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Soil Health (BF 110)

Building the Farm from the Ground UpBf110Soil

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 what soil health is and why is it important for the farm.
  • 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.

Erica Frenay is the livestock specialist with the Cornell Small Farms Program, and also owns and operates Shelterbelt Farm, producing perennial fruits and grass-fed meats near Ithaca, NY.


Tues February 26 – Tues April 2, 2019, with webinars on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 – 8pm Eastern time. Webinars are also recorded for later viewing if you aren’t able to attend live.

Course Outline

Week 1: Foundation Principles: Basic Soil Science and Soil Health Concepts
Topics covered: Navigating in Moodle (our online classroom), course expectations, introduction to basic soil science and health concepts.

Week 2: Starting with Blueprints: Assessing the Characteristics of Soil Health 
Topics covered: Participants will be introduced to a variety of soil health assessment tools and how to use them to meet their individual farm goals. Activity this week will help students collect direct information and customized data on the health of their farm’s soil resource.

Week 3: The Soil Health Toolbox: From Tillage to Manures (both Green and Brown) 
Topics covered: Methods to improve soil health and ways producers can increase soil productivity, including strategies for reducing tillage, application of manure or compost, and use of cover crops.

Week 4: Doing the Groundwork: How to Use Soil Health Tools on Your Operation
Topics covered: This week we’ll continue to discuss methods to improve soil health and how producers can integrate soil health methods that fit their farming style. We’ll dig deeper into nutrient cycles, fertilizer basics, animal manures, other soil amendments along with making and using compost.

Week 5: Breaking Ground: Implementing a Soil Health Strategy
Topics covered:  Developing a management plan with soil health in mind; creating a road map for you to implement on your farm. Every farm is unique, soil health management planning worksheet is this week’s tool to assist participants in assessment of their soil resources.

Week 6: Wrap-up  
Topics covered: Remaining questions, troubleshooting farm-specific challenges. We will have 2 guest speaker this week sharing what has worked on their vegetable or livestock operation to improve soil health and enhance their bottom-line.

Cost and Registration

Fee for this course is $250. Registration closes on Sunday February 17 at 11:59pm.

Sign up a month or more in advance of the start date and receive $25 off. Sign up for three or more courses and received $50 off your total.