Soil Carbon Capture for Diverse Farmers

Final report for ONE20-376

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc.
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Leah Penniman
Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc.
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

As European settlers displaced Indigenous people across North America in the 1800s, they exposed vast expanses of land to the plow for the first time. It took only a few decades of intense tillage to drive around 50 percent of the original organic matter from the soil into the sky as carbon dioxide. Agriculture continues to have a profound impact on the climate; along with forestry, deforestation, and other land use, it contributes roughly 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The good news is that regenerative agricultural practices like minimal soil disturbance, organic production, compost application, the use of cover crops, and crop rotation as well as silvopasture systems that integrate nut and fruit trees, forage, and grasses can harness plants and soil to put carbon back where it belongs. 

In this project, farmers of color worked together to test the best methods for on-farm soil carbon capture and the most accessible protocols for measuring progress. We engaged 5 different farms to implement soil carbon capture methods such as no till, silvopasture, and perennial polyculture. We performed side-by-side comparison of on-farm carbon capture tools such as a microbiometer and solvita respiration test to determine the most accessible and reliable methods for determining progress. We developed a webinar, youtube videos, and guides in Spanish and English.

How alive is my soil? (Guide) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dMetVUb_xKWtH2_ckQa-YByBVpnkU8En/view 

¿Qué tan vivo está mi suelo? (Guia) https://drive.google.com/file/d/16Ewvb5YXb4oJYMPA1MRxk4-5ib9dt3BP/view 

Soil Carbon part 1 / Carbono del Suelo parte 1: https://youtu.be/NAUc-Q9SOm0 

Soil Carbon part 2 / Carbono del Suelo parte 2: https://youtu.be/KBXi1216frM 

The results of the investigation are summarized as follows: 

  • Which soil testing protocols do farmers find most accessible, understandable, and replicable? Earthworm count, infiltration, and slake test. 
  • Does engaging directly in testing protocols increase farmer knowledge of and engagement with the project of soil carbon sequestration? Yes, participation increased comprehension, reflection, and action in regards to carbon sequestration. 
  • How can we effectively communicate testing protocols for soil organic carbon and strategies for soil carbon sequestration to the Spanish-speaking farming community and to farmers of color across the Northeast? We found a lack of Spanish language resources on the topic and filled some of the gap with the webinar, guide, and youtube videos. 54 farmers attended the workshop and over 600 farmers used the digital materials. 
  • What baseline data on soil carbon can we capture using the eight soil testing protocols and observations of farming techniques, so that conclusions may be drawn in subsequent years regarding any correlation between soil carbon capture and farming practices? We found that no-till is correlated with higher SOM, but no other correlations between the testing protocols. 
Project Objectives:

Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and other farmers and farm workers of color take the lead in testing soil carbon sequestration strategies and measurement protocols and disseminate those findings to the farming community in both English and Spanish. This project seeks to (1) determine which soil testing protocols farmers find most accessible, understandable, and replicable (2) determine whether engaging directly in testing protocols increases farmer knowledge of and engagement with the project of soil carbon sequestration, and (3) determine how can we effectively communicate testing protocols for soil organic carbon and strategies for soil carbon sequestration to the Spanish-speaking farming community and to farmers of color across the Northeast (4) establish baseline data on soil carbon and regenerative farming techniques so that conclusions may be drawn in subsequent years about any correlation between soil carbon capture and farming practices. 

This project will benefit farmers by increasing strategies for on-farm soil carbon sequestration, an important ecosystem service. It will particularly benefit farmers who tend to have less access to this information, Spanish speaking farm-workers and farmers of color. 

Introduction:

Society’s abuse of soil and climate has led to dire consequences for communities of color across the globe, who are disproportionately harmed by climate change. Devastating hurricanes have become regular annual visitors in the Caribbean islands and coastal areas of the U.S.. Several Alaskan Native communities struggle to hunt and fish in their traditional ways because rising temperatures are ravaging ecosystems and wildlife. And sub-Saharan Africa is among the regions projected to experience the harshest impacts of climate change. “If you’re not affected by climate change today, that itself is a privilege,” climate activist Andrea Manning says. 

But the same communities on the frontlines of climate impacts are also on the frontlines of climate solutions. A new generation of Black farmers is using heritage farming practices to undo some of the damage first brought on by the intense tillage of early European settlers. Colonizer farming practices drove around half of the organic matter from the soil into the sky as carbon dioxide.

Now Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other farmers are using heritage practices to reduce emissions and to capture excess carbon from the air and trap it in the soil. Our ancestral strategies are bolstered by Western science and listed among the most substantive solutions to global warming, per Project Drawdown’s analysis.

One practice, silvopasture, is an indigenous system that integrates nut and fruit trees, forage, and grasses to feed grazing livestock. Another, regenerative agriculture, a methodology perhaps first described by agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver, involves minimal soil disturbance, organic production, compost application, the use of cover crops, and crop rotation. Both systems harness plants to capture greenhouse gases. Plants are nature’s alchemists, transforming atmospheric carbon dioxide into sugar and trapping it on the land where it belongs. 

