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Save Our Soil: New organization begins fight to protect U.S. topsoil

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Mar 26, 2021

Nonprofit grassroots group Save Our Soil is championing growers, like the farm pictured here, that implement strategies to protect the soil. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Almost two years ago, on Sept. 18, 2019, Shepherdstown Village residents decided they wanted to take action, to protect the soil quality in the United States, by founding the nonprofit grassroots group Save Our Soil.

According to SOS Steering Committee member Ellen Smith, the book “Food Fix” by Dr. Mark Hyman, states that with current mainstream agricultural practices, the United States has “only have 59 years left of soil suitable for growing food.”

“Our mission is to champion the regeneration of soil through our words and actions, working in increasingly larger circles from our neighborhoods to the broader community and ultimately though out the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia,” Smith said. “We envision a web of reciprocity throughout the Eastern Panhandle, where rich and healthy soil supports a flourishing ecosystem with abundant native plants and trees that in turn nurtures insects, animals and the people who live here, who honor the soil and ecosystems.”

The initial idea for SOS came from SOS Steering Committee member Kay Schultz. After watching the documentary, “From Paris to Pittsburgh,” Schultz felt inspired to take a note from the climate change initiatives taking place in Paris, France and Pittsburgh, Pa. and start trying to create similar change in the Eastern Panhandle.

“She wanted something to ‘dig into’ and after some discussion [with other Shepherdstown Village residents], some of us concluded that soil was really the basis for counteracting climate change. It is a basic matter of putting carbon back into the soil,” Smith said. “This is a local effort to counteract climate change in a hands-on way. We . . . are passionate about regenerating soil, preserving and renewing ecosystems and rebalancing the carbon cycle.”

Although SOS was delayed in taking action somewhat, by the COVID-19 Pandemic, Smith said it has since held two Zoom events to raise awareness of issues related to conservation and climate change. The events featured documentary showings of “The Story of Plastic” and “Kiss the Ground,” followed by expert panel discussions on the topics raised by the documentaries. By holding these multimedia events, SOS hopes to encourage Eastern Panhandle residents to care more for the earth and support local people and organizations who are currently dedicated to caring for soil and the environment in general.

After the COVID-19 Pandemic is over, Smith said SOS plans on holding hands-on activities, rather than Zoom events. But until then, SOS is looking forward to holding a couple of upcoming pandemic-friendly events.

“We would like to work on helping folks turn grass into a native plant environment or permaculture food production. We are planning to put some online resources (videos) up on how to do that,” Smith said, mentioning the arrival of Earth Day on April 22 will likely also be commemorated in some way by SOS. “We also have a seed exchange in mind (and) a big Zoom meeting of everyone involved with SOS.”

Although founded by Shepherdstown Village residents, SOS is open to any Eastern Panhandle residents. To learn more about SOS and its future events, visit saveoursoilwv.com.