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Burying dollars in the dirt

Marcus Lewton, an instructor at South Heart High School, demonstrates what will be included in soil health test kits Friday in South Heart. The kits are built and distributed to agriculture instructors across the state. Lewton was able to build the kits thanks to a $2,000 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Lewton was one of many in the area that received grant money from SARE.

Residents are excited to develop ideas about soil health with the help of federal money and now they can get started.

The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program recently awarded money to grant

The Southwest North Dakota Soil Health Demonstration received $175,000 for an ongoing project.

The project, comprised of Western, Central Stark and Dunn County Soil Conservation Districts, the Dickinson Research Extension Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, was created in 2008 to discover the components of healthy soil in a plot near Manning.

The project is expected to last 10 years, and will feature an eight-year rotation implementing a no-till cover crop plan to test soil health improvement methods.

Marcus Lewton, a South Heart High School ag instructor, received $2,000 for soil health education.

"We're going to build a soil health kit," Lewton said. "Basically there are all these different methods of testing soil health.

"There will be five or six different labs that teachers can take with them and show the class to teach about soil health."

About 150 boxes, both wooden and cardboard, will be constructed through the grant money, and then distributed to about 90 ag instructors throughout the state as well as about 60 in Minnesota, he added.

These boxes include sponges, beakers, paper cups and sewing needles, among other items.

"It's basically a bunch of garbage, but you can make a bunch of soil tests out of them," Lewton said. "We're making 150 kits with only $2,000 so it's not going to be very expensive stuff, but that's basically what teaching is."

For Letwon's Youth Educator grant, $2,000 was the maximum.

Lewton's ag and FFA students will help fill kits, likely at the beginning of May.

Pat Frank, a farmer who resides six miles North of South Heart, will also receive grant money to build organic soil with green manure.

"I'm excited about it," Frank said. "Pat Carr at the experiment station has been doing some work with organic farming, and what a lot of organic guys will do is seed sweet clover and work it down as a green manure crop."

Instead of using a disc to work down the clover, he hopes to use a roller to terminate the crop, which the DREC owns and Frank hopes to utilize. He added he hopes to team up with Carr, who is just as interested in the concept.

"All the money has to be spent in this project," Frank said. "The sweet clover I seeded last year, and I'm hoping being it was so dry and cold this winter it didn't winter kill on me."

Several tests will be done on the ground, Frank said, which will utilize various methods.

Carr, an agronomist with the center was also a grant recipient. Money will go toward the use of cover crops in no-till organic farming.

SARE funding is available in many differernt forms, ranging from research and education grants to on the farm research and partnerships.

For more information on SARE grants, visit