Educators gather for Soil Health Field Day at KBS

The following post is by Ava Garrison, graduate student in Jeffrey Conner’s lab and Science Education and Outreach Fellow at the Kellogg Biological Station.

Sarah Evans and Corinn Rutkoski use a rainfall simulator to show how different soil treatments can affect water runoff and groundwater.

Educators from across Michigan gathered at KBS for the 2019 LTER Soil Health Field Day, which took place on Wednesday, September 11. The day began with the driving question: how can we as educators share soil health science with our students? The attendees, who were educators from all grade levels including non-traditional and adult education, kept this question on their minds as they participated in the day’s activities. 

The agenda included a mix of guest speakers, hands-on learning activities, and planning time that addressed the question of the day. Talks by Dr. Sarah Evans from the KBS LTER, and Nick Ohem from the Florida Coastal LTER, provided important context for learning and teaching about soil health. Dr. Evans covered what soil health actually is, why it’s important, and gave a great visual for showing the complexity of soil. Professor Ohem talked about soil health in the context of his research in the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER, and showed how soil health can be studied on a global scale using the citizen science project Teatime4Science. Later graduate students Lindsey Kemmerling and Corinn Rutkoski led a hands-on demonstration of the Teatime4Science protocol, which involves burying and then weighing tea bags in order to measure the rate of decay of plant materials. This global citizen science project can help us to better understand how soil health varies around the globe, as well as over time. 

Hands-on experience with the TeaTime4Science protocol that educators can take back to engage their students in citizen science.

But it wouldn’t be a field day without venturing outside the lecture room! Attendees were treated to a tractor-pulled chariot ride around the Kellogg farm and LTER, led by the Kellogg Farm Manager Dr. Brook Wilke. Dr. Wilke talked about the best pasture management strategies while Lindsey Kemmerling explained the importance of dung beetles in maintaining soil health. The tour moved on to the LTER fields, which includes conventional cropping treatments, no till, and fields with cover crops. Dr. Evans and Corinn Rutkoski then gave attendees a demonstration of a rainfall simulator to show how those different soil treatments can affect water runoff and groundwater. As one attendee noted, not all soil pore spaces are created equal

The day ended with a discussion, lead by Kara Haas and Dr. Liz Schultheis, of the question that started everything: how can we as educators share soil health science with our students? Educators reflected on what they learned and what they planned to bring back with them in order to share the importance of soil health.