In the Northeast, we still need reliable, field-tested research about the effectiveness of regenerative farming practices and silvopasture in capturing carbon in the soil. We also need an evaluation of the accessibility and accuracy of on-farm soil carbon measurement tools for farmers on the ground. Finally, we need dissemination of these best practices to communities often excluded - Spanish speaking farmworkers and farmers of color. 

In our recent survey through the Northeast Farmers of Color network and Soul Fire Farm’s alumni network, we found that over 70% of farmers want to learn more about carbon sequestration methods and tools for measuring soil carbon. 

This project relates directly to soil conservation and protection of natural resources, and indirectly to improved productivity of farms and quality of life for farmers. Soil carbon measurement techniques will be a prerequisite for eligibility in any future carbon credit program and soil organic matter is linked to crop health. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info

Research

Materials and methods:

Materials and methods:

Farmworkers and farmers of color are working together to test the best methods for on-farm soil carbon capture and the most accessible protocols for measuring status and progress. We are engaging 5 different farms (Soul Fire Farm, Ramos Farm, Rocky Acres Community Farm, Global Village Farm, and Rise & Root Farm)  who implement soil carbon capture farming technologies such as no till, silvopasture, cover cropping, and perennial polyculture. 

 

Partnering Farms

Rise & Root Farm is a 10-acre vegetable farm at the Chester Agricultural Center. They are run cooperatively by an all-star team of four veteran urban farmers and community activists: Lorrie Clevenger, Jane Hodge, Karen Washington, and Michaela Hayes. Based in New York City and Chester, NY, these talented women are connected by their passion for food, food justice, hands-on education, and farming.

Rocky Acres Farm is run by Rafael Aponte in Freeville, NY. Rocky Acres Farm raises goats, chickens, and vegetables. The farm is dedicated to regenerative farming practices and increasing the accessibility of healthy, fresh foods within our local community. 

Soul Fire Farm is an 80-acre diversified fruit, vegetable, meat, and value add farm that serves as a training center for hundreds of beginning farmers each year in Grafton, NY

Global Village is an indigenous-led CSA vegetable and honey farm in Grafton, MA coordinated by Ulum Pixan and Matt Feinstein. 

Ramos Farm is a ¼ acre market garden operation run by Trinidad Ramos Bautista in Jamesville, NY. Ramos Farm produces culturally appropriate produce for the Latinx community in and around Syracuse, NY. 

Task 1 Groundwork: Soil Carbon Field Researcher hired by Principal Investigator to conduct field research and create project resources. 

Briana Alfaro (Soil Carbon Field Researcher) was hired in March 2021 to conduct field research with the five cooperator farmers and to create project resources. Briana holds previous experience with in-field soil testing and sampling on farms in New York. Briana and the PI met regularly to refine the methods before field research was conducted and as project resources were created. 

Task 2 We surveyed all five farmers before engaging in soil testing to collect details about their operation, to understand their familiarity with any of the testing protocols, and to establish an understanding of their engagement with soil carbon capture. 

Each farmer participated in a web-based survey before field research occurred at their farm. These surveys were distributed and completed between 1 and 3 days before each respective field research date. Survey questions included:

  • Please indicate any of the following management practices that you use on your farm:
    • Cover Cropping
    • No-till / Low-till
    • Silvopasture
    • Perennial Polyculture / Multi-species perennials
    • Mulching
    • Tarping
    • Crop Rotation
    • Compost Application
    • Rotational Grazing
    • Other (Please specify)
  • How often do you think about capturing carbon in your soil? (1 - Never to 5 - Daily linear scale)
  • How often do you take action to capture carbon in your soil (1 - Never to 5 - Daily linear scale)
  • Please indicate your experience with each of the in-field testing tools or protocols. (Names of each protocol provided with a brief description)  Choose between: 
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed
    • I have seen this test performed
    • I have performed this test 
  • Do you have experience engaging with the microBIOMETER test? 
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test?
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Infiltration test?
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test?
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Earthworm Count test?
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Slake test?
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Munsell Soil Color test?

Task 3 Field researcher visited all five farms and performed in-field soil testing protocols with each respective farmer to introduce them to the testing protocols and to collect baseline data. 

In-field soil testing was conducted between May 2021 and August 2021. An effort was made to schedule and perform tests 2-3 days after a rain or irrigation event due to the impact of soil moisture level on the results of the assessments. 

Farmers recorded their regenerative farming practices and implemented eight soil carbon measurement protocols (slake, infiltration, earthworm count, soil hardness, microbiometer, soil color, soil respiration, and loss on ignition) on a selected sample site at their farm. 

Testing site selection was performed by the field researcher with input from the farmer, such as an indication that the farmer wanted to know more about a particular field and/or field conditions at the time of testing, such as field moisture. 

