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The dirt beneath our feet

Women Caring for the Land hosts events to bring together women farmland owners to talk about soil health and soil testing

June 14, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

The Women, Food & Agriculture Network held a recent meeting, perhaps appropriately, near Fertile, Iowa. The goal of the meeting was to put women landowners together with resource professionals so they know who to go to if they have questions.

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Carol Schutte, Women Caring for the Land Coordinator, said, "Women think differently from men. Women may learn differently from men." In 240 WCFL meetings, women have had 2,440 hours of connection and learning about the land.

Each meeting starts with a learning circle discussion on the basics of soil health and soil testing, facilitated by the resource professionals.

During the circle discussion, a participant named Mary said, "It's spiritual. I have a commitment to do the right thing."

Dana, who married a farmer, said she is cultivating 1,000 acres south of Ventura.

"I want to educate myself for the future. We're going to natural, holistic methods with the kids transitioning to organic farming. They want to take care of their grandpa's, their dad's ground. I just want to make everyone happy," Dana said.

Paulline attended with her daughter, Kay.

"I was a city girl from Mason City. I was married 68 years and now my grandson is farming our Century Farm," Paulline said.

Paulline's daughter, Kay, said, "I walked beans alongside my dad. I'm hoping we can get set up for continuous family ownership of our land."

That's where Becky Hanson, District Conservationist from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, chimed in.

The NRCS has planners who can help farmers create a plan for land, whether it's for one field or a whole farm. Planning can help landowners have cleaner water move off the farm, improve soil structure and health, provide an area for wildlife by having a wetland, slow down the wind around the farmstead, and access cost-share money to help carry out the ideas.

Schutte said, "The land is an emotional legacy. It's important to develop better land for young farmers."

Jean Eells, PhD, of E Resources Group from Webster City, performed a demonstration to determine soil health.

Healthy soil can be determined by the number of earthworms, by watching birds to see if they dive in to find the worms, and by the white underwear test.

Pick up a pair of white underwear and bury it in a marked spot. In a few weeks dig it up and see how quickly it breaks down.

The most scientific method a landowner can use to measure soil health is a rudimentary soil test Eells performed for the class.

Eels set up two jars with soil and poured water through them, showing that soil with more organic matter passed water through quickly, while soil lacking in organic matter is closer to the consistency of cocoa powder, creating a muddy consistency and holding water.

"Organic matter could be the most important indicator of a farm's productivity," Eells said.

"Tillage creates too many fine particles. It may appear to 'fluff up' the soil, but it actually causes this pulverized consistency that drains slowly. The soil in better shape is more like coarse bread crumbs and water drains through it first," Eells said.

Women Caring for the Land hosts soil meetings throughout Iowa and other agricultural states. Its mission is to "engage women in building an ecological and just food and agriculture system through individual and community power."



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