Soil. What is it, really? It’s more than the dirt under our feet and the ground we stand on. Soil is living and life-giving. Listen as we unlock the mysteries of soil by speaking with people at the forefront of the soil health movement. Hear and learn from farmers, agricultural professionals, conservation leaders, master gardeners, and many more on how and why to be 4 The Soil.
“4 The Soil: A Conversation” is part of the 4 The Soil Awareness Campaign led by the Virginia Soil Health Coalition. The campaign’s purpose is to raise awareness of soil as an agricultural and natural resource critical to social, economic, and environmental health.
Soil is an amazing foundation for all of us. Soil nourishes, fuels, and sustains all life. In this episode, Janet Aardema and her daughter Sylvie of Broadfork Farm share their enthusiasm and experiences with farming and soil health as the basis for their business and educational outreach. Janet and Sylvie discuss how they use the core principles of soil health but also composting, permaculture, forest farming, and food recovery to capture carbon and decrease our carbon and ecological footprints. They elaborate on specific practices they use to keep the soil covered and maximize living roots as they grow more than fifty diverse vegetable crops but also how they are working with their peers and classmates.
To learn about Broadfork Farm's and Teens Acting for Carbon Capture's (TACC) ongoing work with soil health, vegetable production, and their educational efforts on climate resilience and mitigation, please visit their websites at https://broadforkfarm.net/ and https://tacc.earth/.
In the episode, Virginia's Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr shares his passion and perspective on soil health, conservation, and the future of farming. As a fifth-generation Virginia poultry and beef farmer, Secretary Lohr sees the progress farmers are making to move the needle and build soil health to benefit water quality, agricultural production, and climate resilience, specifically with cover cropping, crop rotations, conservation tillage, and farmer-to-farmer mentoring. Virginia farmers are doing well but farmers and all of us can do our part and do better. Education, outreach, and peer-to-peer learning continue to be important to make people aware of what financial, technical, and educational assistance is available at the local, state, and federal levels. Secretary Lohr also reiterates that new and beginning farmers should not go it alone but realize mentors and resources are available to help aspiring farmers learn and succeed.
To learn more about Virginia's commitment to supporting rural economic development, preserving farmland and forestland across the state, and priorities to ensure that all Virginians, especially those who are most vulnerable, have access to safe, healthy foods, , please visit the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry's website at https://www.ag-forestry.virginia.gov/
Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt spoke with Dr. Alan Franzluebbers at the 2022 Winter Forage Conference. Dr. Franzluebbers is a professor and researcher of soil ecology and management with North Carolina State University and USDA's Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) based in Raleigh. Alan played in the dirt at a young age and this early interest grew into a lifelong career in studying and researching soil microbial life. He speaks of how important soil organic matter and biology are to nutrient cycling and how earthworms are an indicator of resources for decomposition being present. Additionally, he encourages a whole-system view of agriculture to enhance diversity to improve soil structure and overall ecosystem activity.
In celebration and recognition of Earth Day 2022, Mary Sketch Bryant, Eric Bendfeldt, and Jeff Ishee share a deeply meaningful and inspiring conversation with Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm about soil health, intergenerational knowledge, and heeding nature's wisdom. Karen recalls how planting a tomato seed changed her life and introduced her to nature, land, and soil. She emphasizes the importance of having hard conversations about eating healthy so people and communities are all part of the solution and meet people where they are with soil health and environmental justice. There is room for everyone to grow food.
Additionally, Karen Washington encourages all of us but especially the youth to sit down with our grandparents and parents to understand history, capture the intergenerational knowledge, and listen to Mother Nature. What is nature telling us about soil health and the environment? What do previous generations know about soil health and nature? In the end, Mother Nature can guide us in what is needed; sometimes that means stopping and listening to the land and soil.
Thomas Bolles of Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Master Gardener Program joins Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt on this episode of 4 The Soil: A Conversation. Thomas is an extension agent for agriculture and natural resources based in Prince William County and works with homeowners, gardeners, farmers, landscapers, and the community. He shares how soil health should be a passion and a responsibility for everyone. He encourages everyone to test their soils on a regular basis to get a baseline and be able to understand the trends in soil fertility and health. A baseline and trendline allow everyone to know when nutrients and soil amendments such as compost might be needed. Whether growing a lawn, tending a garden, managing cropland or a pasture, a good ground cover for soil health can maximize solar energy and maximize the overall function of the ecosystem from the soil up. Thomas also offers insights and advice on compost, use of clovers as a nitrogen source, soil testing, and ways to diversify your soil health management.
