Across the US, the movement for improving the health of our soils has been led by farmers. A new report by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), “Farmers Share Experiences and Challenges Adopting Healthy Soils Practices,” examines the experiences of farmer soil health leaders in the Northeast, the challenges they face in adopting soil health practices, and recommends policy solutions to address these barriers.
The report is part of a three-pronged regional “Organizing for Soil Health” initiative by NOFA, a grassroots, farmer-run association with chapters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The soil health initiative began with a policy-oriented coalition building effort that has resulted in legislative action in nearly all of NOFA’s member states. In 2019, S160 and H525 passed in Vermont, which supported the creation of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP), and healthy soils legislation has been drafted in New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. In January 2021, Massachusetts included sections of an important 2019 healthy soils bill as part of a statewide economic development package, establishing a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program.
In addition to the policy-focused advocacy work, Organizing for Soil Health developed a farmer peer education program focused on soil health for climate adaptation and mitigation. The program engaged organic and conventional family farmers across the Northeast through workshops, field days, discussions, and a survey. Finally, the initiative gathered information from farmers through these and other methods, and developed this report to inform policymakers and others on how they can effectively support farmers in implementing healthy soil practices.
A report of this kind, based on farmer voices and knowledge, is notable, as much of the research and policy recommendations directed at shifting farmer practices comes instead from industry or top-down academic research. As the report notes, “grassroots-up models that include facilitating peer education among farmers, gathering their input on what actually works in the field and documenting their policy needs not only effectively enlists their participation but also engenders their trust in the farmer-derived outcomes.”
The report recommends the following to policymakers and farm service providers to support adoption of healthy soil practices on farms. While the report focuses on the Northeast, the recommendations are relevant around the country.
- Support experienced farmers to provide education and technical support to beginning farmers and those newly transitioning to soil health practices.
- Provide financial assistance and technical assistance options (such as farmer mentor support) to support transition costs for healthy soil practices adoption.
- Farmers value knowledge about their soils and want both training in field indicators for soil health and more access to soil testing.
- Sustainable revenue streams are needed to build and expand access to technical support, mentoring, and education.
- The long-term solution to expanding the use of healthy soils practice across the Northeast is creating a culture of soil care shared by farmers, the public, and policymakers.
Read the full report:
See what other farmers are saying about soil health.