By Gabriella Coughlin, MRGCD Agronomist/Agroecologist
For those of you following the buzz around the new soil health laboratory (lab) located at the Larry P. Abraham Agri-Nature Center, we have some exciting news to share. Starting Saturday, March 26th, the Middle Rio Grande Community Soil Health Lab will be open to the public for soil, water, compost testing services, and more. You can find the complete list of services, pricing, and hours of operation at www.mrgcd.com.
What is a Soil Health Lab?
The Community Soil Health Lab is here to raise awareness about the science of soils, and the critical roles these soils play in agriculture, food and water quality, climate change, ecosystem health, and our everyday lives. Through our regional testing and assessment services, we help gardeners, farmers, ranchers, and the everyday person better understand how to use and manage their soils.
Why are we starting this laboratory?
Since the closure of New Mexico State University’s soil testing lab several years ago, New Mexicans have been shipping their soil samples out of state to various labs across the country. Every sample has come back with different report formats, recommendations, and charts that are hard to translate into action, especially for our unique valley growing conditions. As a result of this, we do not have a good understanding of the health of our soils and how to improve them.
As interest in soil health and conservation grows in Central New Mexico, a group of dedicated partners, researchers, neighbors, and friends are leveraging their time, talents, and resources to bring soil health home to all Middle Rio Grande Valley (MRGV) residents.
What makes this Soil Health Lab different than others?
Well, our name for one. While “The Middle Rio Grande Community Soil Health Lab” isn’t your typical snappy company name; it does, however, pack a punch to the traditional soil lab model, and here’s why.
It’s not a business. It’s a community service supported by a network of public and private partners who work on behalf of the communities they serve, including the Village of Los Ranchos, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Coronado, Ciudad, Valencia, Socorro Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and New Mexico State University.
While we will accept samples from landowners outside of the MRGV, the lab’s primary focus is on understanding the soils of the MRGV, how our soils function physically, chemically, and biologically and how that translates into greater watershed resilience and nutritious foods for our unique ecosystem.
To make soils and agricultural sciences more accessible, we will conduct monthly grower workshops on how you can perform your own soil health assessments, collect soil samples, and other essential field measurements. Think of these workshops as soil health and fitness boot camps. Workshop participants will have access to the tools, tips, and tricks to create healthy soils on their own farmland or backyard.
As more people become engaged in tracking and improving the health of their soils, we, in turn, will build a stronger body of knowledge that our communities can leverage into increased funding, tools, and resources that address our often underserved needs.
Next is the “Lab” portion of our name. Most people associate labs with stuffy white lab coats, mundane tasks, and sterile environments. Good news is, this lab will not be like that. This lab will be a place where hands get dirty and science and common-sense solutions come to life. Our principal success metric will be how well we serve our Middle Rio Grande Valley communities. Your success is our collective success. Period. We are committed to making this lab an aspirational reflection of the diverse people and soils we serve. And like our soils, we want our people to be healthy, happy, resilient, and supported.
What you can expect from this lab
• Access to grower-focused information and solutions
• Accurate soil health testing
• Timely turnaround of results
• Career exploration and training
• Hands-on exhibits and demonstrations
All of this might sound like a tall order to fill for a first-of-its-kind program, but we are constantly amazed by the people who choose to show up for New Mexico soils and agriculture. We know you will too.
For more information on the lab and how you can get involved, contact
Gabriella Coughlin, MRGCD Agronomist/Agroecologist
Re-printed with permission from the Village of Los Ranchos, Village Vision, Issue 2022-02