Written by Nicole Oveisi, Fair Farms Intern
Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s Clear Choices Clean Water campaign added a new pledge on healthy soils to emphasize the importance of soil health and how integral soil is to food production, water sources, and the climate and environment in general. Here at Fair Farms, we’re excited about this new pledge that encourages residents living in the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bays watersheds to Take a Pledge and make the commitment towards healthier soil management.
Healthy soils are essential to a healthy environment. Soils are fundamental to growing nutritious foods, act as a water filtration system, and constantly feed the groundwater supplies. Protecting and maintaining healthy soils will ultimately protect local water and food supplies.
Healthy soils are ecosystems on their own. They consist of water, air, organic matter from different living organisms, insects, and minerals. They nurture and sustain the life of many living organisms and are part of the foundation of all living things.
Healthy soil has the ability to store a lot of water. In times of uncertainty or droughts specifically, water storage in soils is pertinent to feeding and sustaining crops. In order to increase the storage capacity, the soil should be composed of enough organic matter. Organic matter — decaying plants and animals — helps absorb water and can hold water in the soil for longer periods of time. Healthy soils are less dependent on the addition of fertilizers and pesticides, and are also less prone to erosion, meaning less runoff into our waterways. Healthy soils also have the ability to capture carbon and therefore are integral to mitigating the effects of climate change.
What You Can Do
You can take steps to improve soil health, no matter the size of your property, no matter if the property is in the city or in a rural area. According to Clear Choices Clean Water, four basic steps can help improve soil health and management:
- Do Not Disturb
- Keep It Covered
- Grow, Grow, Grow
- Diversify and Rotate
What does this mean? No till gardening or farming is best for maintaining soil health. Tilling disturbs the soil’s organic matter causing it to decompose quickly and leads to erosion. Tilling also causes compacted soils and destroys root and worm channels. A healthy soil needs a living root system growing in it for as much of the calendar year as possible in order to help ‘feed’ the soil and keep it in place. Cover crops not only increase yield, but they also increase soil organic matter, improve water infiltration, decrease runoff and soil erosion, suppress weeds and pests, and much more. In addition, plant diversity and rotation are key to keeping harmful diseases and pests from destroying crops.
If you want to “dig a little deeper” into the science of soil health, check out this series of short videos by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
One of the main priorities of the Fair Farms campaign is to promote healthy soils. Fair Farms introduces and supports legislation that expands proper soil maintenance on Maryland farms. Healthy soils are vital to healthy living, and we strongly encourage everyone to take the soil health pledge!