Two testing protocols were repeated by the field researcher at two additional sites to compare data in different fields and to have additional baseline data for comparison in subsequent years.  Tests selected for Sites 2 and 3 at each farm were chosen based on the context of each farm, what data the farmer was interested in collecting. Additionally, the Field Researcher ensured each of the tests was repeated at least once across the entire study. 

The testing protocols used in this study include:

microBIOMETER®: microBIOMETER® measures MB by releasing microbes from soil particles, in a ½ cc of packed soil using a salt and detergent extraction solution and whisking for 30 seconds.  In 10-15 minutes, the soil settles and 3 – 9 drops of the released microbe solution can be placed on the test card membrane and the amount of microbes can be measured colorimetrically with a cell phone app that calculates MB and stores results in the cloud. This test is performed in the field. 

Munsell Soil Color: In this test we use color as an indicator for soil organic matter, which is responsible for giving soil its darker color. A sample of soil is compared to the color chips on a Munsell Soil Color Chart to identify a corresponding Munsell Color Notation and Hue. This test is performed in the field. 

Slake/Soil Aggregate Stability: The slake test provides an opportunity to observe how well soil aggregates, clumps of soil particles, hold together when exposed to water. More stable soil aggregates will hold together better and provide resistance to erosion. Whereas, surface soil aggregates with poor stability breakdown into individual soil particles during rainfall events. In this test, soil collected from the test site is compared to soil collected from a nearby, undisturbed area, such as a perennial border, fencerow, or grassy area that hasn’t been tilled. Each sample is submerged in water and observed. The percent of soil remaining intact is recorded. 

Infiltration: Better infiltration of water correlates with more soil pores and aggregates, which in turn correlate with greater soil carbon. To measure the capacity of soil to absorb water and not let it run off and puddle, a standard amount of water is deposited inside of a ring that is inserted into the soil. The time to full absorption is recorded. This test is performed in the field.

Soil Hardness: Mycorrhizal fungi growth and mobility of soil organisms is impaired by hard soils. Soil hardness is measured using a penetrometer. This test is performed in the field.

Earthworm Count: Earthworm burrows improve infiltration and their casts increase soil aggregates. Earthworms are counted in a 1 ft x 1 ft x 1 ft area of ground. This test is performed in the field.

Soil samples collected at each farm were sent to the UMass Soil Testing Laboratory for a Loss on Ignition analysis. During the loss on ignition assessment, the soil is dried and sieved, moisture content is estimated and soil is weighed out.  Soil is placed in the oven at >550C for 3 hours with the tray moved at half time.  Difference between initial weight and final weight when corrected for the water loss yields organic carbon. The same lab was used for all tests to ensure accuracy and consistency. 

At each farm we recorded the surface vegetation, last 3 years of management regimes, and a description of environmental factors. 

Task 4 After engaging in soil testing, farmers surveyed and interviewed about the ease and accessibility of the testing protocols. 

Each farmer completed a survey one week after their in-field soil testing date. 

Questions included:

  • How often do you think about capturing carbon in your soil? (1 - Never to 5 - Daily linear scale)
  • How often do you take action to capture carbon in your soil? (1 - Never to 5 - Daily linear scale)
  • Which of the following tests provided information that will influence management practices on  your farm? Check all that apply. 
    • microBIOMETER
    • Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test
    • Infiltration test, Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test
    • Earthworm Count test
    • Slake test
    • Munsell Soil Color test
  • For each of the tests below, indicate how easy or difficult each test was to perform and understand. Choose from: Very Difficult, Difficult, Easy, Very Easy, N/A I did not perform this test
    • microBIOMETER
    • Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test
    • Infiltration test
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test
    • Earthworm Count test
    • Slake test
    • Munsell Soil Color test
  • For each of the tests below, indicate how easy or difficult it would be to perform this test again, independently, if provided with instructions. Choose from: Very Difficult, Difficult, Easy, Very Easy, N/A I did not perform this test
    • microBIOMETER
    • Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test
    • Infiltration test
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test
    • Earthworm Count test
    • Slake test
    • Munsell Soil Color test
  • How likely are you to purchase or otherwise obtain the equipment for the following testing protocols in order to re-test soil at your farm in the future? Choose from: No chance, Very little chance, Some chance, Very good chance, N/A I did not perform this test
    • microBIOMETER
    • Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test
    • Infiltration test
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test
    • Earthworm Count test
    • Slake test
    • Munsell Soil Color test
  • Which of the following tests did you find the most engaging? Choose one.
    • microBIOMETER
    • Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test
    • Infiltration test
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test
    • Earthworm Count test
    • Slake test
    • Munsell Soil Color test
  • Which of the following tests would you perform on a regular basis, if the equipment were provided at no cost? Choose all that apply. 
    • microBIOMETER
    • Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test
    • Infiltration test
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test
    • Earthworm Count test
    • Slake test
    • Munsell Soil Color test

Each farmer was interviewed in September 2021 to gain feedback about the testing protocols and to record any impact the tests had on management, and on understanding of soil carbon and carbon sequestration. Farmers were also asked to provide input on how they thought information on the testing protocols could best be shared with the spanish-speaking and BIPOC farming community. Questions included:

  • Which of the tests was your favorite to perform? Why?
  • How do you think these tests have impacted your understanding of soil carbon and soil carbon sequestration?
  • How do you think these tests have impacted your management practices?
  • What do you think are the best ways for us to communicate these testing protocols to spanish speaking farmers and farmers of color in the northeast region? 
  • Overall, do you feel more engaged in carbon sequestration than you were before you performed these tests?

