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Building Soil Health with a Growth Mindset

Two bees buzzing around a giant sunflower in a field of flourishing sunflowers.
Photo by Eric Bendfeldt

Building and managing soil health can teach us how to develop a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, studies the benefits of this approach. She describes a “growth mindset” as an understanding that one’s abilities can grow through hard work. A growth mindset welcomes a challenge, builds resilience, and sustains a desire to learn. This counters a fixed mindset, which fixates on a present issue and becomes overwhelmed. A fixed mindset often turns negative and lacks hope —which can be detrimental to a long-term goal. A growth mindset seems to reflect the dedication to follow the four principles of soil health management: though growth and change may not be immediate, caretakers can help build healthier soils through hard work.

Soil health management requires a curious mind and consistent observations to help the soil become a fertile ecosystem, and a growth mindset is all about cultivating environments that create growth. Implementing the four principles of soil health management can be difficult, and the results are not immediate. But soil caretakers can approach these challenges with the power of “not yet,” as Dweck described. Soil caretakers with a growth mindset press forward and remain curious. Whether we are developing soil health or our understanding of it, we can keep growing. Bettina Ring, Chief Sustainability and Diversity Officer of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and former Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for Virginia, learned about the hard work of caring for the land through her family. On Episode 21-6, she described the impact of spending her youth playing outdoors in her family’s garden, watching her grandparents hand plow the soil as she made mud pies. She decided to continue learning more by studying Forestry at Virginia Tech. Cory Guilliams, district conservationist with Virginia USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), also gleaned a growth mindset from family at an early age. He learned to “keep something growing” in the soil. “Some of my earliest memories as a child are crawling through rows of beans and potatoes in my grandmother’s garden,” Guilliams said on Episode 22-12. When the garden wasn’t producing, his grandmother planted seeds of rye, alfalfa, and orchard grass. These cover crops replenished the nitrogen in the soil, and, after termination, the soil was ready to nourish corn and potato crops. Even if the season required hard work, they were able to grow through it. 4 the Soil aims to inspire discussions and actions to help communities build health and a curious growth mindset from the soil up. Join the movement and take the pledge! 4 The Soil is a campaign by the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to raise awareness of soil as an agricultural and natural resource. By caring for the soil, we can build healthier communities, stronger economies, and a more resilient landscape.

Lavender growing beside rolling hills on a farm at sunset
Photo by Eric Bendfeldt

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