What can help farmers weather literal and figurative storms caused by economic uncertainty, damaging floods and droughts, and the growing threat of climate change? Believe it or not, the answer may be beneath your feet (if you’re walking on a farm field, that is!).
Soil is the foundation of our food system, and healthy soil gives the land the capacity to produce robust crops. It is a living ecosystem teeming with bacteria, fungi, and microbes. However, years of widespread unsustainable farming practices have decimated the soil’s natural ecosystem. The United Nations predicts the world has about 60 harvests left if we do nothing and continue to deplete the soil.
We can’t afford that risk.
That’s why The Hatcher Group was thrilled to partner with five nonprofit organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Fair Farms (a project of Waterkeepers Chesapeake), Future Harvest, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, to receive a prestigious 2019 Stanley Initiative Award from the Town Creek Foundation to launch a new project focused on soil health, or regenerative agriculture, in Maryland – and hopefully beyond.
The Million Acre Challenge is a farmer-driven collaborative to connect local farmers of all backgrounds with the latest research on healthy soil practices and groups where they can learn from each other about which practices are best for their farms.
Our mission is to help Maryland farmers build soil health, increase farm profitability, and improve water quality – while making farms resilient and active in the face of climate change. Our farmer-focused collaborative uses soil health science, economics, education, and incentives to achieve our mission.
Our goal? No fewer than one million agricultural acres in Maryland using healthy soil techniques by 2030!
Hatcher leads the public outreach work for the new project to educate, engage, and empower a public constituency who understands and supports soil health practices. To date, we’ve collaborated with our partners to establish Million Acre Challenge’s mission, vision, and values; to create new branding and a Graphic Design USA award-winning logo; to reach farmers who may want to join the challenge; and to launch new social media platforms and a new website so we can better share information.
We’re also working to help tell the stories of farmers who are exploring new (and old) ways to increase soil health – and improve their bottom line – so they can share what they’ve learned with others. And we’re educating consumers about why they should consider supporting farmers working to improve their soil.
Healthy soil practices, like no-tilling or cover crops, can restore the land for generations to come. Studies also show that these techniques can increase farmer profits, improve water quality, and help fight climate change – it’s a win-win-win. The challenge is sharing this information and research with farmers, who are busy year-round and running on tight budgets.
The world faces big challenges and tackling them requires intentional and coordinated action. Today’s farmers can be a key part of the solution to these challenges. We believe through the Million Acre Challenge, we can find common ground among farmers, profitability, resilience, and the environment – by way of healthy soil. While we’re just getting started, we’re so excited about where we’re going!
To learn more about Million Acre Challenge, visit: http://www.millionacrechallenge.org/
By Dawn Stoltzfus, Senior Vice President