 

Task 5 Soil health and soil carbon sequestration resources

With input from the farmers, a written manual, a webinar, and instructional videos was created to demonstrate the in-field testing protocols to other farmers. We will published the manual for free online to our 6000 followers and teach the content in our training programs that reach 200+ farmers annually.

Research results and discussion:

We engaged five farmers from five different farms in the northeast (Soul Fire Farm, Rocky Acres Community Farm, Global Village Farm, Ramos Farm, and Rise & Root Farm). These farmers implement soil carbon capture farming technologies such as no till, silvopasture, cover cropping, and perennial polyculture. Two spanish-speaking farmers were included and all participants identified as farmers of color. 

Task 1 Groundwork

Before visiting the farms in this study, the PI and Field Researcher made adjustments to the list of testing protocols. A bulk density protocol was removed due to concerns about accessibility. The test requires access to an oven to heat soil at a low temperature for multiple hours. It was decided that this test required a burdensome amount of time for the farmers to perform, monitor, and assess during the farming season. The Active Carbon assessment was removed from the list because the materials to perform this test were unavailable at the time of procurement. The Munsell soil color test and the “slake test,” also known as a soil aggregate stability test, were added to the list of assessments. 

Task 2 Farmer Survey

We learned that the farmers in the project use a variety of regenerative practices in their operations, reporting the following practices in use at their farms:

  • Rotational grazing (3 farmers)
  • Silvopasture (3 farmers)
  • Cover cropping (4 farmers)
  • No-till/low-till (5 farmers)
  • Perennial polyculture / multi-species perennials (3 farmers)
  • Mulching (4 farmers)
  • Tarping (3 farmers)
  • Crop rotation (5 farmers)
  • Compost application (4 farmers)

Four of the five farmers reported spending some time thinking about capturing carbon in their soil, choosing a 3 or a 4 on a scale of 1-never  to 5-daily. One farmer chose 1-never. Similarly, four of the five farmers indicated some action taken to capture carbon in their soil, choosing a 3 or a 4 on a scale of 1-never  to 5-daily. One farmer chose 1-never. 

The farmers had varying levels of experience with the testing protocols, as follows. The numbers indicate the number of farmers who responded to the corresponding multiple choice option.

  • Do you have experience engaging with the microBIOMETER test? 
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 4
    • I have seen this test performed: 1
    • I have performed this test: 0
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Soil Respiration / Basal Respiration / Solvita test?
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 4
    • I have seen this test performed: 1
    • I have performed this test: 0
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Infiltration test?
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 2
    • I have seen this test performed: 1
    • I have performed this test: 2
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Soil Hardness / Penetrometer test?
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 2
    • I have seen this test performed: 2
    • I have performed this test: 1
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Earthworm Count test?
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 2
    • I have seen this test performed: 1
    • I have performed this test: 2
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Slake test?
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 4
    • I have seen this test performed: 1
    • I have performed this test: 0
  • Do you have experience engaging with the Munsell Soil Color test?
    • I have not performed or seen this test performed: 3
    • I have seen this test performed: 1
    • I have performed this test: 1

 

Task 3 In-Field Soil Testing and Sampling 

Baseline data collected includes:

Farm 1

Testing Protocol

Site 1 

Site 2

Site 3

Management Practices

Cover Cropping

No-Till / Low-till

Mulching

Crop Rotation

Compost Application

Perennial Polyculture / Multi-species perennials

No-Till / Low-till

Silvopasture

Rotational Grazing

No-Till / Low-till

UMass Loss on Ignition Soil Organic Matter (SOM)

11.30%

8.10%

6.70%

Soil Temperature

74℉

n/a

n/a

Surface Vegetation

50% bare

Grass, clover, lambs quarter, carrot, lady's thumb, virginia pepperweed

Mycelium, mouse poop

n/a

n/a

Earthworm Count

10 worms

0 worms

1 worm

Infiltration

40 seconds

n/a

n/a

Slake

Sample A: 90%

Sample B: 87%

n/a

n/a

Soil Hardness / Penetrometer

0”-6”: 100 PSI

6”-18”: 250 PSI

n/a

n/a

microBIOMETER / Microbial Biomass

655 ug C /g

Excellent

n/a

n/a

Munsell Soil Color

3/2 

Very Dark Grayish Brown

n/a

n/a

Solvita / Soil Respiration

Estimated emissions of CO2-C as 25 kg/ha or 60 lb/acre

n/a

n/a

 

