Pictured above: Fred Schoenagel, NRCS, explained a variety of indicators that tell us what is going on in the life in the soil.

The Foodshed Alliance hosted our first field day at the Sustainable Agriculture Enterprises site in Andover, NJ on August 8, 2023. The field day consisted of four workshops with knowledgeable presenters, ripe with engaging discussion with fellow life-long learners who came to participate in the day. 

The first discussion was about the wonders of soil analysis hosted by Fred Schoenagel, Resource Soil Scientist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Did you know that less is known about all the soils of the Earth than discoveries in the deep ocean?! There is so much that goes into soil analysis, and as an NRCS field soil scientist, Fred has a deep well of information to share about the mysteries beneath our feet. By digging two pits in different locations in one plot at the Sussex County Community College Student Farm, Fred was able to show participants different soil horizons and explain a variety of indicators that can tell us a bit about what is going on in the life in the soil.

Second, we heard from Erin Shroll, Sussex County Community College Agriculture Business Supervisor and manager of the SCCC Student Farm (a SAgE farm tenant), about her recent learnings from experiments with Regenerative Cover Cropping practices, the importance of plant diversity, and ecological bio-amendments. Professor Shroll shared that a recent discovery in soil science by Dr. Christine Jones has shown that four plants from four different families that are not nitrogen fixing on their own, when grown together for a cover crop are able to fix more nitrogen in the soil than a single nitrogen fixing plant. Participants got to explore the student farm’s worm composting set up, where food scraps are being broken down by thousands of composting worms to produce a highly potent and nutritious bio-amendment for the farm’s plants.

After lunch provided generously by our neighbors at Bristol Glen Communities, we learned from Kass Urban-Mead, Xerces Society, about the magical world of native pollinators and their important habitats. There are so many amazing species of pollinating creatures, some insects that are so specialized that we only see them out pollinating for about 2 weeks out of the year when their special plant is in bloom. Attendees got to go out into the fields and safely capture an insect that they found on a flower to analyze the species and its pollinating capabilities. All participants also got some take home flyers to apply some practical tactics for supporting native and specialized pollinators.

To finish off the day, Devin Cornia, executive director of NOFA-NJ, demonstrated the BCS two-wheel walk-behind tractor. Participants got to try it for themselves and see a bed be prepped in less than 20 minutes! After the BCS demo, Cornia showed the group a Soil MicroBiometer, a new tool for testing soil and getting results in real time. Some participants stayed after to tour on-site farms and connect with fellow farmers and participants.

Foodshed Alliance is looking forward to hosting more events like this in the future. If you have suggestions, ideas, feedback, or if you missed the day and would like to see some of the resources shared, please reach out to TessM@FoodshedAlliance.org.

RESOURCES

Soil Analysis with Fred Schoenagel, NRCS
Regenerative Cover Cropping & Plant Diversity with Erin Shroll, SCCC Ag Business

BCS & Soil Microbiometer Demos with Devin Cornia, NOFA-NJ