Soil Health Technical Assistance:

Health SoilNOFA/Mass is a majority farmer-run organization and our staff and board have a wide range of experience and skills in soil health and fertility, organic production and certification, and best practices around potentially contaminated soils. We offer affordable technical assistance including soil lab analysis and inputs recommendations, soil health analysis, organic certification, and custom technical support.

See the menu below for our various technical support programs, or contact us at soilhealth@nofamass.org if you have a specific technical support need that you think our Soil Technical Assistance team might be able to help you with.

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NOFA/Mass Soil Technical Assistance Program Staff are eager to help you understand what’s currently in your soil and what you can do to it to help your farm or garden flourish with productivity. Healthy soils are filled with life, well-structured, and have the right amount of minerals to, collectively, help your crops thrive. These biological, chemical, and physical characteristics must be balanced and evaluated holistically. As such, we offer a range of soil technical services for farmers, homesteaders, gardeners, and land managers that cater to learning more about their soil’s characteristics.

Soil Testing and Recommendations (Chemical Analysis)
A soil chemical test is an essential component of well-managed soils. A chemical test can quantify the nutrient and mineral content of your soil, and give you the information you need to confidently amend your soil while preventing over application of fertilizers, which can be costly and environmentally-damaging. NOFA/Mass Soil Technical Assistance Program Staff can help by interpreting your soil test and giving you recommendations as to what amendments are best to apply, and when. We will work with you in developing a plan that meets your production goals, utilizing any amendments you’ve already purchased and providing recommendations for additional amendments. Follow the steps below to initiate your Soil Test Analysis and Recommendations:

1. If you do not have a recent soil test: Get a Soil Test with Analysis & Recommendation
Soil chemical testing is the first step into balancing your soil mineral profile. If you don’t have a recent soil test, request a Soil Test with Analysis & Recommendation through our online ordering page. We will follow up with instructions regarding how to collect and submit your soil sample to Logan Labs, our partner for soil mineral analysis. Logan Labs will send your soil analysis report directly to us, and we will provide amendment recommendations to you based upon your report.

2. If you do have a recent soil test: Get an Analysis & Recommendation Only
If you already have a recent soil test, request an Analysis & Recommendation Only using our online ordering system. Upon ordering, you will be able to upload your soil test results and the NOFA/Mass Soil Fertility Technical Assistance Staff will start their analysis once it’s received.

Soil Health Assessment (Soil Carbon — Physical and Macro-Biological Analysis)
Healthy soils are living soils, and soil life is carbon and stores carbon. Diverse soil organisms use carbon to form their bodies and to form complex carbon molecules that create pores in and support diverse habitats in the soil.  As soil organisms build their own habitats and participate in communities with plants, they manage nutrients, water, and carbon in the soil, buffer against drought and flooding rains, and keep plants healthy and all life more resilient. The greater the health and diversity of life in the soil, the more carbon it will hold and the more resilient our land systems will be in weather extremes.

The Soil Health Assessment (Soil Carbon) uses quantitative and qualitative metrics to give an overall assessment of the level of biodiversity and biological activity in the soil, which can be used as a proxy to assess soil carbon levels. These tests will help you get an idea of how well your soils are supporting life and storing carbon.

Of course, soils are complex and not easy to compare to each other, but variations in the same plot of soil over time can provide meaningful information about the impact of management practices. One day of tests will provide some indicators of soil health and provide the land manager with a snapshot of the tested area and recommendations for addressing resource concerns. Repeated annual tests (or even every other year) will provide information about change over time and allow the land manager to see the impact of their growing practices on soil health outcomes.

We’ll come to your site to run a comprehensive series of field tests for you.  After the visit, we will send you the results of the tests and our analysis of what the data means in terms of your soil health and relative carbon levels. We will also provide you with recommendations tailored to your site, results, and goals. For more info or to bring us to your site, please email  soilhealth@nofamass.org.

Soil Microbiological Assessment
Does your soil have the proper biology to grow the crops you intend to? Our Microbiological Assessment will tell you just that. This test is performed via shadowing microscopy with a compound microscope to certain specifications. A soil report with a biomass count of the trophic levels of concern (i.e. bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes) will be provided along with a statistical evaluation. We will also provide you with an interpretation of these results that will give you an understanding of which stage of succession your soil is in and the ideal organism counts you need based upon the crops you intend to grow.

Visit our online ordering site to learn more about the services we offer and to book a test online. Contact the Soil Technical Assistance Program Staff at soilhealth@nofamass.org if you have any general questions regarding the services we offer and how to schedule the services you need. As a reminder, NOFA/Mass members receive 25% off all of our Soil Testing and Technical Services. Visit our Member Services page for more information on how to become a member.

If you think you might have lead or other heavy metals in your soil, and if you are growing in an urban or industrial area, you may need some testing and support.

