by Sylvana Szuhay and Shay Kolodney of Skidmore College
This past summer we worked as research students at Caney Fork Farms for our professor, Kris Covey, from Skidmore College. Part of the farm’s mission is to sequester atmospheric CO2 into the soils through different regenerative agricultural management practices, however at the moment it is difficult and expensive to quantify how much carbon is being sequestered into the soil. Working to develop a tool to rapidly assess soil carbon, we set out to estimate a baseline of the soil carbon stocks at Caney Fork Farms. To do so, we needed to measure the soil carbon concentration along with bulk density. Bulk density is a measurement of soil in a given volume which helps estimate soil carbon stocks in tonnes per hectare. We spent the first six weeks of the summer navigating through the fields and forest of Caney Fork’s newly acquired land, collecting baseline soil carbon samples at 364 points and soil bulk density samples at 120 points on the farm’s “home” property.
Over the course of these six weeks, we spent a few days participating in some projects on the farm such as hauling bales of hay and preparing beds for planting, allowing us to take off our researcher hats and step into some farm boots for a few hours. Sylva was able to stay through the remainder of the summer, jumping in to work and learn alongside the farm crew. Immersed in the busy tasks of midsummer, she acquired a basic skill set, engaging in the motions of harvesting, packing, and planting, of fencing and moving animals. She further discovered the joys and intricacies of the reciprocal nature of working with the soil, plants, and animals.
The end of August brought us back together in TN to begin our college semester of remote study amidst the pandemic. We both completed an independent study further researching bulk density methods, and each Friday worked with either the livestock team or veggie crew, learning the ins and outs of farming at Caney Fork. We feel blessed to have spent a semester on the farm while being able to use the land as a science lab during our studies. We are forever grateful for this opportunity, and for Caney Fork’s wonderful farmers!