A Road to Recovery: From Sand to Soil
Everything is connected through soil. The world is one massive interconnected system, continuously building upon itself, but its foundation will always be soil.
This is the realization I came to shortly after receiving my bachelor's at the University of Texas at Austin. My studies weren't in environmental science or sustainability but in neuroscience. In my classes, I learned about the biological mechanisms of mental health disorders and addictions. I learned about their underlying causes, their perpetuations, and their health outcomes. However, it wasn’t until after I graduated that I shifted my focus to the upstream factors of health. Factors like environmental health and our personal health & well-being are all interconnected, so what is it that brings these together, and how can I personally take action to foster and strengthen these vital connections?
COVID-19 and the Global Landscape
Having graduated in the spring of 2020, a time when COVID-19 was emerging across the entire world, it felt like COVID-19 came out of nowhere. However, it was actually the result of an evolving global landscape, which finally arrived at a tipping point. This pandemic reflects what happens (and likely will happen again) if we continue producing and consuming with our current methods. It was a wakeup call for me to take a look at current systems;
- How are we producing the foods that we eat?
- How are we harnessing energies from the earth?
- How are we building upon what has come before us?
If human beings want to coexist peacefully and happily on this earth, I believe that I must focus on shifting my understanding, and a broader universal understanding, on how to successfully respond with the necessary tools that readily promote widespread ecosystem health.
About Ardor Wood Farm
This critical realization is what brought me to focus on soil, and soil is what led me to Karen and Graham at Ardor Wood Farm. My previous research was a stepping stone on my path to action, and Karen & Graham were willing to give me an opportunity to dig into tangible regenerative land practices locally. Ardor Wood Farm is a 67-acre farm located in Central Texas, about 45 minutes southeast of Austin. They raise a variety of animals, focusing on regenerative land management practices and raising the highest quality Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. The farm itself is mainly untouched Texas ecology, in a transition zone between the Blackland Prairies and Post Oak Savannah. However, the biggest problem here is abundant sand. With razor-thin topsoil and a thick layer of sand, this exceptionally poor soil lacks nitrogen. With sand, there is exceptionally low water retention and, therefore, faster rates of erosion. While this poses a serious challenge for fostering a healthier ecosystem, it is not without solutions.
Correcting the Bad Soil
There is no one right way to correct bad soil. It is done slowly and incrementally through various methods. I don’t know how quickly my efforts will show success, but together are passionately moving forward. Three main goals for Ardor Wood Farm are:
- Increase the soil’s organic carbon
- Improve water retention
- Increase microorganism populations.
Our proposed methods touch on each of these goals, and working toward one goal will positively affect the others. Solutions include digging trenches to run perpendicularly on downward-facing slopes. Trenches will be filled with mulch and leaves, and the excavated earth will be placed back on top, forming berms. These berms help slow down water as it travels downhill. Leaves and mulch act as a carbon source that will simultaneously hold water and provide a food source for soil microorganisms. Another project is to plant seed balls. Planting has similar results to berms but focuses on the surface of the soil, where wind and water erosion rates are the greatest. Seed balls germinate and generate roots; roots host microorganisms and provide structure to the soil, providing increased water retention. Seed balls also sprout and flower to provide many insects, like bees and butterflies, with food, improving pollination rates and honey production. These efforts are ideal for short to medium-term improvements, but we are also focusing on long-term approaches. Hot composting and worm composting work amazingly well at incorporating nutrients back into the soil, but take time to set up. These composting practices generate a steady flow of compost when well maintained. Once the soil is at a stage that generates thicker, fuller ground vegetation, we can start to incorporate rotational livestock grazing methods. This is not currently possible because the soil is too fragile, but eventually, this will also provide another enormous support that contributes vital nutrients and perpetuates healthy, natural plant cycles. Learn more about soil improvement here!
The health of the environment and our human well-being go hand in hand. The soil regeneration plan for this local farm is still in its first 5 years of recovery, but we are excited to continue on this journey. If you are interested in learning more about soil regeneration methods, please reach out to me, Ryan, at Ardor Wood Farm, with questions and join our growing Ardor Wood Farm Family. On May 1st, we plan to put these ideas into action through our first community educational-service day.
I wish you tremendous success in all your soil improvement endeavors!