Supporting Soil Health at Gaining Ground - American Farmland Trust

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Supporting Soil Health at Gaining Ground

Soil Health Support Minigrants Awardee Spotlight

From right to left : Chrissie Edgeworth, Rae Axner, Anna Kelchlin, Erin Espinosa, Kim Schmidt, and Ava Lublin of Gaining Ground.

Gaining Ground  is committed to “the health of our soil, the health of people who volunteer and work on our farm, and the health and dignity of people who eat our produce.”  

The farm, located in Concord Massachusetts, has been growing food for hunger relief in their community for over 25 years. One hundred percent of the produce they grow is donated to households experiencing food insecurity. This commitment to their community naturally led to a commitment to the resiliency of the land they farm. They have spent the last 9 years focused on building soil health across all their active fields, and with the help of a Soil Health Support Minigrant from American Farmland Trust, they will be able to purchase cover crop seeds for their field that currently has the lowest organic matter.  

Regenerative agriculture practices such as reduced tillage and cover crops can build the resiliency of soil, which is increasingly important to farmers dealing with the unpredictability of climate change. The Soil Health Support Minigrants, a project of AFT’s Massachusetts Coordinated Soil Health Program (MACHSHP), provide small grants to farmers in Massachusetts to overcome small but specific obstacles to implementing soil health goals. The grant program was made available to any producer in Massachusetts who completed the MACSHP Producer Survey, detailing their current soil health practices and any future goals. The results highlighted the gap in financial assistance opportunities targeted specifically at soil health practices. As farmers make the shift to regenerative practices, financial and technical support opportunities are essential to help farmers with the risks and cost of the transition.  

At Gaining Ground, the shift to regenerative practices led to a three-fold increase in the amount of food they could produce on the same footprint of land. The farm completed a transition to fully no-till in 2017 and continues to find opportunities to build the soil organic matter to further improve their yield and produce quality. Key to building organic matter is the practice of cover cropping or planting a biomass and nutrient-building plant mix between main crop growing seasons. The cover crop protects and improves the soil by preventing erosion, loosening soil compaction increasing soil carbon and organic matter, feeding soil biology, and improving soil structure which allows water to move through the soil more easily. Gaining Ground currently cultivates 3.5 acres, which, in 2021, produced over 127,000 pounds of food. This was due in large part to the quality and resiliency of their soil. As they put it “[cover crops] act as an investment in the future health and fertility of the farm.”  

The Massachusetts Coordinated Soil Health Program awarded a total of sixteen Massachusetts Soil Health Support Minigrants.

 

Full List of 2022 Soil Health Support Minigrant Awardees: 

 

  • Gaining Ground Farm in Concord’s project is described above.  
  • Tristram Keefe of the Urban Farming Institute in Dorchester will use funds to purchase cover crop seed mixes and mulches to improve water retention and reduce weed pressure across the many farm sites he and his team manage. 
  • Renee Toll-Dubois of White Rabbit Farm in Dracut will use the funds to purchase compost, cover crop seed, and mushroom spawn pegs to inoculate wood chipped areas around fruit trees and aisles—this three-pronged approach will allow her to improve the soil cover and biodiversity of her small farm.  
  • Mohammad Hannan of Hanaan’s Healthy Foods in Lincoln will use the funds to purchase compost, cover crop seed and silage tarps to implement a no-till management system in one of his fields where organic matter was lower than in other fields.  
  • Leslie Harris of Quontquont Farm in Whately will use the funds to purchase a large landscape tarp to create new growing spaces on their farm and manage weeds using no-till methods, and a compost tea brewer to improve their fertility management for their current and new production areas.  
  • Rose Willet of Whipporwill Farm on Martha’s Vineyard will use the funds to purchase organic amendments and a highly diversified cover crop mix to grow her own mulch in situ for low-till crop production.  
  • Jessica Taylor of Here and There Farm in Welfleet will use the funds towards the purchase of a brush mower attachment for her BCS to clear invasive rose briar and bittersweet vines from her farmland.  
  • Li Ling Hamady of Esker Farm in Woods Hole will use the funds to construct and aerated static pile compost system for faster more efficient on-farm composting.  
  • Adrienne Ehlert-Bashista of Passalongs Farm in Florence will use the funds to purchase landscape fabric and compost to expand her farm into a new production area using no-till methods. 
  • Annalise Clausen of Gideon’s Garden in Great Barrington will use the funds to purchase compost and cover crop seed to revitalize the soil on the farm, which is showing signs of degradation after 100 years of continuous production.  
  • Laura Tulper-Palches of Full Well Farm in North Adams will use the funds to purchase native tree, shrub and perennial bare root plants and seedlings to establish a wind break on her farm, where a strong north wind currently  makes mulching and tarping challenging and increases the risk of wind erosion.  
  • Daniela Aldrich of Dancing Harvest Farm in Winthrop will use the funds to purchase silage tarps, landscape fabric, organic mulch, and a walk behind rolling dibbler in order to implement no-till systems on her farm. 
  • Seva Water of Nutwood Farm in Cummington will use the funds to purchase local sheep manure, organic compost, and woodchips to improve  the thin, sandy topsoil in her nut tree orchard. 
  • Tevis Robertson-Goldberg of Crabapple Farm in Chesterfield will use the funds to convert an old chisel plow into a strip-tillage tool to facilitate residue management, replacing the disk harrow and rototiller in field operations and allowing for a more reduced till management of fields.  
  • Bart Niswonger of Kinnebrook Farm in Worthington will use the funds to purchase cover crop seed mixes and rent a seed drill to interseed these mixes into different plots into degraded pastures to trial the best cover crop mixes for pasture revitalization.  
  • Susan Conant of Conant’s Custom Cuts in Dunstsable will use the funds to purchase electric netting and cover crop seed to implement an improved rotational grazing system for her pigs.   

To learn more about the Massachusetts Soil Health Support Minigrants and ways to get involved, visit farmland.org/ma-soil-health-program.  

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About the Author
Emeran Irby

New England Communication & Outreach Coordinator

eirby@farmland.org

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