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Our State Soil: Lester

If you have ever planted anything in the ground, or even just dug a hole, you know how our soil can vary depending on where we live. As a gardener, it is likely you have had your soil tested and amended your soil to provide optimal growing conditions for your plants. Here in Minnesota, mother nature amended some soil on a very large scale and deposited about 400,000 acres of it across 17 counties, perfect for growing crops like corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, right in the heart of our state. Click here to get the dirt on Lester, our state soil.

Lisa Olson, Master Gardener

Our State Soil: Lester

It’s 2012, and Lester, named after Lester Prairie, Minnesota where it was first acknowledged, is about to be named the state soil of Minnesota. Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, summed it up with, “Maybe with this [vote], we’ll stop treating our soil like dirt.” After all, it’s easy to take for granted what’s under our feet. But without soil, clean water and air, we literally can’t live. And by the way, to get right down to the nitty gritty, soil and dirt are not the same thing. Dirt is just that, dirt. It’s what you get on your hands or wipe off the floor. Soil, on the other hand, is a living ecosystem. Let’s dig in and learn what is so special about Lester soil and how it came to be designated as the “Official Minnesota State Soil” by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on April 28, 2012.

It all began about 10,000 years ago when glaciers were sliding south across Minnesota, depositing rocks, pebbles, sand, and other materials along the way. After the ice melted, plants began to grow on the material left behind by the glaciers. The cycle had begun. Plants would grow, die, and become organic matter to nourish new plants that would grow, die, and support the next generation of plants. Forests and prairies eventually grew up and spread across the land. The roots from grasses and trees worked their way through the rocks and pebbles further breaking them down while water flowed into the soil dissolving minerals that had been deposited during the glacial period. The decaying leaves and grass from the forests and prairies added to the layers, called horizons, and continued to increase the fertility of this nutrient rich soil. In addition, the glacial moraines where the soil formed provided well-drained conditions adding to the ideal properties of the soil. 

In 1985, the Minnesota Association of Professional Soil Scientists put together a task force to select a soil to represent Minnesota. In 1987 they voted to recommend Lester as the state soil because they recognized the significance of this resource. It took a while for Lester to gain its status as the official state soil however. There is always competition with other groups, often schoolchildren, pushing for designations of various state symbols. But finally, after the blueberry muffin became a symbol and the black bear didn’t, and just in time for the Smithsonian exhibit “Dig It!” to arrive in Minnesota, with Lester featured as the state soil, and coinciding with the University of Minnesota celebrating its 100-year anniversary, and 40 years of the Minnesota Association of Professional Soil Scientists – phew! - Lester became official. 

From the Smithsonian State Soils exhibit

Having a state soil provides unique opportunities for education about this precious resource, especially since agriculture is extremely important to the Minnesota economy. As we have learned, soil is one of the basic necessities to support life and we need to care for it. We can’t control drought, but we can control how we plant, protect our resources, and share our knowledge. 

typical landscape where Lester soil is found

Resources for this article:

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institute ( (1), Minnesota Association of Professional Soil Scientists (2), Smithsonian Institute (


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