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Soil Health (BF 110)

Building the Farm from the Ground Up

The health and productivity of the soil forms the basis for any farm’s success, profitability, and ecological sustainability. Successful farmers need to develop a holistic approach to preserving and building soil health and fertility. Stewardship of the soil is arguably the most important job of any farmer or gardener.


“From this course, I learned a substantial amount about the overall picture of soil health and how I might use that information to improve my soils in the future – it must be the primary focus, and the key to running a profitable agribusiness.” – John,  New York farmer


Target Audience

ALL LEVELS — This course is for field crop, vegetable, and livestock producers.  We expect that students will have some experience in managing soils, even if minimal. Farmers looking for more productive soils to increase forage and crop production will benefit from taking this course. 


Course Objectives

At the end of this course, participants will:

  • Understand soil properties and how it affects growing crops and pasture.
  • Learn how to “read the land” and improve the four ecosystem processes.
  • Develop knowledge of the characteristics of healthy soils and how to measure them.
  • Determine appropriate soil practices to improve soil health
  • Begin work on a soil health improvement plan for their farm


The bulk of the course happens on your own time, with discussions, readings, and assignments in MOODLE, our virtual classroom. To add to the experience, webinars will be woven into the online interface of the course to allow you to meet on a weekly basis to learn from presenters and ask questions in real time. If you miss one, they are always recorded and posted for later viewing.



Elizabeth Marks is a certified educator with Holistic Management International and biologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Tues February 26 – Tues April 2, 2019, with webinars on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 – 8pm Eastern time. Registration for this course is closed. It will next be offered in Spring 2020.

Course Outline

Week 1: Foundation Principles: Introduction to Basic Soil Science and Soil Health Introduction to basic information about soils – type, texture, properties, and how figure out what type of soils you have on your farm.

Week 2: Understanding the Ecosystem Processes
This week we’ll learn about the four ecosystem processes: water cycle, mineral cycle, community dynamics, and energy flow and how they relate to soil health.  Strategies on how to improve theses processes will be discussed.

Week 3: Ecosystem Processes Continued and Improving Soil Health With Plants
We’ll continue to talk about the ecosystem processes and how to improve soil health with the help of plants (cover crops).  A guest speaker will talk about how they improve soil health on their organic no-till vegetable farm.

Week 4: Using Animals to Improve Soil Health
This week we’ll learn the impact animals can have on soil health.  We’ll hear from a farmer how he improves soil through livestock.

Week 5: Tillage, Nutrients, and Soil Amendments
In week 5 we will learn about different types of nutrients and how to maintain healthy levels in your soil.  We’ll go over what to test for and how to read your test.  We’ll also talk about tillage.

Week 6: Review, Questions, and Monitoring
This week we put it all together into a soil health plan and learn about ways to monitor your progress. We’ll also hear from another farmer how she improves soil health on her farm and what monitoring she has in place to check her progress.

Cost and Registration

Registration for this course is closed. It will next be offered in Spring 2020.

Fee for this course is $250

Sign up a month or more in advance of the start date and receive $25 off.