Farm 2

Testing Protocol

Site 1 

Site 2

Site 3

Management Practices

Silvopasture

Rotational Grazing

No-Till / Low-till

Perennial Polyculture / Multi-species perennials

No-Till / Low-till

Cover Cropping 

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Crop Rotation 

Compost Application

UMass Loss on Ignition Soil Organic Matter (SOM)

8.70%

n/a

n/a

Soil Temperature

69℉

70℉

71℉

Surface Vegetation

5% bare

dandelion, garlic mustard, orchard grass, leaf litter, goldenrod, plantain, wild strawberry, ground ivy, thistle, wood avens, timothy

spider, flies, bee, rolly polly, earthworm

n/a

n/a

Earthworm Count

9 worms

n/a

n/a

Infiltration

28 seconds

n/a

n/a

Slake

Sample A: 97%

Sample B: 85%

n/a

n/a

Soil Hardness / Penetrometer

0”-6": 200 PSI

6”-18": 300 PSI

0”-6": 100 PSI

6”-18": 200 PSI

0”-6": 100 PSI

6”-18": 300 PSI

microBIOMETER / Microbial Biomass

213 ug C /g

 Fair

205 ug C /g

 Fair

313 ug C /g

Fair

Munsell Soil Color

2/1 Black

n/a

n/a

Solvita / Soil Respiration

n/a

n/a

n/a

 

Farm 3

Testing Protocol

Site 1 

Site 2

Site 3

Management Practices

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Crop Rotation 

Compost Application

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Crop Rotation 

Compost Application

Rotational Grazing

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Compost Application 

Perennial Polyculture / 

Multi-species perennials

UMass Loss on Ignition Soil Organic Matter (SOM)

10.90%

n/a

n/a

Soil Temperature

60℉

71.3℉

65.4℉

Surface Vegetation

0% bare

mulch mycelium, spider, worm

n/a

n/a

Earthworm Count

30 worms

n/a

n/a

Infiltration

8.5 seconds

n/a

n/a

Slake

Sample A: 98%

Sample B: 98%

Sample A: 90%

Sample B: 98%

Sample A: 96%

Sample B: 98%

Soil Hardness / Penetrometer

n/a - equipment issue, no data collected

n/a

n/a

microBIOMETER / Microbial Biomass

343 ug C /g

Fair

n/a

n/a

Munsell Soil Color

3/2 Very Dark Grayish brown

2/1 Black

3/2 Very Dark Grayish Brown

Solvita / Soil Respiration

Reading: 5

Very High Activity 

Estimated emissions of CoO2-C as 40 kg/ha or 107 lb/acre (adjusted by conversion factor for soil temperature @ 60 degrees)

n/a

n/a

 

Farm 4

Testing Protocol

Site 1 

Site 2

Site 3

Management Practices

Cover Cropping

No-Till / Low-till

Mulching

Crop Rotation

Compost Application

Cover Cropping

No-Till / Low-till

Mulching

Crop Rotation

Compost Application

No-Till / Low-till

UMass Loss on Ignition Soil Organic Matter (SOM)

36.20%

n/a

n/a

Soil Temperature

73℉

n/a

n/a

Surface Vegetation

5% bare

Galincoga, smartweed, fava, thistle, lambs quarter, mugwort, rag leaf, grass, plantain, snails, rodent damage

Note: Dry Soil

n/a

n/a

Earthworm Count

1 worm

n/a

n/a

Infiltration

20 seconds

2 minutes, 5 seconds

5 seconds

Slake

Sample A: 97%

Sample B: 92%

n/a

n/a

Soil Hardness / Penetrometer

0”-6”: 100 PSI

6”-18”: 250 PSI

0”-6”:  100 PSI

6”-18”: 250 PSI

0”-6”:  100 PSI

6”-18”: 300 PSI

microBIOMETER / Microbial Biomass

955 ug C /g

Excellent

n/a

n/a

Munsell Soil Color

3/1 Very Dark Gray

n/a

n/a

Solvita / Soil Respiration

n/a 

n/a

n/a

 

Farm 5

Testing Protocol

Site 1 

Site 2

Site 3

Management Practices

Cover Cropping 

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Crop Rotation 

Compost Application

Cover Cropping 

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Crop Rotation 

Compost Application

Cover Cropping 

No-Till / Low-till 

Mulching 

Crop Rotation 

Compost Application

UMass Loss on Ignition Soil Organic Matter (SOM)

