How much did you learn about soil as an elementary school student? It is a neglected topic for many, despite the importance of soil as the incubator of all land life on earth and the nurturer of nearly all our food. The Mills Lawn School third grade students of Margaret Morgan and Megan Bennett got some hands-on education in soil this spring, honing their scientific skills and learning about the soil health in their community. As part of their spring project on soil, these students—dubbed “the third-grade pedologists (soil scientists)” by Ms. Morgan—visited Agraria four times, creating and monitoring their test sites for an experiment in assessing soil health through repeated observation.
The third-grade pedologists buried white cotton underwear and Berlese funnels—small containers used to catch insects—and returned each week to gather data. The underwear’s rate of decomposition is a widely-used rough indicator of microbial activity in soil. Working in teams of four, the students identified the insects and tallied their numbers on data sheets. “The number of decomposers we see can tell us how good our soil is for growing things,” explained pedologist Lily-Claire. Third graders also tested the soil for moisture level by feeling its texture.
Ms. Morgan brought her students to Agraria because the facility is “a real farm, and part of our community. This project is about the process, and learning how to work together. Where are our tools? What’s our next step? Our results are imperfect, but they give us some idea of the soil health at Agraria.” The third-grade pedologists shared their results with Community Solutions—the most eye-catching being the lack of a distinct layer of topsoil, fewer-than-expected decomposers, and less underwear decomposition than predicted.
Community Solutions is hoping that future testing, through an expanding partnership with Yellow Springs Schools and nearby colleges and universities, will show improving soil health at Agraria. Some recommendations of the third-grade pedologists, including crop rotations and composting, are already being implemented. As for the pedologists themselves, Ms. Morgan hopes they will learn to “take soil health seriously, and pass that on to their friends and family.” One of her students, Olivia, has enjoyed “the whole experience. It’s been fun doing research on the soil.”