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Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District, Indiana

The Marion County SWCD has been a catalyst for conservation on Indianapolis’s urban farms and gardens. The backbone of success has been an unwavering focus on the principles of soil health and agricultural conservation practices, including no-till and reduced till, cover crops, mulching, conservation crop rotation and native and targeted plantings for beneficial insects and pollinators.

A soil health team executed 13 workshops and five hands-on open houses targeted at local growers and their communities with themes ranging from an introduction to soil health to advanced conservation practices. They formed partnerships with key small farmers and community leaders and then developed workshops around them to promote and teach soil health to a broad audience. The team also gave three urban soil health conference presentations to the Indiana Conservation Partnership, including the NRCS, Purdue University and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

The team provided technical assistance to 59 growers and conducted 47 site visits, resulting in over 20 acres of cover crops planted through community gardens, backyards, churches, community centers, corporate gardens and market farms. Outcomes include increased soil health through adaptation and implementation of conservation practices and increased public awareness and education of soil health through key cultural organizations and gardens.

Communities throughout the City of Indianapolis are looking for answers to empty lots and blighted areas. To encourage a more productive land use for soil and water resources, the district contracted with Williams Creek Consulting and conducted permaculture charrettes with two community groups and produced permaculture design templates for their locations. The report can be accessed through the SWCD blog.

Marion County SWCD Urban Soil Health Specialist providing technical assistance on mulching at a local school’s urban farm.

The Marion County SWCD soil health team and its collaborating growers have advanced soil health and its practices through a continuous sharing of ideas and successes. To best capture and share the results, a web developer was contracted to integrate soil health into the Marion County SWCD website and then developed online profiles for seven growers. With input from expert small farmers, the team created visual conservation practice guides such as cover crops and mulching for urban growers and gardeners.

Sustainability

To increase the technical capacity of Indianapolis growers, the soil health team targeted conservation assistance to key small farmers and farming organizations that provide apprentices and trainings to others. The train-the-train efforts are important for long-term success.

The district was awarded Clean Water Indiana grants to support funding of the urban soil specialist position and outreach coordinator positions in 2018 and 2019. The positions will continue to provide technical assistance and resource material to urban growers and the public.  They will utilize the website as an outreach and educational tool and continue providing soil health workshops throughout the seasons.

In addition, the district has upgraded its website to contain soil health resources. The site will serve as a resource library to assist conservation professionals and growers with practice implementation in small-scale agriculture. Integrating the guide will make the information available indefinitely.

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