Bottom-up, Big-tent Community Organizing — Darya Watnick

The Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils is a community-driven organization bringing together diverse voices of Colorado’s farmers and ranchers around soil health. The Collaborative works in a bottom-up, big-tent capacity to explore ways that soil health practices can be recognized, incentivized, and promoted at a state-wide level. 

I have been working on grant applications on behalf of the Collaborative this summer. The USDA and EPA have money available for projects to support the adoption and implementation of management practices that improve soil health. Helping producers with financial and technical support is a critical part of any state-level soil health program or policy. These grants, which bring together philanthropic and federal government money with state agencies and community support, are a critical part of establishing a new direction for soil health in Colorado. 

Grant writing, especially for complex and large grants like federal grants, has been an incredible learning experience for me. These kinds of grants require particular information such as specific kinds of maps and geographic units as well as parallels to conservation practice standards by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. I have been learning how to find this information and present it in the way necessitated by the grant proposals. Grant writing is not the most fun but it’s an invaluable skill that I can use going forward in my career. 

I feel really lucky that I am able to continue this work throughout the school year. I’ll be working with Max Neumeyer, the coordinator of the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils and my supervisor for this summer work. We will continue writing grants on behalf of the Collaborative to bring programs such as the Soil Health Partnership and the STAR program (Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources), a soil health and water quality field rating system, to Colorado. It is exciting to see some of my summer projects through to completion, continue building my skills, and developing connections in the field of soil health and regenerative agriculture. 

I am also fortunate to have the opportunity to do a project with the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at the Center for Business and Environment at Yale this year. Abbey Warner (another Western Resources Fellow!) and I are going to put together a guidebook about community-driven soil health policy and program development. We will use lessons learned and wisdom from the Colorado Collaborative, the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group, California’s Healthy Soil Initiative and more from throughout the country. This project will be building upon a lot of the work I did this summer and I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this topic. I think soil health is so important and I want more farmers and ranchers to be able to access the support they need to adopt healthy soil management practices.

Darya Watnick, Western Resources Fellow| Darya Watnick is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of the Environment, focusing on agriculture & food systems. She is particularly interested in regenerative agriculture practices and soil health. Her passion for food and agriculture began during her childhood in Southern California, growing up near avocado and citrus orchards and many strawberry fields. She holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR. See what Darya has been up to.  |   Blog