Aroostook County Farmers are ‘Soil-ing’ their Underwear… for Science

From The County website

HOULTON, Maine (July 17, 2019) — Aroostook County’s three soil and water conservation district organizations are trying out an unusual experiment with area farmers this summer using “soiled underwear” to highlight soil health.

About a dozen farmers and gardeners around Aroostook County are participating in the project by burying all-cotton pairs of underwear in their gardens and crop fields, and planning to dig up what’s left of them in two months.

“The idea is that the more alive your soil, the more the undies will decompose,” said Angela Wotton, district manager at Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District. “It’s sort of a fun experiment. It’s a good visual for soil health.”

Numerous agricultural conservation organizations around North America have adopted the “Soil Your Undies” demonstration campaign as a way to get farmers and the general public thinking about soil health.

The more biologically active soil is, with a diversity of bacteria, fungi, earthworms and microorganisms, the quicker the cotton or other natural materials will break down. Agricultural fields with more soil life can better support crops and retain organic matter and nutrients over the long term.

In the last decade, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has helped more farmers adopt soil-building strategies such as cover crops planted over multi-year rotations of cash crops like potatoes and grains.

The demonstration in Aroostook County is a collaboration with the local offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Southern Aroostook, Central Aroostook and the St. John Valley.

Wotton credits the start of the initiative to Kelsey Ramerth, soil conservationist. The St. John Valley team will be digging up the underwear to display during the annual Ploye Festival Aug. 9-11 in Fort Kent.

Six farms are participating in Southern Aroostook from Benedicta to Bridgewater, representing a potato field, a cattle pasture, an organic oat field, and a no-till cover crop field, Wotton said.

“We put the challenge out there on Facebook and we’ve had other people get involved and they’re trying it on their own farms,” Wotton said. The underwear will be unearthed in September and displayed at the district’s office in Houlton.

“Our ultimate goal and our focus has been on building soil health. I feel like a lot of farmers in Southern Aroostook plant a fall or winter cover and try different combinations of cover crops. A picture is worth 1,000 words. It shows how alive the soil is,” said Wotton. “The farmers in our district have made a lot of gains. They’re doing a lot of work on their farms to focus on soil health.”

 

Piscataquis County SWCD – Pollinators! Workshop – August 16, 2019

Dover-Foxcroft, ME – Pollinators are vital to food production all over the world. In Maine, examples of well-known pollinators include butterflies, birds, beetles and of course, bees. In June, the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District worked with local volunteers to plant our Pollinator Sunflower Garden, a garden space for the public to enjoy, observe and learn about native pollinators. In celebration of this new addition to the Law Farm, the PCSWCD will be holding a free Pollinators! event on Friday, August 16 from 10 a.m. – noon at the Law Farm. For more information, visit the PCSWCD website.

 

Conservation Districts Announce Natural Resources Assessment Survey and Meetings

Maine Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), in cooperation with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), are conducting a Natural Resources Assessment (NRA) across the state and need the help of Maine’s citizens! The goal is to determine natural resource priorities so that Districts and NRCS can assist landowners, professionals, and municipalities with best management practices that protect and improve land and water resources.

To gather this information, Districts are distributing a statewide survey (available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JQ5GPL5) and holding local meetings to document natural resource conservation concerns and to build on the data collected in the first assessment, completed in 2011. The priorities articulated in the survey and meetings will inform state and local natural resource programs and funding opportunities in the coming five year cycle.

According to Dale Finseth, Executive Director of Kennebec SWCD, “The Natural Resources Assessment process is a great opportunity for people who may or may not own land, and may or may not be associated with a conservation organization to express their conservation priorities by completing a survey or participating in a free-wheeling discussion at a locally held meeting. The results of this process stand to have a broad reach starting with your local conservation district on up to the state level. The Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, DEP, and state legislators are already anxious to see the survey results.”

Joe Dembeck, Executive Director of Somerset County SWCD, coordinated the development of the 2016 NRA survey to help guide the assessment process. Dembeck said, “This year’s survey will be distributed by all 16 conservation districts and will address statewide conservation concerns as well as give us the chance to drill down to local issues and priorities. We are asking that all citizens make their voices heard by participating in the assessment, whether by completing a survey or attending a local meeting.”

