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Eric Bendfeldt: Soil, A Dime, and a Big Red Truck

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

The following piece was written and shared by Eric Bendfeldt. Eric is a Community Viability Specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Virginia Soil Health Coalition.

From time to time, a friend and Extension colleague will ask me why I am concerned with the care of the soil and its overall health and function and how it relates to local food systems. That is a good question. I have been intrigued by the importance and essential nature of soil and water ever since Mary, my wife, and I worked with Mennonite Central Committee in Tanzania, East Africa where there were many environmental, climatic, and economic constraints and challenges for farmers and farming communities. Through our experience in Tanzania, I realized just how precious and finite soil is as an agricultural and natural resource.

Recently, I had the pleasure to talk with and learn from Virginia farmers about their agroecological values, inspirations, mentors, and soil health-building practices. All of the farmers had unique experiences and stories that they shared with me as part of the story-sharing and gathering process. A long-time friend and colleague Mike Phillips of Valley View Farms shared a number of poignant stories and experiences on why care for the soil and systems thinking are meaningful to him and why he shares what he has learned so freely and openly with others who are interested in farming and soil.

Through the years, Mike has had many impactful mentors and teachers. Mike graciously shared an instructional piece of wisdom about soil erosion he received many years ago in 1977 from Randy Maupin who was a district soil conservationist at the time with the USDA-Soil Conservation Service (present-day Natural Resources Conservation Service). For all of us, it is hard to comprehend just how significant soil erosion can be even in seemingly small quantities and volumes. And that is where a dime and a big red pickup truck come in relation to soil. Mike shared the instruction he received and stated that if soil the thickness of a dime erodes off an acre of land that equates to a loss of five tons (10,000 pounds) of soil per acre.

A loss of five tons of soil is hard for my brain to compute and for me to envision on a practical level. However, I have recently been rolling Mike’s story about how consequential and substantial a loss of five tons of topsoil is around in my head in preparing for a talk and presentation. Personally, it would take at least ten trips in my 1986 F250 half-ton big red truck for me to transport that amount of soil back to that acre and its original position on the landscape. Ten trips and probably more shovel loads of soil than I can count or would care to lift is a lot to consider. Mike’s statement and story reminded me once again how precious and finite soil is to agriculture and so much more.

We need to protect, conserve, and do all that we can to keep soil healthy and in its proper place. Caring for the soil is a call all of us can make for today and the future.

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Note: This estimate of soil loss on a weight basis may actually be too low. An average acre furrow slice of soil to a depth of 6 to 7 inches (~ 6.7") weighs approximately 2,000,000 pounds, while a dime is .053 inches thick.

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