Recently, two of our staff joined 35 healthcare providers, soil scientists, farmers, ranchers, and non-profit representatives in a two-day workshop at Paicines Ranch in Hollister, California focused on understanding the connections between agriculture and human health.

This hands-on event was a follow-up to “Health from the Soil Up,” a colloquium in Berkeley, California focused on bridging the gap between agriculture and healthcare practitioners, policymakers, educators, and researchers, as well as innovators in medicine, public health, nutrition, and food system professionals. Both events are the brainchild of Dr. Daphne Miller, a practicing family physician and author of Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up.

On the first day of the ‘hands-on’ experience, we climbed into a recently dug pit to examine the multiple layers of living organic matter and learned how it is impacted by land management practices. For many, this was the first time getting into the ground (literally) to see the composite community of soil dwellers below the surface. Being able to see, feel, and smell the richness of the organic mixture was a visceral and moving experience. When we gathered afterwards to discuss the benefits of regenerative agriculture practices, microbial soil life, and the leading work at two other regenerative farms – Phil Fosters Ranch and Singing Frog Farm, it all made sense.

On day two, we went to the fields to assess the health of a 500+ acre parcel of land on the Paicines Ranch where Ranch Manager, Kelly Mulville, explained how previous owners had tilled the soils for decades creating compaction and dramatically decreasing microbial life. He also described how the ranch had recently planted a mixed cover crop and grazed the field with sheep to rebuild soil health. Armed with this history, we gathered in groups to take the soil’s temperature, test for compaction, pH levels, water infiltration, and do a Brix reading of available plant matter. (Brix helps us understand the nutrient density of the plants growing on the land.) We then talked about the goals for this land and how regenerative agricultural practices such as integrating livestock, planting cover crops, and reducing tillage could increase biodiversity, reduce water evaporation, maximize plant growth potential, and improve the economic viability of a ranch.

Our groups included a healthcare practitioner, soil scientist, nutritionist, and farmer or rancher so we had a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives as we shared our assessment of the land and our recommendations for how to improve its health.  The lessons we learned that day left us inspired to share that information with our communities at home and we pledged to continue to work together to build healthy soil and healthy people.