St. Louis Science Center Exhibit Helps Spread the Word about Soil
Since 1935 the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has worked with farmers to voluntarily help them care for the soil that is the basis of all life on land. Spreading the word about soil health to farmers is a daily occurrence for NRCS employees, partners and volunteers. This year, NRCS will take part in an Earth Day event at the St. Louis Science Center that will launch an exhibit to help spread the word to a predominantly urban audience.
The Science Center will launch its All American Soils exhibit on Saturday, April 22, in its Grow agricultural gallery. The exhibit will include 54 soil monoliths, representing all U.S. states and territories.
Mattie Earnest, manager of the Grow exhibit, said the All American Soils display will be a permanent home for the monoliths, which previously were part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The display will be assembled the week leading up to Earth Day, and will be open during regular Science Center operating hours. The Science Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on April 22.
NRCS State Conservationist J.R. Flores, who will be at an NRCS booth in the GROW exhibit on Earth Day, said the exhibit will serve an important purpose because healthy soils are important to all people, not just farmers. He said he hopes the exhibit will help people understand soil better.
For example, he said that many people think of soil as an inert growing medium. But healthy soil is alive with billions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that are the foundation of an elegant symbiotic ecosystem. In fact, there are more living organisms in one teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on Earth.
“Healthy soils reduce production costs and improve profits for farmers, but they also protect natural resources on and off the farm,” Flores said.
Flores said healthy soils produce higher yields, which will become increasingly important for a world population that is expected to increase from 7 billion people to 9 billion people by the year 2050.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that healthy soils hold more water for use by plants,” Flores said. “The soil’s water-holding capacity reduces runoff that can cause flooding and it increases the availability of water to plants during droughts. It also prevents manure, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides from washing with the soil into lakes, rivers and streams. Groundwater is also protected because there is less leaching.”
Flores cites four management steps that farmers can use to improve the health of the soils under their care: use plant diversity to increase the diversity of organisms in the soil; do not disturb the soil by tilling it; keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil; and keep the soil covered as much as possible.
NRCS offers free technical assistance and also financial assistance to help people protect the health of soil and other natural resources. More information is available from local NRCS offices serving each county, as well as on the NRCS website: www.nrcs.usda.gov.