Soil health is increasingly recognized as a key or hub for water cycling, watershed function and water quality, atmospheric regulation, human health, and of the viability of civilization itself. Yet soil health remains camouflaged by our natural human focus on problems. These problems organize and categorize our policy efforts, government and foundation funding, the disciplines of knowledge, and the boundaries between them.
If we can grasp soil health and watershed function, we have great potential to connect most of our serious problems and challenges into actionable opportunities. Yet we can turn this opportunity back into problems with our traditional modes of information delivery: lectures, dogma, expert information, and even advocacy of best practices.
Confucius said, Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Let me do it, and I understand.
"When a problem can't be solved, enlarge it." (Attributed to Eisenhower.)
A one-day initial session introduces the complexity of soil health, watershed function, and supporting principles through simple hands-on and participatory demonstrations and experiments that participants can share with others. Because these are not merely technical issues, we also introduce some skills and practices of participatory learning: wider and more inclusive frames and contexts, listening to others learn, and acknowledging problems and barriers while clarifying opportunities to learn to work with the sunlight-powered circle of life, coupled carbon and water cycling, the most powerful planetary force.
We adapt each session to the needs and skill levels of the participants.
The California Rancher-to-Rancher project can help you set up a small, no-risk learning site trial on your land, say a few acres or less, where you could concentrate livestock for a few hours or a day, and give it a substantial recovery period from grazing. Our support could be help in planning the trial to work with your needs, simple monitoring of the soil surface, and an optional soil carbon baseline plot. More info.
Assisting and growing capacity for whole-system feedback with soil and water conservation districts, land trusts, farms, ranches, watershed groups, any localized and land-based organization. Atlasbiowork.com is an open-source project/platform/network and we seek a wide range of local collaborations:
map landscape function in a watershed
start a citizen science project on soil health and watershed function
grow capacity and feedback loops in a local, land-based organization or business to ask better questions, manage wholes
A preliminary collection of satellite maps (Landsat and Sentinel) showing the number of days when NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index, a rough measure of photosynthesis) is above a threshold. In other words, mapping some soil health principles over time. A fuller explanation and over a dozen draft maps here.
If you want to find out how fast a human can run 100 meters, do you build a computer model, do a literature search, or convene a panel of experts on human physiology to make a prediction? No, you run a race, or a series of races. This is the core idea behind the Soil Carbon Challenge, begun in 2010. The data is open and the site can be remonitored for change in 3-10 years. More info.
Soil Carbon Coalition is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization