn, tending a garden, managing cropland or a pasture, a good ground cover for soil health can maximize solar energy and maximize the overall function of the ecosystem from the soil up. Thomas also offers insights and advice on compost, use of clovers as a nitrogen source, soil testing, and ways to diversify your soil health management.Thomas recently wrote an Extension publication guide to help homeowners understand and interpret a soil test report. The publication includes best management practices for improving and maintaining healthy soils in the garden and landscape. The guide and additional resources are available through Virginia Cooperative Extension at https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/pubs_ext_vt_edu/en/SPES/spes-384/spes-384.html
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