Stonyfield Hub Introduces Grazing Group For Network Farms

Stonyfield Organic is one of 15 hubs who are using OpenTEAM’s suite of tools to help their farmers track and improve soil health and carbon sequestration. Back in 2019, Stonyfield announced their goal to cut their carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. With over half of their carbon emissions coming from agriculture, Stonyfield is using OpenTEAM to establish soil health baselines, better assess change over time, and ultimately reduce their impact on climate change.

Jane Kuhn manages OpenTEAM engagement among 10 participating Network farms in Stonyfield’s direct supply. She and the network farms are completing their second season trialing OpenTEAM tools. “I was delighted for the opportunity to work with and learn from Stonyfield who has established themselves as a pioneer in creating positive change in our food system,” she says.

Led by Kuhn, Stonyfield, as a Hub, is investigating how to best track their farms’ soil health and monitor improvements over time through OpenTEAM. By looking at different management plans and testing OpenTEAM tools such as SoilStack, PastureMap, Cool Farm Tool, COMET, and LandPKS, Stonyfield farmers can find what works best for them and then translate those explorations into different management strategies that improve their soil health and pasture nutrition—thus building climate resilience.

This past year, Kuhn has worked to further support what the Network farms are doing. With help from some New England dairy and grazing experts, Kuhn has created a grazing group where Stonyfield’s Network farms can develop deeper connections with one another and further their own goals in relation to OpenTEAM. Through this group, participating farms are able to connect and collaborate with one another to help them make meaningful changes and improvements in their own farm management systems.

“Facilitating that peer-to-peer learning and having experts in the room to field questions and offer advice is really how we and the farmers can make the most of what we’re learning through OpenTEAM,” says Kuhn.

The group meets once a month and is facilitated by Cheryl Cesario, a Grazing Outreach Professional at the University of Vermont Extension, and Sarah Flack, an author and consultant of grass based and organic livestock production.

Recently, the group has begun to bring in outside speakers on particular topics as a way to broaden expertise that is available to Network farms. By fostering partnerships through this grazing group, Stonyfield hopes farmers will find support in learning how to utilize the data and observations they are collecting to actually create positive changes on their own farms. 

As Stonyfield’s Network farms finish out their second year as a part of the OpenTEAM initiative, Kuhn is hopeful for the future of their grazing group and OpenTEAM as a whole.

“The learnings that can come from the OpenTEAM community are more rich and insightful than if the work was done independently…. We really feel like we can go farther and faster together than we can on our own,” says Kuhn, “Collaborating with other Hubs, tools, and the whole OpenTEAM ecosystem enables us to make forward progress more quickly and more holistically because there are more perspectives at the table.”

OpenTEAM: A Reintroduction

This October, we are celebrating our second year anniversary! As we celebrate, we would like to celebrate all we have accomplished while welcoming newcomers and introducing them to the work that we do!

Based at Wolfe’s Neck Center in Freeport, Maine, OpenTEAM was founded in 2019 by Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Stonyfield, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s LandPKS.

OpenTEAM is a farmer-driven, collaborative community of farmers, ranchers, scientists, researchers, technologists, farm service providers, and food companies who are co-creating an interoperable suite of tools that provide farmers around the world with the best possible knowledge to improve soil health. 

Why OpenTEAM?

Agriculture is responsible for almost 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The way we manage our land has to change dramatically in order to combat climate change. Improving soil health through regenerative agriculture practices can help our soils to capture more carbon, benefiting the farmer, the plants and animals they cultivate, and the food we eat. Wolfe’s Neck Center believes farming has to be a part of the solution to climate change. By creating an interoperable technology ecosystem and supporting a global network of farmers, the OpenTEAM initiative is working towards improving soil health measures and sequestering more carbon into the soil across the globe.

By building an interoperable, equitable and re-usable digital infrastructure, OpenTEAM will reduce costs and friction, thereby accelerating regenerative agriculture and associated global and local development benefits.

What does "interoperable" mean?

The word interoperable refers to the ability of different systems, such as computers or technological tools, to exchange and share information with one another. Making agricultural technology more interoperable means farmers and ranchers can use multiple tools to track things like their farm management or organic certification without having to enter data multiple times. Instead, they can enter it once and the interoperability of their tools will allow them to use that data multiple times.​

How does OpenTEAM work?