To encourage participation, some conservation districts will enter everyone who completes a survey – or attends a meeting – into a drawing for an exciting prize. Districts encourage farmers, woodland owners, resource professionals, and members of the general public to take advantage of this opportunity to make your voice heard. The survey may be accessed online at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JQ5GPL5, or you may contact your local conservation district for a paper copy at maineconservationdistricts.com/district-locations.

Preliminary survey results will be available at local, county level meetings that will be scheduled throughout the month of March. Join friends and neighbors at a local meeting for a lively discussion about protecting Maine’s natural resources and complete a survey to be eligible for a prize.

For more information about the Natural Resources Assessment, to access the online survey, to contact your local conservation district, or to find out when your county meeting will be held, please visit the Maine Association of Conservation Districts website at maineconservationdistricts.com.

USDA-NRCS and Maine Association of Conservation Districts are equal opportunity providers and employers.

Conservation Districts in Maine Integral to Statewide Natural Resources Initiatives

The Maine Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) recently convened at the Spectacular Events Center in Bangor for its Annual Winter Meetings. The 16 conservation districts in Maine that were represented at the meeting serve as the bridge between citizens and local, state and federal agencies. They provide conservation leadership, teach the value of natural resources, and help plan and implement voluntary programs to both prevent and solve local environmental problems. They work with many partners to provide assistance to the public for their use of land, soil, water, wildlife, forest, plants and other natural resources.

At this meeting preparations were made for several statewide conservation initiatives, including natural resource assessments to be conducted in Spring, 2016, throughout all counties in Maine. These assessments, to be conducted in partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will help determine local conservation priorities and also provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating NRCS technical and financial conservation assistance in Maine.

Presentations were also made on the numerous soil health initiatives underway in Maine. Dr. Brandon Smith, the Northeast Team Leader for new NRCS Soil Health Division, and Tony Jenkins, NRCS State Resource Conservationist, spoke about the soil health challenges facing farmers. They also discussed NRCS plans for a broader adoption of agriculture management practices that will maintain or enhance soil functions. “Healthy, and sustainable agricultural soils are measured by ecological factors such as organic matter and biology, as well as by economic values, such as agricultural productivity and crop yields,” Jenkins explained.

The meeting also addressed a number of soil health initiatives to assist potato farmers in Aroostook County. Angie Wotton, Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Director and Kassy Michaud, Central Aroostook SWCD Executive Director, gave presentations on their work with multiple public and private partners, including the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) and the Maine Potato Board, to help potato farmers improve soil health. These initiatives will also help farmers prevent soil erosion and improve water quality using innovative cover cropping, green manures and other technical assistance provided through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners.

A MACD Advisory Council Meeting with DACF’s Commissioner Walt Whitcomb focused on the gains being made in local, sustainable agriculture in Maine. Whitcomb noted that “Maine is the largest agricultural producing state in New England, and the state has prime farming soils and a lot of untapped potential,” with Maine’s primary agricultural products being potatoes, blueberries, apples, eggs, dairy and maple syrup. Whitcomb also noted that the DACF is going to continue to make the partnership with conservation districts a cost-efficient and effective local delivery system.

A recently awarded DACF Invasive Forest Pest grant will provide outreach and education in several counties in Maine through the MACD Employees Committee Technical Delivery Team. The outreach and education will serve to prevent the spread of invasive pests to Maine, and also to contain invasive pests that have already come to the state. Because Maine’s well-managed forests provide an approximate $8 billion industry each year in Maine, from forest products and the forest-based recreation economy, monitoring, management and education are all important to sustaining the state’s forestlands. Jeannie Federico, Oxford County SWCD Education and Outreach Coordinator, spoke of the threat to Maine’s forests from the Emerald Ash Borer and other invasive pests, and said, “There are lessons to be learned from those states that have already been damaged by these invasive pests, in addition to all the research now being done to slow their spread. By educating the public, Maine’s conservation districts can help to mitigate the damage to its beautiful forests.”

During the MACD Board of Director’s Meeting, the torch was passed to Bruce Talley of Medford, Maine, to begin his three-year tenure as the newly elected MACD President. Talley, who also serves as a Supervisor of the Piscataquis County SWCD, notes that “healthy soil and water are as essential as the air that we breathe.” He is excited to work with conservation districts throughout Maine, and their conservation partners, to plan, implement and manage the state’s natural resources for future generations.

2016 MACD Leadership

2016 MACD Leadership