News & Events

Soil Health Grant Supports Land Trust Staff, Local Farmers, and Protected Farmland

Author: Lilly Schneider | 05/29/24

Two people by a hole in the ground

Above and lower right: Jefferson Land Trust’s Stewardship Coordinator Marlowe Moser (left) with Aaron Oman, Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) Soil Conservationist based out of Port Angeles, in February 2024. Here, they’re practicing NRCS’s Cropland In-Field Soil Health Assessment at the Land Trust’s Chimacum Commons property.

In 2023, Jefferson Land Trust was awarded a Soil Health Stewards Program grant from the American Farmland Trust’s (AFT) National Agricultural Land Network (NALN). Over the past year, the $10,000 grant and associated training has been helping two members of our stewardship team — Director of Stewardship and Resilience Erik Kingfisher and Stewardship Coordinator Marlowe Moser — expand the Land Trust’s understanding of soil health and soil health practices. 

Through the training, face-to-face meetings with local farmers and other soil management experts, and accompanying ongoing support from AFT, we’ve gained highly useful knowledge, tools, and resources that are now enabling us to better evaluate and understand the soil conditions on farmland we’ve helped protect — and better support the farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who care for these permanently protected agricultural soils.

Woman by hole

Stewardship Coordinator Marlowe Moser at a soil health site visit.

In April 2023, Erik and Marlowe completed the multi-day virtual training. Then, they grabbed their shovels and headed out to meet with the Land Trust’s agricultural landowners in the field. A crow flying overhead would have seen a group of people squatting around a freshly dug hole, absorbed in handfuls of dirt. What were the humans up to?

Making observations about soil health indicators together, of course — pointing out and discussing things like aggregate structure, root depth and growth form, earthworms, and more. The farmers we met with over the past year have plenty to share about the practices they use to support soil health. Many have worked the land for years and have seen the soil change over time.

Through these productive conversations, the Land Trust gained greater knowledge about the land and about local soil management. In turn, we were able to connect the landowners with helpful technical resources and share about land management practices that will help preserve and improve soil health over time. 

One of the most valuable outcomes of these visits was connecting farmers with financial assistance programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and cost-share opportunities through the Jefferson County Conservation District. These sorts of programs can offer funding to help people start new conservation practices or continue existing conservation practices, with the goal of incentivizing good soil management and making it more financially sustainable.

Woman putting dirt into pots in greenhouse

Chimacum farmworker in a greenhouse on agricultural land protected by the Land Trust.

Our stewardship staff was very pleased to connect to knowledgeable professionals from the Jefferson County Conservation District, based in Port Hadlock and NRCS, based in Port Angeles, over the past year. Both organizations generously shared their time, meeting with Erik and Marlowe to practice soil health evaluations in the field, and educate us about the resources and programs they can offer to farmers. Sierra Young from the Conservation District also attended nearly all of our visits with farmers, and greatly enriched these visits — sharing technical information and grant/cost-share opportunities for farmers.

Overall, the face-to-face meetings with farmers and soil health experts over the past year have been a great opportunity to strengthen the network of those who steward our local lands, and have given us a better understanding of how we can continue to support and collaborate to safeguard the health and resilience of local working lands.

Further, though soil health is already a paramount conservation value protected by Jefferson Land Trust’s agricultural conservation easements, the grant program has helped our team learn about agricultural conservation easement language and other agreements and contracts that the Land Trust may implement in the future to better support soil health on agricultural lands we protect. We’ll also wrap what we’ve learned into our annual monitoring visits to Land Trust easement-protected properties. 

Protecting the long-term soil health of our community’s working agricultural lands is important, because protecting soil health protects the productivity values of those lands in the long term, even in a changing climate. To date, Jefferson Land Trust has protected 20 Jefferson County farms — and we’re excited to integrate our renewed knowledge and relationships around soil health into our work as we continue to pursue agricultural land protection projects into the future.