OpenTEAM is forging ahead to transform agriculture as we know it. By using a pre-competitive approach, we are co-developing a collaborative technology ecosystem with the support of a growing group of stakeholders. Through the creation of open feedback loops with Hubs and Network farms and ranches, we emphasize human centered design throughout every aspect of this ecosystem. OpenTEAM and its suite of tools is constantly evolving to accommodate different needs and systems.

OpenTEAM’s Hub farms, members, and network farmers primarily collaborate through working groups, which meet on a regular basis to tackle top priorities in technology, equity, field methods, and human centered design. This work is grounded through our Hub and Network working group, where farmers and ranchers test OpenTEAM’s suite of tools on the ground and provide feedback for growth and improvement.

Another way OpenTEAM works together is through Collabathons. These are sustained collaboration efforts with short sprints in service of long range shared goals. Each series of Collabathons have a defined goal, outcome, and proposed output shaped by a community co-hosts. Members come together over structured 8 week sessions that bridge across our diverse membership and enable us to bring in key folks around particular questions and long-term goals such as the creation of overarching field methods for testing soil carbon to the development of an agricultural data wallet where farmers can manage how they share and protect their own data.

OpenTEAM, in conjunction with Wolfe’s Neck Center, is also equipping food system leaders of the future with the knowledge and capabilities necessary to combat climate change and improve soil health through a budding fellowship program which strengthens the support for our Hub and Network farms and ranches.

What kind of tools does OpenTEAM share with farmers and ranchers?

OpenTEAM collaborates with a wide variety of tech partners who design, develop, and co-create tools for the benefit of farmers and ranchers. Some help land stewards to measure the amount of carbon in their soil, others help them to better manage their farms and ranches. OpenTEAM is constantly working with its Hubs and network farms to test these tools and make them better through open avenues of feedback and communication.

What is soil health?

Healthy soil is critical to cooling the planet. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a key part of the solution to this global problem. Soil is a living ecosystem that contains bacteria, fungi, insects, and organic matter that thrive when the other soil elements are in balance. If these elements are thriving, the plants and animals that we eat will as well. By minimizing erosion, maximizing water infiltration, and improving nutrient cycling through regenerative farming practices, farmers and ranchers can enhance the resiliency of their land. By building better soil health, our soils can absorb more carbon and support our growing food system.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services through practices such as managed grazing by livestock, cover crops, no-till, and crop diversity. Finding solutions to the growing climate crisis relies on both limiting greenhouse gas emissions AND capturing carbon in the soil. The world’s soils store several times the amount of carbon as does the atmosphere, acting as a natural “carbon sink.” Healthy soil captures more carbon. By building soil health through regenerative practices, we can farm in a way that solves the problems we face now and makes our farmland more resilient for the future of food and our planet.

Learning About The Soil With MAPSS at Wolfe’s Neck Center

The Maine Association for Professional Soil Scientists (MAPSS) recently held their annual field workshop at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment. MAPSS was formed in 1978 with the mission of promoting soil science through peer exchange and education. The membership includes soil scientists and geologists with different professional backgrounds and expertises in both the government and private sectors. At this year’s field workshop, 40 soil scientists descended on the property to assess soil pits that had been excavated in Wolfe’s Neck Center’s pasture, campground, and in Wolfe’s Neck State Park. The workshop focused on identifying soil parent materials, human altered or human transported materials, and hydric soil characteristics and determinations.

What is parent material?

Parent material is the minerals, rocks or organic matter that forms the soil.

What are human altered or transported materials?

Human altered soils have been manipulated by us. For example, Wolfe’s Neck Center’s agricultural fields have been plowed and tilled in the past, which has permanently altered their composition. 

What is a hydric soil?

A hydric soil is a soil that has been saturated long enough to restrict oxygen and impact the growth of plants. Establishing the depth of hydric soils helps professional soil scientists determine the height of the water table. 

The soil scientists spent the morning examining the profiles of the soil and determining texture, color, and the depth of the water table at each site. A soil profile is the vertical section of a soil that exposes the soil’s layers or horizons. These five horizons (O, E, A, B, C, R) are what tell the story of the soil.

  • The O horizon or organic horizon is made up of organic matter. Not all soils have an O horizon, these are generally present in areas with lots of vegetation like a prairie or forest.