7.80%

n/a

n/a

Soil Temperature

67℉

72℉

74℉

Surface Vegetation

50% bare

cilantro, galincoga, amaranth, tomatillo, hierba mora, epazote

n/a

n/a

Earthworm Count

1 worm

n/a

n/a

Infiltration

4 seconds

n/a

n/a

Slake

Sample A: 90%

Sample B: 95%

n/a

n/a

Soil Hardness / Penetrometer

0”-6”: 100 PSI

6”-18”: 300 PSI

n/a

n/a

microBIOMETER / Microbial Biomass

463 ug C /g

n/a

n/a

Munsell Soil Color

3/1 Very Dark Gray

n/a

n/a

Solvita / Soil Respiration

Reading: 4 

Medium-High Activity

Estimated emissions of CO2-C as 25 kg/ha or 60 lb/acre

Reading: 4 

Medium-High Activity

Estimated emissions of CO2-C as 25 kg/ha or 60 lb/acre

Reading: 4 

Medium-High Activity

Estimated emissions of CO2-C as 25 kg/ha or 60 lb/acre

Noteworthy conditions

While the soils on Farms 1, 2, 3, and 5 varied in type and texture, they were all mineral soils. Farm 4 contains muck soils, which are high in SOM. 

Spring 2021 was a rainy season in the region. The Field Researcher rescheduled testing dates multiple times in the spring due to rain, which resulted in testing dates later in the growing season than originally planned. Farm 5 was included late in the study due to unavailability of the farm previously committed to the project. This resulted in a soil testing and sampling date 2-3 months later than those of the other four farms in the study. 

Solvita soil respiration data is not available for Farms 2 and 4. Soil samples were collected at each farm on the soil testing date, prepared for assessment with the Field Researcher by placing into a jar with a Solvita indicator. The farmer was left with a color chart and instructions for reading 24 hours later, however one farm was not able to check their result in the required time frame. Another farm did not report data. Soil Hardness data was not collected at Farm 3 due to inoperable equipment.  

Task 4 After engaging in soil testing, farmers surveyed and interviewed about the ease and accessibility of the testing protocols. 

Each farmer completed a survey one week after their in-field soil testing date. Results of the survey include:

  • Three of the five farmers reported spending some time thinking about capturing carbon in their soil, choosing a 2 or a 4 on a scale of 1-never to 5-daily. Two farmers chose 5-daily. Similarly, four of the five farmers indicated some action taken to capture carbon in their soil, choosing a 2, 3, or a 4 on a scale of 1-never to 5-daily. One farmer chose 5-daily. 
  • Which of the following tests provided information that will influence management practices on your farm? Check all that apply. 
    • Soil Respiration / Solvita: 4 farmers
    • Slake Test: 4 farmers
    • Munsell Soil Color Chart: 5 farmers
    • microBIOMETER: 2 farmers
    • Earthworm Count: 4 farmers
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer: 4 farmers
    • Infiltration: 5 farmers
  • For each of the tests below, indicate how easy or difficult each test was to perform and understand. Choose from: Very Difficult, Difficult, Easy, Very Easy, N/A I did not perform this test.
    • microBIOMETER
      • Difficult: 1 farmer
      • Easy: 3 farmers
      • N/A I did not perform this test: 1 farmer
    • Soil Respiration / Solvita
      • Easy: 4 farmers
      • Very easy: 1 farmer
    • Infiltration
      • Easy: 3 farmers
      • Very easy: 2 farmers
    • Soil Hardness
      • Easy: 4 farmers
      • Very easy: 1 farmer
    • Earthworm Count
      • Very Easy: 5 farmers
    • Slake Test
      • Easy: 2 farmers
      • Very Easy: 3 farmers
    • Munsell Soil Color
      • Easy: 3 farmers
      • Very easy: 2 farmers

 

For each of the tests below, indicate how easy or difficult it would be to perform this test again, independently, if provided with instructions. Choose from: Very Difficult, Difficult, Easy, Very Easy, N/A I did not perform this test

  • microBIOMETER
    • Very Difficult: 1 farmer
    • Easy: 3 farmers
    • N/A I did not perform this test: 1 farmer
  • Soil Respiration / Solvita
    • Difficult: 1 farmer
    • Easy: 2 farmers
    • Very easy: 2 farmers
  • Infiltration
    • Easy: 3 farmers
    • Very easy: 2 farmers
  • Soil Hardness
    • Easy: 3 farmers
    • Very easy: 2 farmers
  • Earthworm Count
    • Easy: 3 farmers
    • Very Easy:  2 farmers
  • Slake Test
    • Difficult: 1 farmer
    • Easy: 2 farmers
    • Very Easy: 2 farmers
  • Munsell Soil Color
    • Easy: 3 farmers
    • Very easy: 2 farmers

 

