April 12, 2018

Citizen scientists needed for healthy soil project

The Soil Health Coalition chapter in Erin is recruiting citizen scientists and local farmers to help measure key attributes of local soil, as part of a campaign to promote regenerative agriculture and reverse climate change.
After two years of work, including Our Common Ground events last spring and $2,500 from the town for a feasibility study, the coalition has received a $70,000 grant from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation for a soil health project.
The funding was announced at a March 28 film night at the Erin Legion. Mayor Allan Alls was on hand, congratulating the group and offering to promote the project on the town website.  
On March 29 the coalition hosted a farmer-to-farmer networking day at Hillsburgh Baptist Church. Members include representatives from organic farms in Erin, Transition Erin, the Climate Change Action Group and Credit Valley Conservation.
Co-leading the effort is agronomist Ruth Knight. She said the testing would compare the characteristics of actively managed farmland with unmanaged land in marginal, unplowed areas. 
Instead of focusing on nutrients, teams including citizen volunteers will measure the levels of carbon (organic and inorganic) in soils, and their ability to hold and filter water. 
The project will build up an “adaptive network” of farmers who can share methods of building soil health and improving water quality. The goal is to produce healthier crops, stabilize farm incomes, and leave good soils to future generations.
For more information or to get involved, go to soilhealthcoalition.ca, or email Knight at soilregen@gmail.com.
Environmental groups see regenerative agriculture, which builds up soil by allowing it to capture and retain more carbon from the atmosphere, as one of the most important ways of reversing climate change. The coalition says it’s something Erin could be proud to champion.
“How does a town define itself?” asked Brent Klassen of Heartwood Farm and Cidery.
“We’ve kind of been about horses, and kind of been about something that’s vaguely Irish. It seems to me that we’re on the cusp of being able to really lay claim to something that’s really interesting, really engaging, something that’s really vibrant, that has everything to do with the food we eat, and everything to do with the ways we manage the land that we so fortunately find ourselves on. 
“It would enhance our own lives and make us irresistible to people who want to come and visit.”
Quality soil with high organic content not only provides nutrition, but growing plants also make soil one of the most effective carbon sinks – drawing it out of the atmosphere and storing it. 
Plowing and tilling release carbon from the soil, and conventional methods such as growing a single type of crop and managing it with irrigation, chemical fertilizers and pesticides tends to degrade soil and make crops more vulnerable to disease and drought.
“Regenerative agriculture is very good for farmers, as it increases the productivity and sustainability of their soils,” said activist Liz Armstrong.
“Our project in Erin will focus on measuring the state of the soil of at least 20 local farmers, then re-measuring after action has been taken to improve the water holding capacity of their soils (good especially for reducing the impacts of flooding and drought) and increasing the amount of carbon in their soils - the more carbon sequestered in the soil, the less carbon there is in the atmosphere that causes global warming.”