Farming has a profound influence on our environment and is hugely impacted by global trends, including climate change and declines in biodiversity. In the last 50 years, the amount of land dedicated to irrigation has doubled, collectively using 70% of the world's freshwater resources. The increased use of man-made fertilizers has also had negative effects on soil fertility, releasing potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, decreasing microbial activity, and polluting surrounding environments. The quantity of fertilizers and pollutants produced by humans now exceeds those input by natural sources. Our team is committed to investigating strategies for improving soil health through natural, biological interventions, in an effort to counteract these harmful forces.
Our farming practices must balance the need to produce more food with the challenges of a warming climate. Climate-friendly farming practices focus on strategies that take care of the land and decrease the need for irrigation and chemical fertilizers. Through working closely with farmers and growers, we are finding evidence-based methods to encourage practices that promote the long term vitality of our soils. Doing so helps to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, while allowing for more food to be grown. It also improves the safety and quality of the food we eat. These components are critical, as they have the ability to drive market change.
Moving towards regenerative farming practices offers numerous benefits for people and the planet. However, so far, these benefits have mostly been talked about and not put into practice. To make progress, we must study and test these ideas in the real world. We need to consider the challenges faced by farmers, as well as economic, political, and market realities that implicate their decision-making. Our research aims to examine and understand the capacity of different farming methods to deliver benefits to the public in real-life situations. Our goal is to find long-lasting solutions that will help Canadian farmers and consumers become more resilient personally, regionally, and globally.
Within the Ecogastronomy Research Group, the EcoSoil Lab is designed to ignite a transition within agricultural communities by providing valuable support services. Its aim is to encourage the adoption and evaluation of resilient production systems that maximize the benefits of natural ecological processes. The lab pursues interdisciplinary research and partnerships that prioritize soil health, placing it at the center of solutions for promoting healthy people, healthy places, and healthy ecosystems. Ultimately, the lab's goal is to contribute to the production of more, high quality, local food.
Field assessment of the Tea Bag Index (TBI) as a measure of soil health
The functional productivity of agricultural soils is a growing global concern in the face of climate change. This problem is amplified by the lack of consensus around what “soil health” means and how it is measured. The “Tea Bag Index” (TBI) is a recent attempt to overcome this challenge. Relative to the wide array of conventional soil science methods used to assess soil health, TBI is relatively simple to execute and yields easily interpretable data. As a result, TBI is rapidly gaining global support. The research objective is to assess the core assumptions of TBI with a focus on its performance in agricultural settings.
Calculating soil health & farm ROI across a gradient of farming practices
Creating five model farms which vary across a sustainable production gradient, the research objective is to assess the functional soil performance under these variable conditions with emphasis on soil resiliency and farm future-proofing capacity. Further, fine scale cost data (labour, inputs, infrastructure etc.) and revenue data (production, value etc.) will reveal the relative ROI of investing in increasingly resilient farm practices.