Long Island Farmers Are Excited About Healthy Soil

Head east on 25A to where expressways give way to wide open spaces of land and you eventually come to Sound Avenue and the 250-acre Schmitt Family farm. In any given year they grow 30 different types of vegetables that get sold at local farm stands, supermarkets and throughout the New York City area. None of it would be possible without soil.

For years Phil Schmitt battled compaction of the farm’s sandy loam soil, a problem that led to runoff, erosion and poor crop health. Over a decade ago, he slowly began experimenting with different soil conservation and nutrient management practices to help alleviate these issues. Phil now uses a suite of practices on his farm, including cover crops, compost, reduced tillage, and controlled release nitrogen fertilizer, which slowly releases nitrogen in response to the plants’ needs.

Phil has not only seen the health of his soil improve, but his farm has become more profitable as he reduced costs associated with labor and farm equipment. Phil estimates an annual net increase of over $2,500 on his sweet corn crop alone.

“The farm wins with enhanced productivity and the public wins with cleaner water and fresh food grown on local farms,” says Aaron Ristow of American Farmland Trust.

No farmers, no food.

Since 2011, American Farmland Trust, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension and other local organizations, have worked with Long Island vegetable farms, including Schmitt Family Farm, MKZ Farms, Zilnicki Farms and many others to implement soil conservation practices to protect the soil, while also combating climate change and keeping the local waterways clean.

“We’re trying to do different things. My son planted buckwheat and we figured it would help the soil, build up organic matter,” says farmer John Zilnicki. Organic matter is an indicator of healthy soil and contributes to water and nutrient storage. Soils with high organic matter tend to require lower farm inputs, which can save the farmer time and money and reduce loss to the environment.

Healthy soil doesn’t just benefit farmers though. If you’ve ever tried to swim in one of the local waterways only to be met by a mahogany tide, you might appreciate the different things farmers are doing that minimize their impacts to waterways through improved soil management. Healthy soils increase infiltration of water, reduce run-off and more effectively utilize inputs—such as nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides. And, healthy soil is a fundamental component of producing nutritious foods. “No farms, no food” has become a rallying cry for a reason.


American Farmland Trust hosts annual soul health ‘field days’ for farmers to learn and network with each other and connect with local partners and resources.

American Farmland Trust and local partners offer resources to help farmers who are interested in adopting practices to improve soil health. Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Soil and Water Conservation District and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will work directly with farmers to help them figure out what their specific needs are and what they can do to make improvements when it comes to their soil management. These offices also have information available for the public on what they can do to promote clean water.

Over the last four years, American Farmland Trust, Peconic Land Trust, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Long Island Farm Bureau and others have held annual soil health ‘field days’ for farmers to learn and network with each other and connect with local partners and resources.

“Long Island farmers have been caring for their soil for generations,” says Aaron Ristow. “We are pleased to work with so many local partners to help ensure that farms remain viable and are an important part of protecting clean water and responding to climate change for years to come.”


Join us in saving the land that sustains us. Get your free No Farms No Food bumper sticker and learn what you can do to help protect farmland and support environmentally sound farming practices in your community.