Local farmers join in to cultivate good soil health

VERMONT — Fifteen Vermont farmers — including two in Addison County — are taking the time during their busy 2021 growing season to gather, learn from experts, and share knowledge about soil.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) launched the Soil Health Stewards program in April to honor the legacy and wisdom of Jack Lazor, an organic farming pioneer and the co-founder of Butterworks Farm, who died last November. 

Cultivating soil health is a key organic farming practice and was one of Lazor’s passions. He was well-known in Vermont’s agricultural community for mentoring younger farmers and sharing his extensive knowledge around soil health best practices, livestock and farming in Vermont.

While healthy soils have always been a cornerstone of organic and sustainable farming practices, the subject has received increased attention in recent years as farmers in the Northeast and around the country feel the effects of climate change more intensively and frequently — including Vermont’s ongoing drought. Healthy soils are critical for healthy crops, and good yields, and help to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change by retaining moisture, encouraging biodiversity, and sequestering carbon.

The 15 farmers that make up the inaugural Soil Health Stewards cohort are meeting regularly this summer for farmer-to-farmer education, workshops, and relationship building. The goal of the program is to build community through knowledge-sharing about soil health and pasture management best practices that lead to both short-term climate resilience as well as long-term systems change.

“The farmers that make up this inaugural Soil Health Stewards cohort embody Jack’s spirit of collaboration and community,” said Grace Oedel, NOFA-VT’s executive director. “In this way, the funds that launched this program will continue to pay it forward and build community around soil health, honoring Jack’s legacy for years to come.”

Soil Health Steward Mara Hearst of Levy Lamb Farm in West Pawlet met Jack Lazor over seven years ago while exploring her interest in growing grain to feed livestock as an employee at Someday Farm in Dorset. Now in her fourth season running her own farm, she is grateful to have a group of farmers to continue learning with.

“I took it for granted that I could call Jack anytime and ask him anything,” Hearst said. “It’s so great to have this group of farmers to ask questions of and who ask questions I didn’t even know I had.”

The inaugural Soil Health Stewards cohort includes: Kelsey and Phelan O’Connor of Pigasus Meats (South Hero); Melanie and Patrick Harrison of Addison County; Danielle Zimmerman of Maeflower Farms (Rupert); Serena Best of Ancestral Farm (White River Junction); Mara Hearst of Levy Lamb Farm (Dorset); Guy and Matt Choiniere of Choiniere Family Farm (Highgate Center); Ashlyn Bristle of Rebop Farm (Brattleboro); Dan & Laurie Brooks of Wayward Goose Farm (West Pawlet); Chad and Morgan Beckwith of Ice House Farm (Goshen); and Christine Lazor of Butterworks Farm (Westfield).

This inaugural year of NOFA-VT’s Soil Health Stewards program was made possible with generous support from the Lazor family, Stonyfield Organic and Organic Valley.

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