By Amanda Cather, Project Director
The birth of a website is a milestone for any project, the moment it goes from ‘in the ether’ to ‘in the world’ — at least the virtual world. We hope the Million Acre Challenge website will become an important resource for farmers looking for information about the benefits of soil health and how they can work towards it on their own farms.
As we’ve worked toward this moment over the past year, we’ve been inspired by farmers across the country and in our own backyards who, despite the challenges of the growing season and a global pandemic, have worked so hard to bring the principles of soil health to life on their operations. We are excited to feature some of these farmers in our very first Million Acre Challenge video, coming soon and others in our online farmer stories. These first-person narratives bring the scientific and economic cases for healthy soil brilliantly to life, in living color, and remind us that healthy soils and prosperous farms also lead to a legacy that farmers can pass down to their children with pride, even in the toughest of circumstances.
Regenerative agriculture — the idea that farming methods that improve soil and ecosystem health can also enhance farm profitability and help mitigate climate change — is having a moment. That moment doesn’t seem to be diminished by the fact that everyone seems to give it a different definition, and that these definitions range from ‘extreme organic farming’ to ‘corporate ag greenwashing’. At the Million Acre Challenge, we signed on to the idea of regenerative agriculture as a big-tent shorthand for the potential of farmers to rebuild ecosystems and communities by focusing on outcomes and impacts that any farm can improve: soil health, water quality, biodiversity, and profitability, among others.
Those farms who are digging into this work already are our lodestars — though really, they are more of a lode constellation: a group of farms of different sizes and production systems across the state that are innovating and learning every day, and providing an example to others as mentors and champions. The farms that are ready to set out on their own path, whether that looks like adding a species to a cover crop, reducing one tillage pass per crop, diversifying their rotation and decreasing inputs by grazing a cover crop, or converting continuous pasture to rotational grazing, are our partners.
In my dream world, every farmer that takes a look at this website would join the Million Acre Challenge, starting with a self-assessment survey and moving on to observations, soil health testing, and soil health planning for their own farms. Every farmer would recognize the potential for soil health to form a solid foundation for regenerative agriculture on their operations, and every consumer would recognize the power of healthy soils to grow healthy crops, support strong farm economies and communities, and contribute to the well-being of our region’s ecosystems, families, and climate.
There is no magic bullet for all of the challenges we face here at the end of 2020. Healthy soil, though, may be as close as we can get. Join us today to make 2021 a year of progress and prosperity for Maryland’s farms.