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Shift focus to growing worms

Hoosier Perspectives: Putting worms first will help you prioritize soil health.

Allison Lund, Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

April 29, 2024

3 Min Read
A close up of a chunk of soil with earthworms and plant roots throughout
DON’T FORGET: Not only should you give your crops and livestock the best care possible, but you also should strive to care for the worms in your soil by improving soil health. Eileen Kladivko

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to visit This Old Farm just outside of Darlington, Ind. I was walking through the pasture, admiring the Katahdin sheep that were grazing and keeping a watchful eye on my movements. Farm owners Lucas and Jessica Roosa shared about how they are planning to expand the flock to around 600 head, but they made a comment that jumped out at me.

“Yes, we have lambs, but we are farming worms,” Jessica said.

Worms? What did this beautiful farm with sheep dotting the landscape have to do with worms? Well, the answer is clear as day: soil health.

The road to better soil

When Jessica purchased the farm 23 years ago, she knew that improving the soil would be a priority. She wanted to help build organic matter and protect the creek that flowed through the property.

“I came to farming as an environmentalist, so the creek is what made me learn to farm,” Jessica adds.

I like to think that all farmers are also environmentalists, which can often be overlooked. I mean, they are sort of the same thing, right? Jessica hit it right on the head with this comment. Where farmers and environmentalists overlap is in having that mindset of bettering the land for future generations.

Jessica started farming by trying her hand at growing produce, but she soon realized that livestock could help boost her goal of bettering the soil. After trying several different species of livestock, she landed on sheep.

To put her best foot forward, Jessica worked with her local Natural Resources Conservation Service office to develop a fencing plan and a water system layout. She now has 25 paddocks and implements rotational grazing, constantly keeping an eye on the grass to avoid overgrazing.

That grass was once farm fields, and the process of converting them to pastureland spanned decades.

“It’s literally taken 20 years to get it all into grass and to a good place,” Jessica says. Now that they’ve arrived at that “good place,” she says her lambs are 100% grass-fed.

Grow your own worms

I have to admit that I don’t like worms, but if keeping them in mind helps me to prioritize soil health, then I may have to shift my mindset a bit. The image of happy worms wriggling through the soil can keep you on track with your soil health goals.

I think everyone can take a page out of Jessica’s book. Thinking in terms of the worms in your soil can help you shift your focus to soil health. For livestock producers, this can come in the form of rotational grazing, like Jessica has incorporated into her operation.

For those growing crops, a good place to start would be by growing some cover crops or decreasing tillage. While it’s vital to put your crops first and implement management practices that will help them thrive, also putting the worms in your soil into focus will support that goal of building soil health. That, in turn, gives your crops the best care possible.

About the Author(s)

Allison Lund

Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Allison Lund worked as a staff writer for Indiana Prairie Farmer before becoming editor in 2024. She graduated from Purdue University with a major in agricultural communications and a minor in crop science. She served as president of Purdue’s Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. In 2022, she received the American FFA Degree. 

Lund grew up on a cash grain farm in south-central Wisconsin, where the primary crops were corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Her family also raised chewing tobacco and Hereford cattle. She spent most of her time helping with the tobacco crop in the summer and raising Boer goats for FFA projects. She lives near Winamac, Ind.

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