Anna Gilbert-Muhammad teaching

Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Equity Director and Food Access Program Coordinator

Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Equity Director and Food Access Program Coordinator for NOFA/Mass, is knowledgeable on the topic of urban soils and heavy metals and may be able to help you address issues with potential contamination in your soil. If you think you might have lead or other heavy metals in your soil, and if you are growing in an urban or industrial area, please note that you have to specially request lead testing (extra fee required) if you get a soil test from Logan Labs. Alternatively, UMass Amherst does an inexpensive heavy metal test as a part of their regular soil analysis. If you go this route, it would be very helpful for us to see both the UMass and Logan Labs test reports as having these two very different tests give a unique perspective to nutrient availability in your soil. Reach Anna: anna@nofamass.org

If your soil is having functional issues such as erosion, hydrophobia (difficulty absorbing and retaining moisture) or other issues with the physical properties of the soil you may need a soil health assessment. Check out our Soil Health Assessment (Soil Carbon) section in our Soil Technical Assistance & Monitoring section, above, for more info on this and the other soil health services we offer.

Want to get your farm certified organic and don’t know where to start? Stuck on portions of the organic application for certification? New to your farm and want to start your farming career as certified organic? Don’t let the myths of organic certification prevent you from giving your customers the confidence they have come to expect in the certified organic label.

NOFA/Mass has been around for 40 years educating organic farming techniques and, once upon a time prior to 2002, we use to certify farms as well. We leave the certifying and inspecting up to Baystate Organic Certifiers. Because they are a regulatory body, Baystate Organic Certifiers cannot consult, educate, advise you on certification as much as they would like to. Thus, they trained NOFA/Mass on the ins and outs of the organic system plans, enabling us to assist and help you better understand the certification process. Our continued education with Baystate allows us to be as knowledgeable as possible on all current forms, practices, and regulations. If we don’t have the answer, rest assured we will find one.

In 2014-15 NOFA/Mass and Baystate Organic Certifiers completed some project work that was funded by the USDA Sound & Sensible program. Please check out some of our local farms and certified operations on this video.

There are many more Sound & Sensible tools that have been developed by other farming and certifying organizations throughout the country. Check out our resources page.

Who is answering my emails?

Laura Davis is a NOFA/Mass Board Member and the Certification Assistance Coordinator, and is owner and farmer at Long Life Farm in Hopkinton, MA. Long Life Farm is a diversified vegetable farm that was certified organic in April 2013 by Baystate Organic Certifiers. Laura is also an Organic Inspector for both farms and processors and a Massachusetts Farmer Consultant for American Farmland Trust. Please email lauradavis@nofamass.org or call 508-596-1651 with your inquiries. She looks forward to hearing from you!

ORGANIC CERTIFICATION RESOURCES

What’s Going on Down There? Soil Health, Soil Physical or Biological Assessment, and Climate Change Resilience for Growers, Gardeners, and Land Managers

We can come to your farm, event, business site, organization, neighborhood group, gardening club, school, etc. to do an informative presentation and demo of soil health principles and how soil relates to climate and more.

We offer a mini “field day” model, walking participants through the DIY Soil Health Analysis (Soil Carbon) procedure and more: after a tour of the host farm or garden, we’ll present a range of lab-based soil test results and demonstrate field protocols for monitoring soil health that you can do in your own garden or fields. We’ll also discuss how these tests inform each other and help you the grower to better work with your soil biology for better soil function and climate resilience. This option dovetails with the Soil  Technical Assistance and Monitoring services and is an opportunity to get a free Soil Health Assessment performed on your property while helping yourself and others in your community learn about soil health and climate-friendly management practices.

For more info or to bring us to your site, contact us at soilhealth@nofamass.org.

Do you have a special technical support need? NOFA/Mass is a majority farmer-run organization and we have a range of expertise within our network. Contact the Soil Technical Assistance Program Staff to describe your technical assistance need. We will let you know if we can help you with your specific request, and if we can, we will work with you to create a custom plan and budget for your needs.

The NOFA/Mass Technical Assistance Team includes Laura Davis, Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Christine Manuck, and Rubén Parrilla, who work together with others at NOFA/Mass to help you achieve your management and production goals.

Laura Davis oversees all aspects of the Organic Certification Program and leads the Soil Testing Analysis & Recommendations for soil chemistry. She is the go-to for organic compliance and certification questions at NOFA/Mass.

Anna Gilbert-Muhammad is the Food Access Program Director and performs Soil Test Analysis & Recommendations for soil chemistry, Soil Health Assessment testing. She is a wealth of knowledge on urban farms and soils and is available to lead both urban and rural events and workshops.

Christine Manuck is a point person for the Soil Technical Services Team and manages emails and technical inquires pertaining to soils and the services provided by NOFA/Mass.

Rubén Parrilla leads and performs all components of NOFA/Mass soil technical services, including Soil Test Analysis & Recommendations for soil chemistry, Soil Health Assessment testing, and Soil Microbiological Qualitative Assessments. He is an incredible soil health knowledge resource and leads urban and rural events and workshops. Finalmente, Rubén es bilingüe y quiere saber de usted.

 

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