Conservation Neighbor: Teresa Matteson

Teresa Matteson: Soil Health Crusader

Foreword by Holly Crosson: For many, soil is one of the most underappreciated resources on our planet; but not so for Teresa Matteson, a passionate soil pioneer who knows we shouldn’t be treating our soil like dirt!  For years Teresa has led the charge at Benton SWCD to help rural and urban residents alike understand why our collective future rests on what’s beneath our feet.  From enthusiastically leading soil health workshops for farmers, to providing hands-on learning and mentorship for countless students, Teresa brings hard work, expertise, collaboration, and a lot of fun to improving the quality of our soil. Sign up for one of her workshops and you’ll see what I mean!

Every successful movement has a passionate leader. For Oregon’s Soil Health effort, that champion is Benton SWCD’s own Teresa Matteson. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Soil Scientist Cory Owens says, “Teresa Matteson almost single-handedly got the Soil Health effort chugging across Oregon.” Spurred by her passion for soil, Teresa made a career switch from medical technology to soil conservation, a move that has improved soil management practices across the state. Certified as an OSU Master Gardener in 1991, Teresa was named the Jackson County Master Gardener of the Year in 1999. She coordinated a southern Oregon backyard compost education program. She volunteered with the Composting Council of Oregon, attended Biodynamic meetings, built hot piles, and spread black gold to grow killer salsa ingredients. Upon completion of her Master’s Degree in Soil Science at Oregon State University (OSU), Teresa joined the staff at Benton Soil & Water Conservation District.

Attendance at a 2008 Soil and Water Conservation Society workshop on Soil Quality catalyzed her mission to revive regard for soil. In 2009 she received a Conservation Innovation Grant from Oregon Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to begin the Soil Quality Project (SQP). The grant funded local workshops and a soil assessment program based on the Cornell model. The SQP provides farmers with field and laboratory physical, biological, and chemical assessments to guide agricultural management decisions. As of August 2016, the SQP had processed 248 samples for more than 50 landowners.

Until the summer of 2016, SQP analyses were conducted by Teresa and her student interns in lab space donated by OSU Crop and Soil Science Department. At least 15 SQP interns have visited farm fields, collected and processed soil samples, performed assessments and created reports for farmers. This summer OSU’s Central Analytical Lab will adopt the Soil Quality Project analyses, to ensure they can be offered for the long run.

Teresa’s passion for soil health and the scientific method have inspired young scientists. Amanda Pennino, one of Teresa’s Soil Quality Lab interns, attests that “Teresa Matteson is one of those unique individuals that simply radiates enthusiasm for science and the natural world. Her passion for the involvement and integration of BSWCD and OSU has benefited both students, local farmers, and the community in more ways than she probably ever realized. Teresa’s mission to spread the word on soil health and what “good science” really means are things that have inspired me in my own future as a female soil scientist.”

Teresa gathering samples for soil quality analysis.
Teresa gathering samples for soil quality analysis.

With support from OSU and NRCS, Teresa is working on a multi-year project to build the robustness of the soil quality assessment database. Teresa says one of the most rewarding aspects of this project is seeing results on the ground. “Based on assessments and farmers’ testimonials, recommended practices, such as cover crops and organic improvements, have improved soil function.”

Interest in soil health was building, so Teresa began the Soil Quality Network in 2011 through a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant. “The Soil Quality Network meetings were the first significant gatherings of folks interested in building soil health awareness in Oregon,” said Owens. According to  Teresa, “We have a vast and growing network of partners, most importantly farmers, who make a difference by sharing their lessons learned.”

Teresa continued to build momentum for improved soil health with a 2013 USDA Risk Management Agency grant. The project involved six Soil and Water Conservation Districts working with OSU Extension, NRCS, and local farmers. They hosted 47 workshops that reached 977 farmers and students. Teresa was instrumental in setting the stage for revived regard for soil health amongst the farmers and land managers who will continue to benefit from soil quality assessments for years to come.

Matteson’s talent for bringing the right people and resources together has paved the way for the principles of soil health to take root in Oregon. Because of Teresa’s tireless efforts, a thriving network of enthusiastic partners now exists, who continue to deliver soil health education. According to Owens, “Teresa is a trail blazer for soil health outreach and a valued partner to the NRCS’s efforts both here and nationally.” For her indomitable dedication to the cause of soil conservation, Teresa Matteson merits recognition.

Teresa Matteson: 2017 NRCS Partnership Award Recipient

Heather Medina Sauceda, NRCS, presented Teresa with this beautiful award at the CONNECT conference on May 3,2017.
Heather Medina Sauceda, NRCS, presented Teresa with this beautiful award at the CONNECT conference on May 3, 2017.

In 2017, Teresa received recognition for her role as a stellar proponent of conservation practices when she received the prestigious NRCS SWCD Employee Partnership Award.

Here is an excerpt from her nomination, submitted by Annie Young-Mathews of the NRCS Corvallis Plant Materials (PMC).

“Teresa continues to be an amazing partner for the Corvallis Plant Materials Center in fulfilling our mission of helping conservation planners get more conservation on the ground by providing technical assistance on plant materials and technology to address natural resource concerns.  In FY2016 she helped plan and facilitate the following events with the Corvallis PMC:

PMC Spring Cover Crop Field Day, 4/18/16, attended by 15 conservation planning staff and 17 other participants (farmers, ag. professionals, students, etc.). Topics covered: a range of cover crop/soil health topics.

Pollinators in Parks Workshop, 6/2/16, 61 participants.  Topics covered: how to provide habitat to support pollinator conservation, including bee/bug ID at the PMC.

Integrated Biological Pest Management Practices for Oregon Farms Workshop, 8/23-24/16, 30 participants. Topics covered: how to create on-farm habitat to support beneficial insects and other wildlife.

Nutrient Management Workshop: Keeping Nitrogen in the Crop & Dollars in the Pocket, 1/26/16, 37 participants. Topics covered: cover crops for producing and retaining nitrogen.”

According to Tracy Robillard of NRCS, “Teresa continues to engage multiple partners including the Oregon Department of Agriculture, OSU Extension, Oregon Recreation and Park Association, and producers to increase education and outreach to targeted groups in Oregon’s agricultural community.” Read the award press release in full.

Crops Field Day held at the Plant Materials Center.
Participants at a Cover Crops Field Day held at the Plant Materials Center.

Teresa Matteson: A Lifetime of Accomplishments

  • 2017 NRCS PARTNERSHIP AWARDS PROGRAM SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT EMPLOYEE AWARD
  • 2013-present, Affiliate Faculty Member in the Department of Crop and Soil Science, OSU
  • 2013 Oregon Society of Soil Science President
  • 2011-present Oregon SWCS Board
  • 2007 Oregon Association of Conservation Districts Outstanding District Education & Outreach Program (Benton SWCD)
  • 2004 Oregon Association of Conservation Districts Outstanding District Newsletter (Benton SWCD)
  • 1999 Master Gardener of the Year, Jackson County, Oregon

Tapping into the vast conservation partnership opportunities across the state, Matteson continues to be a leader in Oregon for soil health education and outreach. We are proud to have this rock star soil champion on staff at Benton Soil & Water Conservation District.

Teresa Matteson with co-worker Heath and intern Taylor at the very first urban creek tour in 2008.
Teresa Matteson with co-worker Heath and intern Taylor at the very first urban creek tour in 2008.

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