The health of our soils, and the amount of organic life and carbon they store, is a key part of the climate change challenge.

We also know that growing food locally helps reduce food miles and food waste. And communities are stronger and more resilient when they’re connected locally to where their food comes from.

Soil4Climate is about taking all these good things to the next level.

Soil4Climate is about connecting and energising communities who want to grow. Being part of Soil4Climate will empower people to take meaningful climate action through local and regenerative organic food production.

So what is Soil4Climate?

Soil4Climate is an international movement exploring the connection between soil health and climate change.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, Soil4Climate is a community project to build soil health and demonstrate the positive climate impacts of organic growing.

Many farmers and government agencies are working on the link between soil and climate emissions at a bigger scale. The opportunity to increase soil carbon by changing farming could be part of the national effort to reduce our emissions.

Our project is a small part of these global and national efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Jessica Barnes and Jenny Lux mixing soil samples at the Soil4Climate launch.

How does the project work?

We measure the soil structure, soil carbon, and microbes (small fungi and bacteria that live in the soil) at each Soil4Climate location. Then we simply get growing. As food is produced we begin to improve the soil using organic principles.

Soil4Climate supports both the testing and the growing. For example we can help organise and pay for testing. We can also provide education, guidance and connection with experienced growers. In this way, Soil4Climate will help us all to learn and become more confident growing food in a way that builds soil health.

Soil Health measurements are taken again at regular intervals. As a result, a long term picture of the changing soil will emerge. This information can help guide how the site is managed, and will be a powerful demonstration of regenerative organics.

How can I get involved?

We’re starting this project with three sites in the Wellington region and will be looking for more around the country soon.

To be a test site, you need a suitable area of land for growing which can be maintained for at least 3 years and ideally for longer. We recommend a plot 4m x 4m for the test site. You also need to have two people willing to join the project as a kaitiaki/gardener and as a tester or scientist.

This project is suitable for community groups, marae, schools, and for anyone who is already growing and wants to know more about their soil. We’re also happy to work with people new to organic growing.

If you’re interested in hosting a test site, or want to find out more, please contact our general manager Pete Huggins on:

Our soil-testing approach

We’re using three sets of measurements to test for carbon and other nutrients in soil health:

  1. The Visual Soil Assessment – which is a hands-on observation of different aspects of the soil. We record how the soil looks, its colour, smell,  structure and even the number of earthworms – that bit was great fun!
  2. The soil Microbiometer – here we are measuring the microscopic life in the soil. We know this is vital for plant health and biodiversity. We are looking at microbial and fungal biomass, and working out the fungal to bacteria ratio.
  3. Laboratory analysis of soil content – we send samples to recognized laboratories who analyse the soil. We are measuring things like mineral elements and the carbon content.

Soil4Climate’s initial results will be compared with repeat tests done over time. We expect soil health to improve as we grow on the land and change it’s soil composition through organics.

At the same time we are supporting community growers to connect with each other. This project will support us all to learn new things. And of course we are growing nutritious healthy local kai to sustain community.

Jessica Barnes shows us the composting system at For the Better Good's Porirua 'Edible Earth' farm in partnership with WELLfed.
Jessica Barnes shows us the composting system at For the Better Good’s Porirua ‘Edible Earth’ farm in partnership with WELLfed.

How much impact can we have on carbon emissions?

There’s a perception that agricultural soils in Aotearoa can’t sequester carbon. We think this is because the soils that have been examined are mostly microbially impoverished soils. This means the microscopic life like bacteria and fungi have been destroyed. Chemical spraying, tillage, and other land practises are often to blame for this. It means the soils are not functioning naturally or optimally.    For example, regenerative soil consultant Phyllis Tichinin estimates that 1-3 tonnes of carbon can be sequestered per hectare of pasture per year.  If this is the case then the pastoral sector alone could make Aotearoa carbon neutral (and even carbon negative) within just a few years. This can happen if we move powerfully now to adopt organic and regenerative practices.   We desperately need more research into this area. Soil4Climate is putting a stake in the ground – literally – to start this process.