Oregon SWCDs Collaborate to Deliver Soil Health Education

by Teresa Matteson

Exciting things happen when Oregon SWCD employees collaborate! After the concurrent sessions, award ceremonies, keynote speakers, social hours and meals of CONNECT 2012, a group of die hard worker bees gathered to brainstorm a strategy to deliver soil health education to farmers. This concerted effort bloomed into a recently culminated project titled: Reduce Agricultural Risk through Soil Health Education. Funded by the USDA Risk Management Education Partnership Program, the project was launched in November 2013 with a full-day Train-the-Trainer session convened at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) near Aurora, Oregon.

Soil Health Kit

Soil Health Kit

Partners gleaned soil health information and educational techniques from a cadre of Oregon’s soil health education leaders: Nick Andrews and Heidi Noordijk, NWREC Small Farms staff; Cory Owens, NRCS; Sarah Brown, Oregon Tilth; and Teresa Matteson, Benton SWCD. Because farmers listen best to other farmers, a recommended farmer panel themed Build Soil Health: Why and How?. Scott Latham, Sauvie Island Organics, Brian Montecucco, Montecucco Farms, and Anthony Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm, discussed their cover crop experiences and more. Training participants also received teaching kits that contained useful tools to demonstrate key soil health concepts including: aggregate stability, compaction, infiltration, and pH.

Back at home, each partner recruited their respective county’s experts and enticed audiences as they served up soil health relative to a diverse list of themes, such as: irrigation water management, livestock and forage, forestry, cover crops, compost, profitability, fertility, organic matter, specialty crops, permaculture, reduced tillage, organic production, soil biology, disease suppression, biochar, biosolids and soil testing.

From January through September 2014, the partners offered 46 soil health education events and courses to reach 955 individuals (218 students; 737 adults). Over 55 presenters, including at least 18 farmers, contributed their expertise and shared soil health information during the events. SWCD staff time along with workshop supplies, mileage, presenter honoraria and venue costs were paid through the generous award. Workshop questionnaires documented the educational impact and results analysis will provide valuable programmatic guidance for future collaborative efforts.

High school and college students also gained soil health education through the project’s efforts. Heath Keirstead, Benton SWCD and Maggie Livesay, OSU Extension, worked with Monroe High students, Candace Russo, OSU Health Youth Program, worked with Corvallis High students, and James Cassidy instructed three OSU courses: Organic Farming and Gardening, Organic and 3rd Party Certification, and Advanced Organic Farming.

As project end approached, the budget afforded additional efforts that aligned with the original soil health education statement of work; four OSU Extension Small Farms workshops/field days, and the design and installation of a certified organic cane berry teaching plot were partially funded by the grant.

The energetic and enthusiastic project collaborators deserve an extra round of cheers and applause for a fast and furious year of hard work, education and outreach success, and lessons learned. Special thanks to the partners who drove this soil health education movement: Tom Demianew, Umatilla County SWCD; Lacey Townsend, Tualatin SWCD; Marc Bell, Polk SWCD; Wendi Agalzoff, Clatsop SWCD; Chris Pirosko, Josephine SWCD; Teresa Matteson, Benton SWCD; and Caitlin Price Youngquist, Washington State University, who hosted Soil Quality Network 2014 in Mt. Vernon, WA. SQN 2014 drew 130 attendees who (bells and whistles here) were mostly farmers! It was advantageous to share teaching resources and educational sessions with the WSU team of researchers, staff and students.

All of the RMA Soil Health Education partners indicate interest in future adventures. You are welcome to jump into the fusion! Please submit education topic suggestions and stay informed on upcoming opportunities through Teresa, tmatteson@bentonswcd.org, 541-753-7208.

By the way, the 68th United Nations General Assembly recognized December 5th, 2014 as World Soil Day and 2015 as the International Year of Soils. Plan big parties now!