Two weeks ago, I wrote about approaching the Maine legislature with the idea to recognize soils in 2015, the International Year of Soils (IYS). I’m happy to report that our resolution was adopted on March 12. (Read full text of HP-584). Going to the State House for its presentation was a civics lesson for me. If you’re thinking “wouldn’t it be nice if my state paid tribute to soils,” but you’re feeling unsure of your civics knowledge or wary of entering into the political realm, I hope these thoughts will change your mind.
Michael Harman of West Virginia Extension is working on a legislative action in his state and said to me “The International Year of Soils is the best opportunity we’ve had to raise awareness about soils since the Dust Bowl.” Word.
How can I team up with other soil enthusiasts?
Reach out to friends and groups you think might be interested. I had never met anyone in the Maine Association of Professional Soil Scientists (MAPSS) before I reached out to them about this, and found they were a really nice group of people and part of their mission is to promote soil awareness in Maine. They were a perfect group for helping work on the language of the resolution before we submitted it.
Rachel Gilker (our own On Pasture editor) would also like to help states coordinate. Email her with your information and she’ll compile a list of interested parties in your state.
What is a resolution and does my state do that?
Each state is different, but many state legislatures have some way of officially recognizing a person, group, or cause in an honorific way. In Maine and New York, a Resolution can serve this function. In West Virginia, a proclamation can do the same thing. If you can’t figure out through a little googling what the process is for your state, the legislator you reach out to (see below) should know. Unfortunately, many state legislative sessions are wrapping up, so time is of the essence. Get a move on!
Which elected officials might be able to champion soils in your state?
If you know a legislator personally, ask him or her for advice. When I approached a family friend, she put me in touch with the right person to sponsor our resolution. If no one in your group of soils enthusiasts knows any legislators personally, look through the list of legislators on one of the appropriate committees (Environment and Natural Resources and Agriculture are two common committees that would be appropriate), and get in touch with one of them. One benefit of teaming up with organizations like MAPSS or agricultural organizations is that they probably already have a relationship with some legislators.
What should the resolution say?
First, it helps to have the language down, or at least have a very good sense of the language, before you approach a legislator. They’re busy and don’t have time to work on language themselves. This is your issue and your expertise, not theirs. As for what to include, you can use the generic language of the Maine resolution or write an entirely new one. States are competitive; throw in something specific to your state and why its soils deserve an honorific mention. Is your state blessed with deep, prairie soils? Does your state pride itself in a specific agricultural product? Does your state university have a champion soil judging team?
What if your state doesn’t do resolutions or you don’t feel like getting the government involved?
The resolution isn’t the important part. It’s the follow-up, or raising awareness, that really matters. Start your own soil hashtag campaign. Offer to babysit someone’s children and then teach them about soil. Take a little time to increase your soil knowledge to improve your own soil management.
As I said, this process was a civics lesson for me, and an opportunity to get to know my state a little better. In looking at the list of co-sponsors, I was struck by the group’s composition. They aren’t professional politicians, and it made me proud of Maine’s citizen legislature. They included a logger, a compost and maple sugaring business owner, an organic farmer, a retired forest product industry manager, and an integrated pest management specialist. They came from both sides of the aisle. One collaborator from MAPSS said “I’m really glad this process didn’t turn you off from politics.” No, it was actually a nice entry into politics. I’d recommend it.