Ray Archuleta had been working in soil conservation for years when he and his colleagues began to see that their efforts were in vain. As a soil scientist and conservation agronomist in the Natural Resource Conservation Service, he saw first-hand that, despite multi-million dollar projects designed to improve soil health in the Western U.S., each spring the Snake River would run brown, thick with pollutants.
What really confused and frustrated Archuleta, however, was the impracticality of farming’s economics. “Farmers couldn’t bring sons and daughters into the operations because they couldn’t afford it,” he says. “They had prime soil, plenty of water, but still they were unable to support two families economically from their harvests.”
That experience was among the catalysts for Archuleta’s shift in perspective. The key to helping nature, he discovered, was in learning to mimic it, starting with healthier soil. When Archuleta retired, after 30 years at the NRSC, he took that approach and created the Soil Health Academy. The mission of the organization is to spread the soil-regeneration gospel: to teach farmers, ranchers, consumers and beyond the connection regenerative agricultural principles that start with healthy soil, and lead to healthier ecosystems.
Now, five years since creating the organization, the Alabama-based non-profit leads three-day academies in person and online. In this interview with Terra, Archuleta shares his own evolution in understanding the connection between soil and environmental health, what gives him hope about the future and one thing we can do to take care of the land.