  • How likely are you to purchase or otherwise obtain the equipment for the following testing protocols in order to re-test soil at your farm in the future? Choose from: No chance, Very little chance, Some chance, Very good chance, N/A I did not perform this test
    • microBIOMETER
      • No chance: 3 farmers
      • Very little chance: 1 farmer
      • Very good chance: 1 farmer
    • Soil Respiration / Solvita
      • No chance: 1 farmer
      • Some chance: 2 farmers
      • Very good chance: 2 farmers
    • Infiltration
      • Some chance: 2 farmers
      • Very good chance: 3 farmers
    • Soil hardness / Penetrometer
      • Very little chance: 2 farmers
      • Very good chance: 3 farmers
    • Earthworm count
      • Some chance: 1 farmer
      • Very good chance: 4 farmers
    • Slake test
      • Very little chance: 1 farmer
      • Very good chance: 4 farmers
    • Munsell Soil Color Chart
      • Some chance: 2 farmers
      • Very good chance: 3 farmers

 

  • Which of the following tests did you find the most engaging? Choose one.
    • Slake Test: 2 farmers
    • microBIOMETER: 1 farmer
    • Infiltration: 1 farmer
    • Soil Respiration / Solvita: 1 farmer

  • Which of the following tests would you perform on a regular basis, if the equipment were provided at no cost? Choose all that apply. 
    • Soil Respiration / Solvita: 3 farmers
    • Slake Test: 4 farmers
    • Munsell Soil Color Chart: 4 farmers
    • microBIOMETER: 2 farmers
    • Earthworm Count: 4 farmers
    • Soil Hardness / Penetrometer: 3 farmers
    • Infiltration: 5 farmers

 

Each farmer was interviewed in September 2021 to gain feedback about the testing protocols and to record any impact the tests had on management, and on understanding of soil carbon and carbon sequestration. Farmers were also asked to provide input on how they thought information on the testing protocols could best be shared with the spanish-speaking and BIPOC farming community. Questions included:

  • Which of the tests was your favorite to perform? Why?
    • Soil Respiration: 1 farmer
      •  “very visual...most interesting...A different way to look at soil biology.”
    • Infiltration: 1 farmer
      • “easy for me”
    • Earthworm Count: 2 farmers
      • “[Accessible]... fun engaging way for young people to get their hands on… visceral, tangible experience around soil health... Worms are fun and cool. So many opportunities there.”
    • Slake: 1 farmer
      • “Really elegant proxy of how alive the soil is because of the glues that are secreted by the microorganisms... window into life.”
  • Do you plan to perform any of these tests on your farm in the future?  
    • Solvita / soil respiration: 3 farmers
    • Infiltration: 2 farmers 
    • Earthworm count: 2 farmers
    • Slake: 1 farmer
    • Soil color: 2 farmers
    • Soil hardness: 1 farmer

 

  • How do you think these tests have impacted your understanding of soil carbon and soil carbon sequestration?
    • Farmers reported an increase in awareness about the soil ecosystem and how soil biology relates to soil carbon, soil carbon sequestration, and climate change mitigation. There was also awareness gained about the impact of management practices. 

 

  • What do you think are the best ways for us to communicate these testing protocols to spanish- speaking farmers and farmers of color in the northeast region? 

 

  • Some of the farmers disclosed appreciation for being able to work with and learn the testing protocols from another person of color, and suggested future 1:1 or small peer-to-peer learning events with BIPOC educators and technical assistance providers is desirable. Two farmers in the study noted the resources created in this project were valuable, and suggested it would be beneficial to provide access to equipment to conduct the field assessments. One farmer suggested the equipment be made available to borrow from an organization or made available to share among farmers in a community.  
  • How do you think these tests have impacted your management practices?
    • Two farmers reported that the tests were new tools to add to their management toolbox, and would help them make decisions in the future. Three farmers said that understanding how to perform the field assessments helps provide purpose or encouragement to continue farming with regenerative practices. 
  • Overall, do you feel more engaged in carbon sequestration than you were before you performed these tests?
    • Three farmers said they felt more engaged in carbon sequestration than before they performed the tests. Two farmers said they aren’t more engaged than before. 

 

Task 5 Project Resources

The written manual, “How Alive is My Soil? A Soul Fire Farm Guide to In-Field Soil Health Measurement Protocols with Strategies for Building Soil Health to Call Carbon Back to the Land” was published in September 2021. Two videos demonstrating the in-field soil testing protocols were completed and released publicly in September 2021, as part of the Soul Fire Farm Liberation on the Land Skillshare Video Series, “Soil Carbon Part 1” and “Soil Carbon Part 2.” A 90-minute webinar was held September 23, 2021 as part of the Soul Fire Farm 3D Virtual Skillshare series, to provide an opportunity for discussion about soil health, soil carbon sequestration, and the soil assessments included in the written manual and video resources. 

The written manual was translated into spanish, the videos were created with optional spanish language captions, and the webinar was held with simultaneous spanish language interpretation. 

