soil fertility with evan folds:
Evan is an expert when it comes to all things soil. He is the man behind the Soil Fertility Program at Food Forest Abundance. Here he is being interviewed by Chelsea Boissonneault to get to know both Evan and soil, a little better.
How did you come into the world of soil?
I went to college for biology and religion, always trying to tie things together, and always interested in the natural world. College didn’t really inspire me, so I moved to the Virgin Islands, and while I was there, found a book called ‘Secrets of the Soil’ by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.
The book blew my mind, and launched me into the realms of living soil, biodynamics, sonic agriculture, structured water, and more. What it really taught me is that there is more to life than what is physically here. Seems a simple idea, but reverence for it is lost in agriculture, and society in general. For instance, try answering the question, why does a plant grow up against gravity? I guess you could say that book changed my life, and it is why I am doing what I’m doing today.
Around that time I started a retail garden center called Progressive Gardens that specialized in organic and hydroponic gardening that I ran for almost 15 years. This business was really a bootcamp for me around the living soil. I started a natural lawn care company out of the retail store as a service that became very successful, and through this work I developed a process for best practices and base saturation soil testing that is currently being offered through Food Forest Abundance as the FFA Soil Fertility Program.
How and when did you expand into the world of permaculture?
For me, permaculture is a set of principles, it doesn’t so much tell you what to do as it does guide the spirit of the work. “Let the problem be the solution.” Once I discovered biodynamics, and started researching the different farming systems out there, I learned about permaculture early on. It guides the consulting work that I do in every way.
Soil is the pallet that allows us to apply permaculture, and all soil is not the same, particularly in developed property where the soil structure has been destroyed. If we grow the health of the soil, we then are able to grow healthy plants, which, in turn, grows healthy people.
The best part about all of this stuff is that, in the end, it is simple and based in common sense that everyone can agree on. The key is to get the education of what’s possible out there in a way that people can absorb. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, sort of thing. My job is to help the homeowner or farmer to come to this understanding of how soil works and provide them some tools to be successful, like what happened with me all those years ago.
What are some of the things that people don’t understand about soil?
Number one is that soil is alive. Crazy enough, they don’t teach this in school! Soil is incredibly fascinating, there is another universe under our feet! The FFA Soil Fertility Program will teach you about this and give you a solid understanding of how your landscape ecosystem works through a physical, mineral, biological, and energetic lens, and it will provide custom soil testing data and an action plan on how to start growing healthy soil.
Another misunderstanding about soil is that weeds, pests, and disease are bad luck. The irony is that these organisms are the mechanisms Mother Nature has to develop maturity in the ecosystem. Weed seeds can lay dormant in soil for up to 50 years, they are like soil supplements, fixing high amounts of beneficial elements, then dying as an annual plant to regenerate the topsoil so that the perennial grasses and crops can thrive. For example, dandelions only grow when the soil requires calcium to be brought to the surface for other plants. Their deep roots also help aerate the soil. We see weeds as being in the wrong place for our liking, but they are there for a specific reason when the conditions are right for them to grow.
Pests are not bad luck, they are actually attracted to unhealthy plants by infrared frequencies that signal food is present. Pests are only capable of digesting incomplete proteins expressed by unhealthy plants, or plants only administered a typical conventional “fast food” fertilizer. This is why we do not see pest infestations in Nature. Same story for disease. What happens to people when we eat fast food for every meal? We get sick. Plant disease is not contamination, it is inferior conditions, which speaks to the insanity of trying to kill the symptom practiced by most land care companies.
What is involved with a soil test?
As part of the Ecosystem Report deliverable that is generated through the FFA Soil Fertility Program, we conduct soil testing of your property that will guide the mineral approach that we take on the ground, including a custom mineral application for your soil deficiencies.
The key thing to keep in mind is that this is a snapshot of the soil. We can generate good data and understandings from the first soil test, but I always suggest that the soil be tested a second time 6-12 months later, to see how it has changed over time based on what has been done since the baseline test was taken.
The client sends the soil sample to the lab. We find that getting your hands dirty is actually a helpful part of the program, and the process is simple. The client will take core samples 6” down from 6-10 different areas that they want to treat similarly. This means, don’t mix the veggies garden with the lawn, you are going to approach your agronomy differently in those areas. Or maybe you have an FFA Food Forest Design in the works and we take the samples accordingly. We will talk through all of this in an onboarding call once you engage in the Program. Then the samples are mixed together so we end up with an average of the areas sampled, and sent to the lab using the form we provide you.
We work with a private lab that turns the results around quickly. Once the results are emailed to both the client and myself, I will then generate the Rx and include it in your Ecosystem Report. We then get to meet a final time to go over the results.
How do you create soil if you have a clay or sand base?
There is a concept called the exchange capacity in soil that is important to understand. Positive charge (+) attracts negative charge (-), as they say, opposites attract. Think of the exchange capacity like a measurement of how large the gas tank is in your soil. The higher the number, the greater the soil maturity, and the more water and nutrients your soil can hold.
Clearly, soil cannot be defined in black and white, but on paper, soil is made up of sand, clay, and organic matter. Sand is neutral, so doesn’t hold water or nutrients. Clay has a very high cation exchange capacity and, when out of physical and mineral balance with sand and organic matter, can contribute to compaction. Organic matter also has a high exchange capacity, but holds both positive and negative ions. So the take-away is, regardless of whether you have sandy or clay-based soil, the solution is organic matter.
Compost and compost tea are ideal ways to add organic matter to your soil. Many think that we should add worms, but worms are mobile and will generally come on their own once the soil is in its ideal state and has healthy microbial diversity. Worms eat the microscopic bacteria and fungi found in the soil food web, sort of like plankton in the ocean. What would happen if we took all of the plankton out? This is the average American landscape.
Anything else you want to add?
Just that I am passionate about the work. It is one of my favorite things to do to connect with people about living soil. One of the more powerful parts of the Ecosystem Report that we generate with the FFA Soil Fertility Program is a product audit where clients submit all of the products they are using in their landscape or farm. The other day I was working with a lady in FL who was mortified by the chemicals being used by the lawn care company she inherited at her new house, so she hired a new company that had a better, more natural pitch, but it turned out they were not much better. It is the mantra of my company Be Agriculture (www.beagriculture.com) that, what we think, we grow.
If you are interested in purchasing a Soil Fertility Program, please visit our shop page by clicking the button below. We recommend including this package when buying a design as well, since this is the foundation on which everything is built!