Sustainable Food Lab, together with over 25 soil health specialists from across the U.S. (IA, ID, IL, IN, NE, KS, SD, ND, MN, MI, OH, VT, VA, PA) is launching its second year of the Soil Health Leadership Lab. The Soil Health Leadership Lab was conceived as a peer-learning network for individuals who are on the ground, supporting farmers and farming communities to adopt soil health practices.
The Lab rotates between monthly case clinic calls where members coach each other on difficult situations, to specific topics aimed at advancing their own work goals. We deliberately do not focus on the technical aspects of soil health, but instead focus on the social and cultural aspects of their work and outreach to farmers. Topics throughout the first year included working with absentee landowners, how to make data collection meaningful for farmers and best practices for establishing farmer led learning networks. When COVID hit, the group quickly pivoted to developing and sharing resources with each other on how to move events, field days, and conferences online. They also found time to join discussions with experts to share experiences and learn how to hone their techniques for engaging women and improving event and communications materials and messaging to reach “middle adopter farmers.”
Members vary in their organizational roles, some working in academia, others coordinating state-wide soil health initiatives or managing communications for an entire farmer organization, but to a “T” each member has a deep commitment to helping farmers and by doing so improving the health and viability of the rural communities in which they live and work. This passion is brought to each meeting and workshop, where members are eager to learn from each other and share challenges and triumphs.
This year members have identified a learning agenda that includes tackling topics like diversity and inclusion in agriculture, partnering with cooperatives, communicating with funders, improving the use of economic tools to demonstrate the benefits of soil health practices and linking to private sector supply chain activities.
In addition to state and federal watershed initiatives our members are working with Pepsi, Unilever, ABI, and Ben and Jerry’s as part of farmer facing supply chain programs.