The Citizen Science Soil Health Project, Years 4-6

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,900.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G351-22-W9210
Grant Recipient: Your Neighborhood Christmas Tree Farm
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Elizabeth Black
Your Neighborhood Christmas Tree Farm


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: participatory research
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development

    Proposal summary:

    After 3 years of soil testing, team building and information sharing, the CSSHP and our 47 participating growers have shown that lower pH, more water availability, better soil texture, more organic matter inputs, decreased tillage intensity, and more days of living cover result in better soil health.  We have also identified 4 roadblocks to increased adaptation of soil health practices, which are:

    1) Only half of participating growers understand their test results and which actions are indicated. 

    2) 53% of growers want more individualized consults with soil health experts.   

    3) Although our entire data set identifies broad soil health group trends, individual grower’s data is erratic, without clear trend lines for most growers. 

    4) Despite small gains in fellowship, schisms between organic and conventional growers remain and may increase, with the County’s GMO ban under review again.

    To address these roadblocks, the CSSHP will add management recommendations, referrals to local soil health experts and cost-sharing referrals to our test-reporting program.  We will plumb our data to identify sources of variability and add grower’s qualitative observations to supplement soil-test data.  We will expand our team-building efforts to include a website, small-group problem solving exercises, and promotion of participating growers as subject matter experts.  We will continue to monitor our growers’ practices, attitudes and understanding to ascertain whether these actions lead to an increased adoption of soil health practices, more fellowship, more information sharing, and the emergence of local soil health leaders among our participating growers.

    Gunderson Class, Understanding Soil Health Tests, 2020
    Gunderson class on Soil Testing, 2020

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Citizen Science Soil Health Project, Years 4-6, will address 3 questions: 1) Can simpler explanations of soil test results and referral to cost-share resources increase adoption of soil health practices?  2) Can increased fellowship and information sharing among growers expand local soil health successes while developing local soil health leaders? 3) Will obtaining additional soil health data reduce individual grower’s data variability and reveal individual grower’s trends?

    Objectives: Participating growers will develop greater confidence and knowledge about soil health testing and results, as well as different strategies to improve their operation’s soil health.  Through program participation, they will be provided resources and tools through local partners in understanding and interpreting their test results, as well as resources for potential funding sources to incorporate soil health systems.  Throughout this process, peers will recognize several participating growers as subject-matter experts or soil health leaders in their field. 

    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.