Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

July 9, 2024

Mass. Healthy Soils Action Plan awards $1 million in grants

Last month the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) awarded more than $1 million to 14 organizations working to protect and build soil health in Massachusetts. With this funding, these organizations will propel the implementation of the Healthy Soils Action Plan (HSAP), a roadmap for improving ecosystem health and enhancing the climate mitigation potential of land covers across the Commonwealth released by the office early 2023. 

“We are thrilled to see the Plan put into action, and hope to soon see the Mass. Healthy Soils Program fully staffed and resourced in order to scale out the many soil solutions outlined by the Plan,” remarked Dago Driggs, Senior Policy Advisor with the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA/Mass). “Our legislative allies and coalition partners, including the MA Food System Collaborative, have long-promoted soil climate solutions, and we are grateful that the Executive Office is prioritizing soil health in order to  support the health of our farms, our communities, and our climate.” 

Healthy soils are vital to our ecosystems, agricultural productivity, and resilience in the face of extreme weather such as floods and droughts. They support biodiversity, improve water quality, and play a critical role in carbon sequestration, which helps mitigate climate change. As EEA Secretary Rebecca Tepper stated in the awards announcement, “Healthy soil is the foundation for climate-resilient communities. Implementing thoughtful land management strategies is vital to maintaining biodiversity, promoting water quality, and reducing carbon in the atmosphere.”

The EEA awarded grants are funded through legislative budget appropriations, championed by Senator Jo Comerford and Representative Paul Schmid, who also drove the creation of the Healthy Soils Program in January 2021.

“Healthy soils mean less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increased earnings for farmers, and more fresh local produce to feed the people of our Commonwealth,” said Senator Jo Comerford in the press release issued by the Healey-Driscoll Administration.  

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to curb our emissions. As the second largest carbon sink, soil can play a key role in meeting our climate goals by 2050,” remarked Representative Steve Owens in the same press release. “Looking at soil health now will help us to protect the Commonwealth and its residents for decades to come.”

The Healthy Soils Action Plan, commissioned by the EEA in 2019 and produced by Greenfield-based Regenerative Design Group, assesses the current condition of soils across the state and provides evidence-based recommendations to protect and restore them. The Plan emphasizes preserving forests, accelerating wetland restoration, replacing turf, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices to enhance soil health. The grantees will play a key role in implementing these recommended strategies.

Projects funded through the Healthy Soils Implementation Challenge Grants include the following:

  • Berkshire Conservation District will enhance their no-till equipment lending program outreach.
  • Franklin Conservation District will also add innovative equipment to their no-till equipment rental program and improve farmer engagement.
  • Hampden/Hampshire Conservation District will increase capacity to continue its Healthy Soils Program, providing farmers with resources to implement regenerative practices.
  • Hampshire College will develop Best Management Practices within turf management for identifying the greatest rates of soil organic carbon. 
  • Just Roots will implement no-till practices, expand pollinator-supporting perennial hedgerows, and host educational events to share their demonstration project, including a farmer-to-farmer workshop.
  • Landscape Interactions will demonstrate new practices for improving soil health using pollinator habitat at five Western Mass. farms.
  • Linnean Solutions will create a vocational-technical curriculum for high schoolers that combines Indigenous stewardship practices with HSAP recommendations.
  • Middlesex Conservation District will implement a pilot project to oversee the implementation of transitioning lawns into naturalized meadowlands.
  • Momentum Ag and a group of 13 Mass. farmers will partner with UMass Extension, CISA, and NOFA/Mass to trial and disseminate a new perennial Clover Living Mulch System.
  • NOFA/Mass will collaborate with project partners Resilient Roots in Barnstable and Weston Nurseries to develop soil health education for homeowners and landscapers.
  • Regenerative Design Group will develop a guide for implementing HSAP recommendations in construction. Under a second grant, they will develop publicly accessible GIS (map data) layers to assist planners, policy-makers and resource professionals in assessing critical carbon stocks for protection. 
  • UMass Amherst will address scientific and farmer knowledge gaps in order to increase understanding and adoption of healthy soils agricultural practices. 
  • UMass Lowell will establish an urban food forest on its campus as a demonstration site for the development of a novel life cycle assessment framework for soil health.
  • Worcester County Conservation District will establish a Healthy Soils, Healthy Climate program to enhance soil health practices across developed, agricultural, and forested landscapes in Worcester County.

“The breadth and anticipated impact of these projects is a cause for great celebration,” remarks Dago Driggs of NOFA/Mass. These projects will help address knowledge gaps, promote best management practices, and support the implementation of the Healthy Soils Action Plan. “We are happy to see so many on-the-ground allies expanding their work as part of the Action Plan, and hope to see the Mass Healthy Soils Program, itself, up and running at full capacity before long,” he added. 

The state’s Healthy Soils Program, housed within the EEA, has unfortunately lacked dedicated staff since it was created in 2021. Advocates are hopeful that with this increased attention from the Healey-Driscoll Administration, the program will be properly resourced in order to coordinate the efficient implementation of the Healthy Soils Action Plan for years to come.

“We’re excited to finally embark on the serious process of educating Massachusetts residents about the importance of soil health,” remarks Carolyn Shores-Ness, President of the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts. “By working together, we can achieve healthier communities and meet our climate mitigation goals.”


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