  • The A horizon is also known as the topsoil and is made of organic matter and minerals from the parent material. This is the same topsoil that makes your vegetables grow in the spring and summer.
  • The E horizon contains no clay, minerals, or organic matter, and is typically only found in forested or undisturbed soils.
  • The B horizon is the subsoil, which is rich in minerals that have leached from the upper horizons.
  • The C horizon is the parent material and is responsible for the formation of the soil in the upper horizons.
  • R horizon is bedrock.

After the morning of soil analysis, the soil scientists met back up at Wolfe’s Neck Center’s Mallet Barn to discuss and debate their findings. Workshops like these are necessary in helping soil scientists learn how to analyze the horizons to make better land management decisions, including whether or not to build, if a septic system can be installed, or if the soil can support agricultural production.

At OpenTEAM, we believe collaboration and collective learning is integral to achieving an open source, technological ecosystem that benefits farmers and ranchers worldwide. Workshops like these support OpenTEAM’s work in improving soil health knowledge and advancing agriculture’s ability to become a solution to climate change. Through this work, Wolfe’s Neck Center is furthering its mission of using the land as an educational resource to create a healthier planet for all.

Hub Spotlight: Compost at Paicines Ranch

Paicines Ranch in Central Valley, California, is a historic ranch raising grass-fed beef with an emphasis on agroecological, holistic management and research. Part of their work has included the development of a number of composting systems, including a vermiculture composter, a system similar to a fermented bokashi composter, and an aerated compost bioreactor.

The continuous flow-through worm bin is used to compost food scraps from on-site events and living. This design allows for continuous feeding of the compost, and a cutting bar is used to remove finished worm castings from the bottom. State regulations in California only allow us to compost agricultural byproducts, but worms qualify as livestock, so this is how Paicines is dealing with food scraps. Ultimately, this product will likely be added to foliar sprays, and into the seed-coat-slurry that we apply before planting.

Paicines employs the SPICE method, championed by Gerry Gillespie from Australia, to compost materials in all of their systems. For the bokashi method, piles are watered, turned, and allowed to heat up to kill weed seeds and pathogens. As the piles cool they are inoculated with a homemade lactobacillus culture and covered with tarps. This induces anaerobic conditions, which the lactobacillus favor. The pH drops and the compost begins to go through an anaerobic digestion (i.e. fermentation), similar to pickling. There are a number of benefits associated with this system: water retention within the piles, reduced carbon and nitrogen gas emissions, and reduced labor as the piles do not need to be turned. In the end, they end up with facultative anaerobes that can suppress soil pathogens. This compost is Paicines’ bulk product that we can broadcast as a soil amendment with a manure spreader.

The Johnson-Su bioreactor is a relatively small-scale composting option that was developed to decrease undesirable smells and pests, reduce labor, and produce a very microbially-diverse, fungal-dominant compost. At Paicines, they have been refining their process over three batches since 2018, testing out a traditional cylindrical version (too small!), and ultimately developing a bioreactor in an open-top shipping container.

The Paicines compost “recipe” for the bioreactor places an emphasis on high-carbon materials, stacking the feed with wood chips, straw, and dried leaf mulch. These materials act as bulking agents to prevent premature breakdown and to maintain pore spaces which allow for water and gas flow. Manure and grass clippings are also added, to provide nitrogen and other nutrients. Ultimately the breakdown has looked like: 15% wood chips, 40% chicken litter/bedding (mixed droppings and wood shavings), 20% horse bedding (mixed manure and straw), 10% lamb bedding (mixed manure + straw), 10% lawn clippings, 5% grape pomace.

The final product from a bioreactor is a much denser, clay-like substance than traditional compost. At Paicines, they are using the output to coat seeds to improve germination rates, soil water infiltration, soil carbon content, and overall plant health. Going forward, they intend to make some of the compost product into tea or extract to be disseminated by the irrigation lines. When injecting compost into the irrigation lines, it is extremely important to screen the material first, in order to prevent larger chunks from clogging the lines and emitters.

Wolfe’s Neck Center, in Freeport Maine, has been in touch with Paicines about their experiences with the Johnson-Su bioreactor as they begin plans for a small-scale compost system to be used in the education programs.