ENCINITAS — The Solana Center for Environmental Innovation is offering help to farmers and ranchers with applications for a state program providing up to $100,000 to develop environmentally friendly soil practices.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soil Program Incentive Grant aims to support the implementation of conservation management practices that sequester carbon, reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) and improve soil health.
Rather than using traditional agricultural practices that apply nitrogen and other chemical-based fertilizers, the program helps farmers make the switch to cleaner options, like compost, mulch, native species hedgerows and cover crops. Not only do these options improve the health and longevity of soil, but they also prevent toxic runoff and conserve water as opposed to traditional practices, the group said.
“The more organic material you have, the more porous it is — it’s more like a sponge versus dry, hard soil,” explained Jessica Bombar, director of marketing and education for the Solana Center.
Encinitas-based Solana Center, a non-profit organization that has provided waste diversion and environmental education regionally for 40 years, has been helping farmers navigate the application process for the grants since 2017, which Bombar said can be time-consuming and confusing for busy farmers to tackle on their own. Despite the somewhat daunting application process, Bombar described the program as worthwhile for the benefit of both farmers and the environment.
“It’s a great program,” she said. “It covers the hard costs of materials and is just really helpful for getting compost to cover large areas of farms.”
According to Bombar, many farmers want to use healthier soil practices but don’t always have the money or resources to make the switch, which is why the grant is particularly useful.
Farmers who receive the grant funding enter into a three-year program. Over that time, they begin to see improvements in the health and quality of their soils.
“It has compounding benefits,” Bombar said.
The program seeks to reach farms of all sizes, including smaller local farms as well as large production farms.
The Solana Center is offering assistance to farmers throughout San Diego, Imperial and Riverside Counties.
“We’re excited to support farmers and ranchers in implementing innovative programs that reduce the carbon footprint of the agriculture industry and help our region’s local farmers make improvements that impact our community’s health, the present and future of our environment, and the economy,” said Executive Director Jessica Toth.
Bombar encouraged any farmers who are curious about the program to schedule a free assistance call with the Solana Center to learn more. The center can also schedule visits directly to the farms for further assistance.
According to the state’s Healthy Soils Program webpage, this year’s grant solicitation process is currently open to applications until 5 p.m. on Feb. 9.
To book an assistance call and learn more, visit www.solanacenter.org/healthy-soils-program. A recently recorded informational webinar is also on the Solana Center’s website for farmers who are interested in learning more before setting up a call and is available in English and Spanish.