Sustainable Farming Leaders Strategize for Healthy Soils Across the Nation

Over the course of two sunny days in Seattle, 14 sustainable agriculture organizations convened a strategy meeting to advance healthy soil legislation. We gathered as farmers, farmer-based organizations and advocates working in more than 20 states and nationwide to explore pathways at the forefront of healthy soils advocacy.

The meeting was the culmination of more than eight months of webinars and resource sharing building upon a burgeoning interest nationwide in the potential of agricultural soil health to mitigate climate change, enhance on-farm resilience to extreme weather and drought, and improve water and air quality.

Front line from left to right: Renata Brillinger, California Climate and Agriculture Network, Amy Winzer, CalCAN, Cat Buxton, Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition, Elizabeth Henderson, NOFA-NY, Sarah Laeng-Gilliatt, NOFA-NH, Liz Stelk, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Back row from left to right: Peter Lehner, EarthJustice, NY, Benjamin Anderson, Land Stewardship Project, MN, Ellen Stern Griswold, Maine Farmland Trust, Erin Foster West, National Young Farmers Coalition, Megan Kemple, Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, Maggie Zaback, Northern Plains Resource Council, Steve Charter, Western Land Owners Alliance, Joanna Will, Kansas Rural Center, Katie Rock, Center for Rural Affairs, IA, Marty Dagoberto, NOFA/Mass, Lauren Lum, CalCAN

The organizations present listed at the end share a common understanding of the climate volatility threatening America’s farms such as flooding, drought and fires. We also understand the powerful solutions farmers and ranchers have to offer to address environmental problems, especially when equipped with sufficient resources to adopt practices that increase organic matter and the biological health of the soil, enhance water quality and water retention rates, and sequester carbon. To that end, we recognize the importance of using farmer-informed policy to scale up these solutions, leveraging robust funding and incentives, technical assistance and research to accelerate the widespread adoption of soil stewardship practices.

There were several objectives for our meeting: to become more familiar with the work of our organizations; to compare and contrast existing and emerging models of legislation and policies that incentivize healthy soils practices; and to share grassroots organizing and campaign strategy experience and lessons.

We familiarized ourselves with several creative state and federal policy tools that could incentivize healthy soils practices including:

  • Cap-and-trade programs (such as those existing in CA, the northeast and proposed in OR and WA)
  • Bond measures
  • Creation of state healthy soils programs
  • Impact fees on fertilizers and water quality contaminants
  • Reform of various federal farm bill programs (e.g., crop insurance, Conservation Stewardship Program) to expand use of healthy soils management practices
  • Water quality mitigation programs
  • Funding healthy soils as a disaster preparedness tool for flooding and drought

We discovered the value in discussing challenges faced by farmers struggling to stay in business while facing natural resources limits, climate change impacts and a host of other difficult trends in the agriculture sector. Though our work takes place within many different contexts spanning the entire country, common themes emerged. We all work with and on behalf of some of the country’s most innovative farmers and ranchers leading the way on techniques that are both economically advantageous to producers and ecologically beneficial. We all appreciate the importance of pursuing policies that deliver funding and technical resources that support transitions to ecological and regenerative agriculture practices. And we know that it is imperative to form coalitions that put farmer leaders at the center while also building relationships with other politically influential partners in sectors such as conservation, environmental justice, health and others.

The group left inspired by one another and with a desire to stay connected, to continue sharing resources, to research and strategize at the regional level on specific legislative ideas, and to expand our conversation to include other experts and potential allies.