Thomas recently wrote an Extension publication guide to help homeowners understand and interpret a soil test report. The publication includes best management practices for improving and maintaining healthy soils in the garden and landscape. The guide and additional resources are available through Virginia Cooperative Extension at https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/pubs_ext_vt_edu/en/SPES/spes-384/spes-384.html
Episode 22- 7: Nourishing Soil and Human Health with Nicolette Hahn Niman author of Defending Beef Part II
Eric Bendfeldt and Jeff Ishee visit with Nicolette Hahn Niman author of Defending Beef at the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council's Annual Conference in part two of their conversation on the strong relationship between soil health and human health. Nicolette is an environmental law attorney, a former vegetarian activist turned cattle rancher, and the author of Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat. Nicolette points out that healthy soil is one with diverse microbiological activity with earthworms, insects, microbes, bacteria, and fungi. Similarly, people need a balanced diverse nutrient-rich diet that provides nourishment for a healthy active lifestyle. Nicolette emphasizes we can learn from nature and do less tinkering with natural systems to focus on principles, practices, and real whole foods that are truly nourishing for soil, animals, and humans.
For more information about sustainable and regenerative grazing in Virginia, please visit https://vaforages.org/ and check out Nicolette’s new book and her case for sustainable grazing and livestock care at your local bookstore.
"There is a very strong connection between what we are doing on our farms and human health. Is the way we are farming fully supporting human health?" ~ Nicolette Hahn Niman author of Defending Beef
Episode 22-6: Healthy Soils, Healthy Ecosystems, and Healthy People with Nicolette Hahn Niman author of Defending Beef Part I
This episode was recorded live at the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council's 2022 Annual Conference. Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt talked with conference guest speaker Nicolette Hahn Niman. Nicolette is an environmental law attorney, a former vegetarian activist turned cattle rancher, and author of Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat. In part one of this conversation, Nicolette discusses how raising livestock sustainably through rotational grazing systems that mimic nature can lead to healthier animals, communities, landscapes, and soils. Raising, managing, and integrating livestock is an essential ingredient to energize the system with diversity, which is a core soil health principle.
For more information about sustainable regenerative grazing in Virginia, please visit https://vaforages.org/ and check out Nicolette's new book and her case for sustainable grazing and livestock care at your local bookstore.
Episode 22-5: Soil Health and Food Justice with Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm
In this episode, Mary Sketch Bryant, Jeff Ishee, and Eric Bendfeldt have a conversation with Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm. Karen Washington was the recipient of the 2014 James Beard Leadership Award and continues to work for food justice, community change, and the overall wellness of the planet for everyone. She shares about the deeply rooted connections of soil health to power, dignity, racial justice, community, and a sense of belonging. As a physical therapist and grower, she reflects on the impact of soil fertility on where people live, where people play, and where people eat. Good soil means good health. Soil is alive and can reconnect people to the history and intergenerational knowledge of agriculture as a starting point for cross-pollinating greater understanding and wellbeing.
In this episode, Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt speak with Robert Shoemaker, nutrient management specialist with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Robert discusses the work of DCR in partnering with agricultural producers across the state, the intersection of soil health and water quality, and some of the conservation practices that DCR works with farmers to implement that build healthy soils and protect the watershed. He also shares the role of soil testing in understanding the state of your soil fertility “bank account” and the need to monitor withdrawals and deposits.
In this episode, Jeff Ishee and Mary Sketch talk with Dr. Rory Maguire, professor at Virginia Tech in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the supervisor of the Virginia Tech Soil Testing Lab. Rory discusses his background in agriculture in Ireland, the complexity of soil in Virginia, and the importance of testing your soils. He also shares his appreciation for American history, particularly the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and what the expedition and history have to teach us today.
In this episode, we talk with Chief Executive Officer John Piotti of the American Farmland Trust about how soil health can increase productivity and provide other benefits like the storing of carbon. Additionally, we talk about regenerative agriculture, climate change, pollinator habitat, and 'the silver lining' of healthy soils in mitigating increasing challenges to agriculture and the planet. John reiterates there are different case studies, tools, and practices that can help each farm improve the health of their soil. Technical educational service, good information, and financial assistance can be critical. For more information about American Farmland Trust, please visit https://farmland.org/
Episode 22-1: Building Cultural Soil with Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, Part 2
In this episode, Jeff Ishee, Eric Bendfeldt, and Mary Sketch continue their conversation with Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Delicatessen and Community of Businesses. In Part 2, Ari builds on his metaphor of building our cultural soils, discussing the importance of playing the long game of fostering a healthy organizational ecosystem. To read Ari's recent reflections on the metaphor, please visit https://www.zingtrain.com/blog/the-importance-of-organizational-culture/
Also, please don’t forget to share your commitment and your organization's commitment to soil health and a healthy ecosystem by taking the 4 The Soil pledge today at www.4TheSoil.org/#Pledge.
