Promotion and Adoption of Soil Health in Virginia: The Power of a Simple Demonstration and Story


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Soil is a foundational resource for farming, natural resource conservation, and health in the 21st century. Virginia farmers have made significant progress in protecting and conserving natural resources. Controlling soil loss and nutrient runoff — non-point source pollution — from all possible sources continues to be critical for water quality protection and clean-up efforts throughout Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The current emphasis on soil health encourages an integrated holistic, systemic approach to soil management. Soil health principles bring to light the importance of soil organic matter (SOM), carbon, fungi, bacteria, and soil insects as key drivers to the system and integral for building and enhancing soil’s physical and chemical properties. Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, along with community partners, have worked to find common ground around a similar educational message for agricultural professionals, technical service providers, and the farming community. The message emphasizes soil as a living ecosystem and the need to care for the soil's biological properties as well as the physical and chemical properties. Simple in-class and on-farm demonstrations (i.e., slake test, rainfall simulator) and stories of farmers’ experiences (i.e., through panels, short videos and technical clips) are powerful in promoting and encouraging the adoption of core soil health principles in Virginia. The power of a simple demonstration and story complements on-going research and demonstration efforts while enabling outreach to a broader educational audience. For example, a rainfall simulator demonstration at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction’s Annual Membership meeting enabled Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia USDA-NRCS to reach not only 120 farmers within a Mennonite community with a soil health message but also women, youth, and children in the community who are stewards of land and market and family gardens.