As a part of its ongoing climate resiliency efforts, Deerfield received a $40,951 Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Action Grant to study and engage the public in the protection and management of soils to store water in flood events, filter water, release water in times of drought, and sequester carbon.

The town’s Healthy Soils Report received a Sustainability Award this past December from the Massachusetts branch of the American Planning Association.

Following the award of the MVP grant in 2021, the town began working with Regenerative Design Group and Conservation Works on a study to determine a baseline of current soil health as well as the effects that land cover and current management practices have on the soil.

The town, which has a 2030 Climate Resiliency Plan in place, is located along the Connecticut River and Deerfield River valleys and is prone to flooding.

“The MVP program has been really great to us as a community,” said Select Board Member Carolyn Shores Ness. “We’ve had huge damages in the past, not just from [Hurricane] Irene, but also from other terrible storms. … Being climate resilient is critical for the town based on where we are located.”

According to the report, healthy soil provides a number of useful functions related to climate resiliency, including carbon capture and storage, water filtration and storage, and nutrient storage, on top of its productive capacity and biological activity and diversity. Soil health is largely dependent on how people manage and use it.

The study identified the different soil types found across the town, along with the capacity for carbon sequestration.

“We know that good soil health in the community is related to having deeply rooted plants that withstand heavy rain and drought events better, and improve water storage, drainage and capacity,” Shores Ness said.

The study undertook extensive outreach and education efforts with town farmers, students and staff at Frontier Regional High School and Deerfield Academy, as well as the general public. Students at Frontier were engaged in field day activities for hands-on learning with study staff.

Shores Ness said that the town is now primarily focused on educational outreach about the science and results of the study as the town looks to implement strategies to improve soil health. Part of the goal is to empower residents to make changes within their own yards, while also looking to make changes in municipal practices.

The town is looking at tree preservation, as well as how lawn areas are managed by the Department of Public Works. The study identified the best trees for the town to plant in the public tree belt and promote for residential use, based on adaptability and resiliency.

“It is important to have municipal areas that are currently mowed lawn switched over to native meadows where possible,” Shores Ness said. “It helps to lower operational costs but is also a climate benefit supporting soil health and pollinator and wildlife habitats.”

The town has also developed a Yard-by-Yard program as a part of their 2030 plan that has been further supported by the results of the study. The program supports residential lawn-to-meadow conversions and native planting projects, as well as outreach and training.

“We are trying to come up with ways that people feel they have power and ability to impact climate change,” said Shores Ness, who also chairs the Board of Health.

The report identifies five actions the town and its residents can take to improve the health of their soils to positively support their climate change goals, and suggests new and updated bylaws to help build on the work that has already been done by the Planning Board. Shores Ness said two commercial entities are voluntarily working with the town to test out some of the suggested best practices to determine the impact on economic development.

“We are starting with the simplistic and will get more complex as we go on,” Shores Ness said. “With outreach and then implementation, it is a slow process but we are working toward these great ideas in the next year or two.”

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