Better soil, better crops, better yields — seems simple, right?
“People who might be on different sides politically can come together on the issue of soil health; there is very little controversy around it,” says Darya Watnick ’21 MEM.
The tricky part is bringing together numerous stakeholders, with varying interests, to develop meaningful, lasting soil health policy. To that end, Watnick and Abbey Warner ’21 MEM have authored an innovative guide, Soil Health Policy: Developing Community-Driven State Soil Health Policy and Programs, which they hope will provide practical advice for people interested in establishing programs to support agricultural producers implementing soil health practices.
Watnick and Warner developed the guide over the past year by interviewing dozens of practitioners and other experts in farming, climate adaptation, policymaking, sustainable investment, coalition-building, and related fields. The guide provides support for engaging policymakers, networking, outreach, policy writing, implementation, monitoring for soil-relevant outcomes, and funding this work.
The idea to create a guide for soil health policy began in Colorado, where Watnick worked with the nonprofit Mad Agriculture and Ground Up consultant Max Neumeyer at the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils while a student at YSE. The experience gave her a look at the inner workings of soil health practices and policymaking, culminating in the adoption of a soil health bill in Colorado last summer.
“It was a very community-driven effort and earned large support,” says Watnick. “We started hearing from a number of people asking, ‘How can we do this here?’ So, we came up with the idea to write it all down so others didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Watnick teamed with Warner — who also gained relevant agricultural experience in Colorado as a former intern with Colorado Open Lands while at YSE — in fall 2020 to begin background research for the guide. The duo was also supported by the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, a student-led effort that aims to influence decision-making to support and invest in regenerative agricultural models.