Advancing Comprehensive, Peer-to-Peer Soil Health Training across Virginia

Project Overview

SPDP22-11
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $74,952.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipients: Virginia Tech; Virginia State University
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Rory Maguire
Virginia Tech
Co-Investigators:
William Crutchfield
Virginia State University
Mary Sketch
Virginia Tech

Commodities

No commodities identified

Practices

No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Regenerative agricultural systems focused on soil health strengthen the vitality and resilience of individual farms, the agricultural economy, and our natural environment. The Virginia Soil Health Coalition is a network of diverse organizational partners working to accelerate the adoption of soil health. The Coalition recently hired a soil health coordinator and developed a strategic plan, steering committee, farmer mentoring network and working groups. The Coalition has become aware over the last year of a gap in existing training efforts and the growing desire from ASPs for soil health training that will educate and inspire them to in-turn deliver the material to farmers. To better serve Virginia farmers, the Coalition is now positioned to leverage these investments and further build capacity by providing training for ASPs on the core principles and priorities of soil health. 

To address the growing need for consistent, inclusive soil health training identified by the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, the proposed project will develop and implement a suite of peer-to-peer soil health educational materials for ASPs. The Coalition is in a strategic position to advance this programming across agencies and organizations. The proposed activities will complement the broader soil health education and outreach strategy spearheaded by the Coalition. 

Training materials will be accessible by and applicable to diverse professionals and center on the four principles of soil health as emphasized by the Coalition’s 4 The Soil Awareness Initiative: 1) keep soil covered; 2) minimize soil disturbance; 3) maximize living roots; 4) energize with diversity. 

Project objectives from proposal:

Project objectives were identified as needs by Virginia Soil Health Coalition partners. The project will target a network of agricultural service providers (ASPs) across the state, including but not limited to staff of the soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Virginia Cooperative Extension (Virginia State University and Virginia Tech) as well as mentor farmers. Targeting a broad network of ASPs will lead to a greater diversity of producers and landscapes reached. The professional development programming specifically seeks to build capacity and education among historically underserved agricultural communities and vulnerable populations by partnering closely with Virginia State University and their Small Farm Outreach Program to fully center diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in training materials. 

 

Behavior-based project objectives: 

  • Develop a far-reaching soil health knowledge base within Virginia. The project will target a broad group of agricultural service providers through peer-to-peer soil health trainings and outreach, building a wide network of soil health advocates across Virginia. The mixed-methods approach of the project, along with the diverse group of collaborators leading outreach and engagement will allow us to be more inclusive and reach a wider, more diverse network of ASPs. This objective will be achieved through a combination of face-to-face and on-farm training events and virtual/online educational materials and networking opportunities. The evergreen nature of many of the training materials will allow for continued, long-term expansion of the knowledge base. 
  • Inspire agricultural service providers. The trainings and related materials aim to leave ASPs inspired and empowered to deliver soil health technical assistance on-the-ground. This objective will be achieved through the creation of relatable, encouraging soil health case studies and demonstrations that feature Virginia farmers and practitioners. Additionally, the peer-to-peer nature of the training will build camaraderie among participants and trainers. 
  • Enhance collaborative coordination and communication among partners. Collaboration and coordination are at the core of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition’s vision and mission. By engaging diverse partners in the leadership and implementation of the training, the project will increase the coordination and collaboration across the state. Field days and workshops will also provide the opportunity for networking between training participants and their respective organizations and affiliations.
  • Increase consistency of and coordination around soil health messaging. Soil health is a broad topic which can mean many different things to different people. By centering the training on the four principles and five priorities of soil health, the project will provide a consistent, coordinated soil health message that is aligned with the broader outreach and educational efforts of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition. 

 

The realization of these objectives will result in the following outcomes:

  • Establishment of a widespread, diverse network of Virginia soil health champions.
  • Development of a series of evergreen soil health educational materials that provide a consistent and coordinated message around the principles and priorities of soil health.
  • Documentation and curating of on-farm soil health case studies and demonstrations.
  • Increased outreach capacity of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition. 
  • Increased delivery of on-the-ground technical assistance grounded in soil health-building principles and priorities. 
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.