 

How alive is my soil?: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dMetVUb_xKWtH2_ckQa-YByBVpnkU8En/view 

¿Qué tan vivo está mi suelo?: https://drive.google.com/file/d/16Ewvb5YXb4oJYMPA1MRxk4-5ib9dt3BP/view 

Liberation on the Land Videos

Soil Carbon part 1 / Carbono del Suelo parte 1: https://youtu.be/NAUc-Q9SOm0 

Soil Carbon part 2 / Carbono del Suelo parte 2: https://youtu.be/KBXi1216frM 

Research conclusions:

This project aimed to fill a gap in soil carbon research and resources for farmers of color and Spanish speaking farmers. We met our objectives and were able to answer many of the questions we set out to answer. 

We determined that the Earthworm Count was the most accessible, replicable, and understandable of all the testing protocols, with the Infiltration Test and Slake Test also ranking high in these criteria. 

We found that performing in-field soil tests increases farmer knowledge of and engagement with soil carbon sequestration. Farmers reported an increase in the frequency by which they think about soil carbon sequestration and the frequency by which they take action to increase soil carbon. Farmers elaborated over interviews that performing the soil testing protocols increased their ability to comprehend soil science vocabulary and soil carbon sequestration processes. Farmers stated that data showing high levels of biological activity encouraged them to continue current management practices.

We collected baseline data at each farm which can be used in subsequent years. Soil organic matter at each farm was above average for the cropping system. No-till / low-till practices were the only techniques correlating with the higher than average SOM results. No correlation was found between the results of the eight testing protocols. 

Finally, we created Spanish and English multimedia resources to distribute to farmers, demonstrating how to perform the seven in-field soil health testing protocols. When creating our guide we found a lack of spanish-language resources available that demonstrated in-field soil testing protocols. Making materials available in spanish fills a gap in resources for spanish-speaking farmers. 

Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

6 Consultations
4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
5 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

600 Farmers
3 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

The final report was written in both English and Spanish and distributed through the following channels:

  • Soul Fire Farm email distribution list of 5,700 individuals
  • Northeast Farmers of Color network google group of 320 members
  • Specific outreach to Spanish-speaking farmer communities including FarmROOTS, Hudson Valley Farm Hub, Migrant Justice, Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Rural & Migrant Ministries, and Nuestras Raices with a reach of 500 members
  • Soul Fire Farm’s youtube channel, Facebook live, instagram, and other social media channels with a reach over 40,000 people
  • Soul Fire Farm’s on-farm 1-day workshops and weeklong immersions which host approximately 250 farmers per year
  • SARE website and publications

54 farmers attended the webinar and 600 farmers viewed the instructional youtube video. 

How Alive is My Soil?
Soul Fire Farm Soil Guide (English) 

Qué tan vivo está mi suelo?
Soul Fire Farm Soil Guide (Spanish)

Liberation on the Land Videos:
Soil Carbon part 1 / Carbono del Suelo parte 1: https://youtu.be/NAUc-Q9SOm0 
Soil Carbon part 2 / Carbono del Suelo parte 2: https://youtu.be/KBXi1216frM 

Learning Outcomes

61 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness

  • Soil health
  • Soil carbon sequestration
  • Soil health assessment
  • Soil management

Project Outcomes

6 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
6 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The majority of the farmers in this study reported knowledge gained that would impact their soil management practices and future decision making on their farm. Most were more engaged in soil carbon sequestration and more knowledgeable about soil health concepts and the soil ecosystem than before performing in field soil tests. 

One farmer said, “I like thinking of the aliveness or health of the soil ecosystem as connected to soil carbon, and having ways to measure the aliveness.” While another said, ““I have more tools for assessment. To test the effectiveness of my different practices.”

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:
  1. Successes: 

We created soil health resources that filled a gap in the tools available to Spanish- speaking farmers. We engaged BIPOC and Spanish-speaking farmers in soil carbon research and collected baseline data from these farmers, filling a gap in this research area.

  1. Challenges: 

Heavy and frequent spring rains required us to adjust our timeline on the project. For this reason, not all of the tests at the cooperator farms were performed in the same time period as previously planned. Due to the variability in soil conditions and the impact of these conditions on soil biology, it was difficult to draw major conclusions from the data collected. However, data collected can be used as a baseline for subsequent research, as long as data is collected at each farm under similar conditions. 

  1. Project question:

We met all of our project objectives and answered all but one of our research questions. We were unable to find correlations between the results of the eight testing protocols. 

  1. Additional work:

In the future we would like to test additional soil health and soil carbon measurement protocols, including work with soil augers. We would like to investigate adding a rating system to our written guide resources, in order to provide more information on ease of use and accessibility to more farmers. We would also like to investigate a more comprehensive approach to greenhouse gas measurement, looking into methods by which farmers can better understand the impact of management practices on methane and nitrous oxide in the environment, in addition to carbon. 

  1. Beneficiaries: 

The soil health and soil carbon resources and findings in this project are beneficial to farmers, researchers, and agricultural educators across the northeast, and especially beneficial to Spanish-speaking farmers and farmers of color who have less access to resources. 

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.