Episode 21-6: Rooted in and Tied to Love and Care -- Virginia's Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring
In this episode, Mary Sketch of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition and Jeff Ishee of On the Farm Radio talk with Virginia's Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring who shares her love for and tie to nature, forests, and soils; and how that love and those connections made a difference in her trajectory and career. Secretary Ring was introduced to gardening and nature by her grandparents and parents and the connections they made for her to land, water, and soil. Secretary Ring admits that she would "nerd out" on soil early on in her life because she was so intrigued with the biology and the science of soil formation. Her knowledge of soil provided a solid foundation for her career as a state forester, urban forester, natural resource conservationist, and secretary for agriculture and forestry.
Thinking long-term, we want to eliminate erosion and keep soil in place. Secretary Ring says we all need to be soil keepers and take the 4 The Soil pledge for the future of the Commonwealth and for a healthy viable economy.
To do your part as a soil keeper, take the pledge at https://www.4thesoil.org/#Pledge
Episode 21 - 5: The Ethics of Soil Management with Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's Community of Businesses Part 1
In this episode, Jeff Ishee, Eric Bendfeldt, and Mary Sketch speak with Ari Weinzweig, CEO and co-founder of Zingerman’s Delicatessen and Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor Michigan. Ari is a successful entrepreneur, leader, writer, and visionary. In this episode, we move away from the technical aspects of soil health and hear from Ari on how healthy organizations are like healthy soils. In his thinking and writing, Ari explores and explains why cultural soil health is important to an organization's ecosystem and the broader community, particularly as people seek to better align their lives and values. You can read more from Ari on enhancing our cultural soils here: https://www.zingtrain.com/blog/another-deep-look-at-how-we-can-continue-to-enhance-our-cultural-soils/.
21 - Special Episode: The Wisdom and Soil Health Insights of Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
In preparation and celebration of World Soil Day on December 5, 2021, 4 The Soil and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition offer a special episode to hear and learn from the wisdom and insights of Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. In this episode, Ira shares about the importance of soil health to vegetable and food production, but specifically how soil health is relevant to seed saving, heirloom varieties, and land ownership. Mary Sketch and Jeff Ishee share their own excitement about different seed and heirloom varieties ranging from peanuts to kale. You can also learn how Ira and her colleagues at Southern Exposure Seed Exposure started to build soil health and renovate the soils early on in the history of their farming operation, which included multi-year cover cropping rotations and never leaving the soil bare during a fallow between crops.
Ira's one resource she would share with 4 The Soil: A Conversation podcast listeners is Margaret Roach's podcast A Way to Garden at https://awaytogarden.com/
Episode 21 - 4: Soil Health Management: From Soil Judging to Gleaning with Dr. John Galbraith Part 2
In this episode, Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt continue with part two of their conversation with Dr. John Galbraith, a renowned soil scientist at Virginia Tech in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. In Part 2, John shares his expertise and perspective on soil health management based on leading and mentoring the Virginia Tech Soil Judging Team and his role in growing vegetables as part of a gleaning initiative to meet community needs in the New River Valley Region of Virginia. Did you know that Virginia Tech's Soil Judging Team has won six National Championships and finished in second place five times? If you are interested in a career in agriculture or horticulture, you will want to hear and learn more about soil judging from Dr. Galbraith. Similarly, if you are not familiar with the concept of gleaning, you will want to tune in to the conversation.
Remember to visit www.4TheSoil.org to sign the pledge today and access more resources on soil health!
In this episode, Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt speak with Dr. John Galbraith, who is a renowned soil scientist at Virginia Tech in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. John discusses his background in agriculture and how he became a student and teacher of soil science, while he explores the diverse soil types found across the state (including the Virginia state soil!) and touches on the different soil characteristics. Remember to visit www.4TheSoil.org to sign the pledge today and access more resources on soil health!
Episode 21 - 2: Health from the Soil Up: A Conversation with Chris Lawrence of USDA-NRCS
In this episode, Jeff Ishee and Eric Bendfeldt talk with Chris Lawrence, State Cropland Agronomist with Virginia Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Chris discusses how the soil works for all of us and the importance of taking care of and respecting it by following the four principles of soil health. Virginia NRCS and Chris Lawrence first started the Virginia Soil Health Coalition in 2013 to increase communication and promote consistency around soil health. You can find more information about Virginia NRCS and soil health in Virginia at the NRCS website. And don’t forget to check out the two books recommended in today’s episode: Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery and The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan.
In the inaugural episode of “4 The Soil: A Conversation,” host Jeff Ishee sits down with Eric Bendfeldt, Community Viability Specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Mary Sketch, Coordinator of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition. Mary and Eric have been working through Virginia Cooperative Extension and with partners of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to launch the 4TheSoil Awareness Initiative. The initiative seeks to raise awareness of soil as a critical resource and get people to see themselves as important stewards of the land and soil. In this episode, they discuss why everyone should care about soil health and why they are launching a podcast to help increase awareness. For more information on the 4 The Soil Awareness Initiative and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, please visit www.4TheSoil.org and www.virginiasoilhealth.org.