In February 2019, WCCD was awarded $50,000 from the National Association of Conservation District’s Urban Agriculture Conservation Initiative grant for a “Next Level Soil Health Initiative. This exciting news has enabled our staff to increase our reach to include more Worcester County landowners, especially those who may not otherwise have sought technical assistance. WCCD has expanded our Healthy Soils Initiative into urban areas by providing staff and resources to deliver on-the-ground technical assistance and educational information specifically intended for urban farmers, community gardens, and backyard gardeners, giving them the assistance they need to succeed in making healthy, informed choices about their soil.
The WCCD Healthy Soils Initiative was established in 2016. Supported by grants from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts, WCCD hired a full-time Soil Conservationist to work with agricultural producers in the county to develop and implement nutrient management plans. Our Administrator and Soil Conservationist have since expanded our outreach efforts, forging new partnerships with community, educational and agricultural groups, assisting Envirothon teams, and providing soil health related workshops for soil professionals, farmers, community gardens, and homeowners. They have initiated a program that facilitates the collection and testing of agricultural soils through the UMass Soil Testing Lab.
What is Soil Health?
(Adapted from: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/)
Soil health is the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Soil contains living organisms (microbes, arthropods, etc.) that when provided the necessities of life – food, shelter, and water – perform functions required to produce food and fiber.
With this in mind, when soils are managed as a living ecosystem they can better provide nutrients for plant growth, absorb and hold rainwater for use during dryer periods, filter and buffer potential pollutants from leaving our fields, serve as a firm foundation for agricultural activities, and provide habitat for soil microbes to flourish and diversify to keep the ecosystem running smoothly. At WCCD, we are working to promote soil health, by encouraging practices that follow these soil health principles, established by the USDA:
Manage More by Disturbing Soil Less
Diversify Soil Biota with Plant Diversity
Keep a Living Root Growing Throughout the Year
Keep the Soil Covered as Much as Possible
Also, adding livestock to your land management where possible and practical (while using best practices and not overgrazing) can improve soil health.
For more information on soil health, please see http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/ or additional resources below.
We offer the following services to assist farm, forest, and garden owners in promoting soil health on their land:
WCCD Soil Health Services
WCCD offers soil sampling to Worcester County land owners and occupiers. For a reasonable $40 per sample fee, our staff will visit your site and take soil samples for you. They will then dry your samples and mail them to UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab located in Amherst, MA. Once the lab has finished their analysis, our staff will then walk you through the results, and can make recommendations based on your needs.
Interested in learning more or ordering a soil sample? Click here for more information.
Integrating compost into your soil is one way to improve your soil health and at the same time reduce your household waste. Composting, when done correctly, can give a boost to your soil’s ecosystem by adding organic material, nutrients, and a diversity of micro-organisms. We sell compost bins and help landowners install and know how to use them.
Riverdale Mills of Northbridge, MA designed pre-cut modular panels for us. The picture here shows 5 panels for a complete composter with cover. The 36” x 36” panels with with 1-1/2” space openings, which allows for ventilation to improve composting. The panels are made of the highest quality, strongest and longest lasting 12.5 gauge high performance weather resistant PVC coated wire mesh available. The PVC coating has a smooth thick uniform coating that does not peal or crack even when exposed to harsh marine environments. The cost of each panel is $16, a whole set of 5 panels is $80. You may purchase panels online here or by contacting our seedling sale coordinator, Kathryn Zichelle Sullivan () if you are interested, and we can help you effectively start to compost, or improve your current composting efforts.
We offer workshops on soil health, composting, plant-soil interactions, soil mapping, and other Our staff and affiliates can offer workshops or guest lectures upon request. Just email our conservation planner Joel Betts at "> with your interest or a request or for more information. First see our workshops page here topics [insert link, go to our workshops page, see below for information to add to workshops page]. Our workshops page also offers a list of workshops that have been offered by WCCD in the past and potential future topics.
“If I am not a farmer – is this for me?” Soil health is for everyone! WCCD strives to make conservation accessible to Worcester county residents, independent of scale. Call our office with any questions [list phone number].
Additional Soil Health Resources to Browse:
NRCS Soil Health Resources- http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/nd/soils/health/
(North Dakota NRCS – based, but they are one of the leaders in this area)
Cornell University Soil Health Resources – http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu
Soil Food Web, by Dr. Elaine Ingram – http://www.soilfoodweb.com
Sustainable Agriculture Resources and Education (SARE) – http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/What-is-Soil-Health
National Soil Maps through NRCS Web Soil Survey – http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm
Soil Health Card – http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/PA_NRCSConsumption/download?cid=nrcseprd401840&ext=pdf