By Garland Mason
We all know that Vermont’s farms are incredibly diverse, but not everyone knows that what’s below the soil’s surface can be just as varied as what’s grown above. There are literally hundreds of soil types in Vermont. Some aren’t distinguishable from one another to the untrained eye, and others look completely distinct.
Most farms have at least a few different soil types on-site. Some soils are more stony or gravelly than others; some are characterized by clay or sand. Some soils hold moisture, giving an advantage to certain farms in a drought year; other soils are well drained, giving an advantage to other farms in a wet year.
Some soils, labeled as prime agricultural soils, are best suited to crops—fruits, vegetables, or certain animal feeds like corn. Other soils are best suited for pasture or hayland, these soils are often classified as “soils of statewide importance.” Then there are soils like those found on steep mountain slopes which are shallow to bedrock. Or those in swampy wetlands are often classified as muck soils, which are not suitable for cultivation or building of any sort. It may surmise you to know that the entire city of Rutland is situated on some of the most excellent prime agricultural soils around—likely one of the reasons so many early pioneers found Rutland to be a good place to settle down.
Developing a good understanding of the types of soils present on a farm can help farmers plan for production or infrastructure improvements. On the morning of Wednesday, November 6th, RAFFL will host a workshop that will give aspiring and beginning farmers the tools needed to become better stewards of their soils.
The workshop will be held at Two Dog Farm and neighboring Smokey House Center in Danby. During the three-hour workshop Two Dog Farm will be used as a case study. At Two Dog Farm, Sue Katt and Steve Cash grow fruits and vegetables and raise livestock on a small parcel of land comprised of three distinct soil types. The workshop will begin with a tour of the site so participants can get a sense of the farm’s geography.
Following the tour, Ben Waterman, coordinator of the Land Access Program at UVM’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture, will present on such topics as soil analysis, water and nutrient resource management and planning for infrastructure improvements. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about identifying and managing perched water tables, assessing and managing soil texture and soil structure, and field verifying soils maps. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss strategies for improving drainage and water source development in detail.
Following the outdoor portion of the workshop, participants will move inside to Smokey House’s warm classroom space for a tutorial on how to use the new online Natural Resource Atlas developed by Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Erik Engstrom, one of the developers of the new Atlas, will show participants how to use the online tool for quickly and easily measuring area, mapping soil types and explaining their characteristics, assessing the likelihood of flooding, and calculating the slope of a parcel.
The ANR map is an interesting tool for homeowners and farmers alike. It could be useful to builders and prospective homeowners, as the map offers details regarding the suitability of a site for building based on soils, slope, and flooding hazards. The acreage and rough property lines of a parcel of land are even searchable on the map in certain towns.
The November 6th workshop will give farmers the opportunity to better understand their soils and moisture management techniques, as well as additional insight into the nuances of their farmland in planning for infrastructure improvements or for scouting land to lease or buy. Detailed farmland mapping, as demonstrated by Erik, can also be useful as recordkeeping and production planning tools.
This workshop will take place rain or shine. The beginning portion of the workshop will take place outside unless there is a drenching rain or an electrical storm, so please come prepared for the weather. Farmers are welcome to bring a laptop to try mapping their property on the Natural Resource Atlas during the workshop.
Following the workshop, participants are invited to stay and eat a bagged lunch while sharing insights and ideas.
Garland Mason works for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, heading up the New Farmer Initiative and Farm to School and Institution activities. She lives and farms West Tinmouth. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.