Sleepy Eye YES! Team SMS Environmental Science students attended the YES! Winter Workshop held at Gustavus Adolphus College on March 20.

Sleepy Eye YES! Team advisors, Mary Beth Botz and Deb Reinarts, accompanied 13 YES! members (students from Sleepy Eye Public and St. Mary’s) and five SMS Environmental Science students to the YES! Winter Workshop held at Gustavus Adolphus College on March 20.

They were joined by the New Prague YES! Team at the workshop, which focused on soil health.

The keynote speaker was David Montgomery, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, who is the 2019 Rydell Professor at GAC. “Montgomery presented on how we are changing soil and how by changing a few things about our agriculture system we can restore it,” said Sophie Bishop, Southern YES! Program Coordinator.

The students saw the difference between fertile top soil, which is dark brown and holds moisture, and infertile soil, which is tan and doesn’t hold a lot of moisture. Montgomery said some ways to fix soil are to stop tilling, fertilize with compost, have grazers in fields, plant cover crops, and rotate crops. Sleepy Eye students found it to be of great educational value and really enjoyed listening to Montgomery.

“I was grateful that students had the opportunity to listen to someone of the caliber and expertise as the keynote speaker,” said Mary Beth Botz, one of Sleepy Eye YES! Team’s advisors. “Although a world renowned scientist and author, who could have buried us in statistics, David Montgomery kept our attention by bringing his research alive with stories. Yes, industrial, mining and farming practices have diminished the quality of soil around the world. We need to know and own that. However, he praised innovative American farmers who, through wise stewardship, are reversing the trend and actually improving the organic content of the soils.”

After Montgomery’s presentation, the students were split into three groups. One group learned about the thermal and PV solar panels, while the second group took a journey through how compost is made from food scraps from the GAC cafeteria to the compost piles ready to be spread on their gardens. Even with the bad smell coming from the composter, the students still appreciated being able to see how compost is made. The Sleepy Eye YES! Team even wants to start looking into getting a composter for their school.

The third group went with Climate Generation’s, Kira Liu. She had the students connect soil health and climate change through an activity in which they created an action project plan to get their community to compost. They related climate change with agriculture and food and food waste, before diving into creating their own plan to make a community sustainable.

“Throughout the day, students saw that everything starts with healthy soil and that we can change tactics to make our soil better,” said Bishop. “This is the time to start making these changes for a better future. The New Prague and Sleepy Eye teams are bringing what they have learned from this workshop to projects in their communities.”

YES! (Youth Eco Solutions) empowers youth to create solutions to today’s ecological challenges through community based hands-on action projects. YES! is a program of Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in partnership with Laurentian Environmental Center and Ney Nature Center. Major funding for the 2018-2019 season is provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.