“A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

ball of moist soil in the palm of a person's handSoil and Water Conservation Districts have historically focused on soil healthy by preventing erosion from wind and water. However recent studies show that ensuring sufficient organic matter is just as important for the long term productivity and sustainability of soil.

Soil organic matter (also known simply as organic matter, organic content, or humus) is the component of soil that is made up of plant and animal residue in various stages of decomposition. SOM is the most variable component of soil. While sand, silts and clay will vary little over of hundreds of years, SOM can change drastically over a few short years.

Soil organic matter is also one of the most dynamic and influential components of soil:  it acts as a binding agent to hold soil in place, it’s able to soak up water and hold if for long dry periods, and it’s very efficient at holding and releasing nutrients to plants. As SOM decreases, the amount of irrigation and fertilizer necessary to grow and optimize crop yields diminishes rapidly.

Our Soil Health Program helps farmers follow the four basic principles of soil health:
1. Keep it covered
2. Limit disturbance
3. Keep a living root in the soil AND
4. Diversify to benefit microorganisms

Soil Education Partnership

We are partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Oregon State University Extension to provide farmers the education and resources they need to improve soil health and increase soil organic matter. OSU extension may be able to provide specific cover crop recommendations while WMSWCD and the USDA-NRCS may be able to provide financial assistance to help farmers get started. We also provide help through our Healthy Streams Program to install native plants, which help minimize soil erosion and improve soil health, along key waterways, including on Sauvie Island.

Most of our soil work falls into these categories:

  • Soil health on your working farm
  • Soil health in your garden
  • Soil health and erosion control along your stream (See the Healthy Streams Program)

Contact us at to learn more.


Soil School!

Each year West Multnomah SWCD partners with Tualatin SWCD to host Soil School, a day-long workshop that includes multiple sessions on a wide variety of topics – all having to do with soil. Visit the project page to learn more!

Soil Resources

Learn how to test your soil

Find out where to take your soil sample to be tested

Learn how to interpret your soil test results

Learn how cover crops benefit soil

Map of Sauvie Island soils

Also search under Programs or in the Library for more information on improving your soil health!




2016-2017 WMSWCD Annual Report

We’re pleased to announce that our 2016-2017 Annual Report is complete and can be downloaded here.   We encourage you to browse through this eye-catching publication to see a snapshot of our activities and accomplishments over […]

Columbia Farms Chemical Storage Facility

With the help of a grant provided by WMSWCD, Columbia Farms installed an agricultural chemical handling and storage building. This structure allows the farm to store all of its pesticides and other farm chemicals in an […]

Sauvie Island Organics

The folks at Sauvie Island Organics live by the ethic that “a healthy soil will produce healthy crop plants that have optimum vigor and are less susceptible to pests.” Since 2011, West Multnomah SWCD has […]