A few weeks ago, Fair Farms joined tens of thousands of music fans, farmers, advocates, citizen-scientists, foodies, and food and farming non-profits from across the country at the 32nd Annual Farm Aid benefit concert.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Farm Aid, it’s the annual concert—first organized in 1985 by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp—to support family farms across the country. Since the mid-80s, Dave Matthews and a variety of other artists have joined the ranks to raise over $50 million for the promotion of a fair and resilient family farm agricultural system.
This is the second year that Fair Farms was able to join Farm Aid’s “Homegrown Village,” where concertgoers explore interactive exhibits from food and farm groups. Exhibitors showcase soil, water, energy and other food system-related issues through hands-on activities and games.
Our booth focused on the importance of healthy soil and featured our mascot, “Sandy Soil,” who educated concertgoers about how different farming practices—in particular, tilling, the act of digging up soil to prepare it for planting—can impact the quality of soil and its surrounding environment.
The booth showcased a miniature rainfall simulator with no-till soil from a Certified Naturally Grown farm in Prince George’s County, tilled soil from a conventional corn farm in Montgomery County, and soil from a forest in Baltimore County. Passersby were able to learn about infiltration – the process of water entering soil – and see firsthand how water enters healthy soil at a much more rapid rate than less healthy samples.
In the photo above, you can get a better idea of the rainfall simulator that was displayed at our booth. Colored water was simultaneously poured over the tilled soil, the no-till soil, and the forested soil. You’ll see there is standing water on top of the tilled soil, as it infiltrated the soil at a much slower rate, if at all. There is no standing water on top of the forested soil, as water infiltrated this soil at a much more rapid rate and also appeared to filter the water. Water infiltrated the no-till soil at a slightly slower rate than the forested soil, but the no-till soil came in a close second place regarding water absorption.
It takes water longer to infiltrate heavily tilled soil because during the tilling process this soil loses necessary organisms like fungus, bacteria, earthworm mucus, and plant root exudates. Rather than filtering the water, like the no-till and forested soil, tilled soil breaks down and causes runoff – which can degrade local water quality.
Fair Farms educated concertgoers on the numerous and wide-ranging benefits of healthy soil for farmers, the environment, and consumers alike. For farmers, healthy soil practices have the potential to reduce production costs, double yields, produce more nutritious foods, and increase profits. Healthy soil also reduces stormwater runoff (often containing pesticides and fertilizers), lowers the risk of flooding, improves wildlife and pollinator habitat, increases biodiversity, and boosts water quality. Along with those benefits, healthier soils have great potential in fighting climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere.
We were honored to join so many dedicated musicians, fans, and activists all committed to supporting America’s independent family farmers and building a sustainable food system. We’re already counting down the days to next year’s Farm Aid!