Digging deep into soil health best practices

June 18, 2024

Posted in: News Articles

How often do you think about soil? At Ag + Open Space, it’s part of our work to support our easement landowners in caring for their land, so our Stewardship team is always looking for ways to learn more that they can then share. While we already know healthy soils means healthy lands, we’ve recently invested more time to learn more about what it really means for soil to be healthy, and how we can help. As a next step, in spring of 2023, Taylor Acosta (our Stewardship Assistant) and Mary Chambers (our Agricultural Specialist) participated in the American Farmland Trust Soil Health Stewards training.

According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, “Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Healthy soil gives us clean air and water, bountiful crops and forests, productive grazing lands, diverse wildlife, and beautiful landscapes.” 

The Soil Health Stewards training focused specifically on the role of easement-holding organizations in supporting soil health on agricultural properties. This means Taylor and Mary learned everything from the basics of soil health to how to incorporate those principles into easement design and stewardship, and how to best share that information with easement landowners.

The training also involved Taylor and Mary developing an action plan that outlines the ways in which we can grow as soil health advocates and resources. One step in the action plan was to hold a training for our broader staff, which took place earlier this year. 

A group of people sitting in a circle, some on the ground and some in chairs. They are talking to one another and listening.

Learning about soil health at Young-Armos.

The training and field day was hosted at our Young Armos property, a 45-acre property we own and manage in northeast Rohnert Park. The training was led by two guest speakers – Madeline Tomé (RCS Soil Scientist) and Keith Abeles (Sonoma Resource Conservation District Soil and Water Specialist). Madeline and Keith led our staff through demonstrations  of how different management strategies on the same soil type lead to very different results in terms of how well the soil holds together under rainfall or flood conditions. For instance, soil managed with minimal tillage, cover crops, and other soil health principles holds together and absorbs water much better.

We also assessed soil from Young Armos using a penetrometer, which measured the density of the soil. They also presented about Carbon Farm Plans and how Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) can help farmers and ranchers prepare them. RCDs can cover up to 85% of the cost of preparing the plan (follow the link below to learn more)! And a bonus fact – practices that improve carbon retention are typically good soil health practices as well.

To dig more into soil health, we recommend checking out:

  • NRCS Soil Health Practices – The Natural Resource Conservation Service’s hub for learning more about, assessing, and managing soil health.
  • Slakes App from the Soil Health Institute – A smart phone app that can test aggregate stability, the most common indicator of soil health. Soils with greater aggregate stability are more resistant to wind and water erosion, and are linked to improved water capture, infiltration, and storage. 
  • SoilWeb – Learn what type of soil you have. Understanding your soil type is the first step in understanding how to best care for the health of your soil. 
  • If you’re interested in funding for Carbon Farm Plans, please contact Taylor Acosta, Ag + Open Space Stewardship Assistant, at Taylor.Acosta@sonoma-county.org.