Climate Change,  Conservation,  Soil Health

Protecting Ohio’s Most Valuable Natural Resource

It is impossible to overstate the importance of what is under our feet. Healthy soil is at the root of healthy water, food, economies, and communities. When taken care of, soil has the potential to store carbon and help mitigate the climate crisis. Yet, even with all that relies on healthy soils, this natural resource is increasingly becoming lost or degraded. The value of soil is simply overlooked and those who do recognize the importance of healthy soils are without the support to preserve them.

There is a need to educate the public on the importance of healthy soils while celebrating this natural resource. That’s why OEFFA and the Ohio Soil Health Initiative (OSHI) are planning an Ohio Soil Health Week—a weeklong celebration that will bring together farmers, community members, organizations, state leaders, and legislators to amplify different voices and share how powerful and important Ohio’s soils are.

Why We Need to Protect Our Soil

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky-based novelist, environmental activist, and farmer, referred to soil as “the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.” Even with all that relies on healthy soils, we’re at a perilous time for this natural resource. Globally, 33% of Earth’s soils are degraded and upwards of 90% or more could become degraded by the middle of the century. We lose 75 billion tons of fertile soil each year to erosion and other drivers. In the Midwest alone, we’ve lost 57.6 billion metric tons of topsoils over the past 160 years, or since modern agriculture began.

When we protect our soils, however, we do a world of good for people and our planet. Healthy soils act as a sponge and hold more water—providing reserves in drought and a sink to soak up excess during periods of heavy rainfall. Because of their sponge-like nature, healthy soils also reduce run-off and protect water quality. OEFFA Soil Health Ambassador Jim Linne spoke about the tremendous water-holding capacity of his soils while providing testimony last year and in this video from the Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

The video also highlights the increases in soil organic matter Jim’s Hillsboro, Ohio farm is experiencing. Soil health practices have encouraged 100 more days of photosynthesis each year, improved local biodiversity, and doubled the cattle carrying capacity of the land. Healthy soils result in better, healthier crops and provide a positive return on investment for farmers. Sounds like something that should be shared far and wide, right?

The Ohio Soil Health Week Bill

Last year, OEFFA’s policy team and OSHI met with legislators and provided testimony to receive funding for a Soil Health Pilot Program. While the budget ask was unsuccessful, several important relationships were made and our desire to celebrate healthy soils only grew. 

As OEFFA Grassroots Policy Organizer Lauren Hirtle shared in a previous blog, “We reflect on our efforts, evaluate successes and setbacks, and look forward to our goals.” Taking advantage of 2023’s momentum, OSHI and our partners at the National Healthy Soil Policy Network reconvened and planned for 2024. 

The relationships built last year made it easier to hone in on our current legislative direction. We have been in regular meetings with Ohio Senator Tim Schaffer, who we expect to introduce the Ohio Soil Health Week amendment to House Bill 162 later this month. This is legislation that would make day and week designations related to agriculture.

Celebrating Healthy Soil—And its Well-Known Steward

Not only will Ohio Soil Health Week officially recognize Ohio’s most valuable natural resource, but it will also celebrate one of the most important soil health advocates of our time. Before his tragic passing, David Brandt was working with OEFFA to spread education and bring awareness to the importance of soil. He gave testimony to the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and urged OEFFA to garner legislative support for soil health following last year’s tragic dust storm in Illinois.

The second full week of November (10-16) will be designated as Ohio Soil Health Week, and the Wednesday (November 13) of that week as Ohio Soil Health Day, to honor the late, great David Brandt, whose birthday is that week.

Ways to Get Involved

From now through Ohio Soil Health Week itself, there will be many ways for you to learn about the pivotal role soil plays in our environment, advocate for healthy Ohio soils, and connect with OEFFA’s work. 

You can start by showing your support for Ohio Soil Health Week. Adding your signature to this petition takes just a few seconds and will make our collective voices louder as we continue to work with Ohio legislators as they introduce the amendment to H.B. 162. If you’d like to take this one step further by providing testimony, please reach out to lauren@oeffa.org.

You’re also invited to join us at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday, April 10. We’ll be advocating for policies that support healthy soils in Ohio—including the designation of Ohio Soil Health Week. The day will begin with tips from our policy team and demonstrations of different legislative meeting scenarios. After we enjoy a complimentary lunch together, attendees will meet with their elected officials. Learn more and register by March 29 here

We are also excited to announce that we’ve got some Soil Stories videos in the works. You’ll be able to dig into what soil means for six diverse farmers and farm system advocates. Stay tuned for the launch of the series!

To help us all get to know Ohio’s soils more intimately, we will provide many educational and celebratory activities in the coming months. Our annual OEFFA Farm Tour and Workshop Series will feature a farm tour that centers healthy soils. Closer to November, we’ll provide more information about OSHI member-led farm tours, educational informational sessions, film screenings, and more! 

More to Come

To stay up to date on all things Ohio Soil Health Week, be sure to bookmark this page and check our Instagram (@oeffapolicy). If you have an idea for ways to celebrate Ohio Soil Health Week, please get in touch with lauren@oeffa.org