It's that time of year—summer hasn't quite left us, but the first cool nights are reminding us to savor what's left. We've been looking ahead to next year: making plans for the CSA to grow and mapping out the years to come on what are now open hay fields. Part of planning for the future has also been looking at the past: the history of these fields—conventional dairy and then minimally managed hay—has left its mark. We've been blessed with truly beautiful soil, but it needs a lot of love! Even a relatively benign practice like haying can deplete land of nutrients if great care isn't taken to give back to the land.
This isn't just a poetic sentiment: in addition to a soil's innate type (and ours is a lovely one), it may have greater or lesser percentages of Soil Organic Matter. Organic matter contributes to fertility and makes land more resilient to floods, droughts, and rough treatment, and so in general, the more the better. Building organic matter requires time and care, though: compost, animal manure, or returning plant material to the soil all add to organic material; tilling up land and the normal metabolism of a healthy soil take it away.
This responsibility, to take care of land and leave it better than we found it, is at the heart of organic agriculture, and it's one of my favorite things about farming. And there are some very material benefits of good soil as well: a living, vibrant soil produces delicious, beautiful vegetables!