Principles of Soil Health in a Variety of Market Farming Frameworks: Best Practices from the Field with Experienced Regenerative Farmers

Project Overview

LS21-348
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $48,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: No-Till Growers
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Jackson Rolett
No-Till Growers
Co-Investigators:
Jesse Frost
No-Till Growers
Josh Sattin
No-Till Growers

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, workshop, podcast, video series, website
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    No-Till Growers has built an extensive online presence promoting the four principles of soil health as practiced on small-scale vegetable and flower farms. The No-Till Market Garden Podcast has over 9,000 regular weekly listeners, among which farmers in the US comprise about 70% of downloads. Since 2017, our partnership has produced 86 interviews with regenerative farmers, soil scientists, and agronomists, as well as more than 200 YouTube videos (with over 40,000 channel subscribers) featuring farmers using best practices in regenerative and no-till farming. Our purpose is to bring those practices into the Southeastern U.S. and beyond where it is a relatively new concept. Our vision is simple: we believe that taking better care of the soil can help take better care of the farmer by increasing profitably and reducing issues of disease, pests, and erosion, thereby improving quality of life. The easiest way to expose farmers to these principles is through the increasingly popular formats of podcasts, videos, and social media.

    Until recently, excessive tillage was considered a “necessary evil” of organic vegetable production. However, we believe reducing or eliminating tillage altogether—along with the three other soil health principles—can be profitable in almost every context and better for the soil, the farmers, and the communities they serve (i.e. the triple bottom line). We also believe that we, as farmers, have only begun to understand the mechanics, let alone the implications, of profitable, small-scale, regenerative farming. There are innumerable ways to approach regenerative agriculture, we chose to begin with the four principles of soil health, and aim to create a community centered around those principles—the very community we have been searching for ourselves. The farmers, the models, the methods are out there, but they are hard to find on an individual basis. Good techniques are also often left unexplored because they are perceived to be impossible in a particular climate and context like the South. We want to cultivate the best, most diverse, most accessible online resource available for small-scale growers and use the presence we’ve worked to create to promote these principles in effect. Further, not only are direct market farmers the face of local food systems, we are the bedrock of community food security and resilience, and we hope to aid these farmers in discovering and implementing more resilient farming practices, empowering them to educate consumers from an experiential standpoint on the myriad of benefits of ecological farming.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Four Project Objectives

    1 Work with a project advisory board of farmers at different scales to identify exemplary farmers and/or more specific areas of interest (cover crops, living mulches, fertility, etc) to be covered.

    Steering committee:
    Brooke Gentile, technical assistance - Organic Association of Kentucky
    Vera Fabian, steering committee - Ten Mothers Farm (NC)
    Shawn Jardnicek, steering committee - Wild Hope Farm (SC)
    Daniel Mays, steering committee - Frith Farm (ME)

    2 Develop an audio and video resource presenting real-world, regenerative, small-scale vegetable production based on the four principles of soil health as outlined by the NRCS.

    Educational products:
    24 hour-long farmer interviews
    12 short-form video guides
    6 long-form virtual farm tours
    1 in-person or online workshop

    3 Utilizing a marketing and outreach plan to promote our material to a growing community of farmers, through which we may also promote additional resources and emerging soil science from other organizations and institutions.

    Reach goals:
    210,000 podcast downloads
    100,000 video views

    4 Collect quantitative and qualitative feedback through multiple channels to assess the extent of knowledge gained, behavioral change, and opportunities to improve the quality of our content based on the farmers’ needs.

    Internal evaluation of the project will consist of making sure the proposed number of podcasts and videos are produced and reaching listener/viewer targets. In addition, the demographic information of the featured farmers will be recorded to ensure we are consistently representing BIPOC and female farmers above the national averages per the USDA (2% and 30% respectively).

    External evaluation will rely primarily upon surveys conducted online. Further, constructive comments, feedback, and reviews will be collected via Apple podcasts, YouTube, and social media. These will be reviewed to assess the evolving areas of interest of the listeners/viewers and anecdotally assess the quality of the educational products as they are released.

    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.