We Are Soil 03/20/2011
Anyone familiar with the biblical and Mayan creation stories know that one of the creator’s first acts was to form human beings out of the soil. In fact, the namesake for humans is derived from the word humus, which refers to the broken down organic matter in soil. The ancients understood that soil and humans are one and the same. Most people don’t give the idea much thought in our modern society, but we really are made out of mud (with a touch of sun thrown in). The health of the plants and animals that we eat for our survival directly depend on the health of the soil. In essence, healthy soil equals healthy humans. Without healthy soil, we perish.
Somewhere underneath that stuff that you walk on is soil (and for you, city dwellers, there is soil somewhere down below all that concrete and asphalt). Every cubic foot of soil has tens of millions of bacteria, microorganisms, fungi and hundreds of earthworms and bugs of all type mixed in it. While this may sound creepy, all these living organisms found in the soil live in symbiosis with the plants above and have a very important purpose to life on earth. These organisms aerate the soil and break down organic matter and minerals to the point where they are soluble to plant life, effectively fertilizing and feeding the plant life the way nature intended.
Farmers and cultivators of the land have understood how to care for, amend and conserve the soil for hundreds of thousands of years. However, after the introduction of petro-chemical derived fertilizers during the ‘green revolution,’ farmers have become disconnected from the very soil they depend on. They have forgotten that growing soil is their most important task and growing plants is secondary. Every year, untold amounts of chemical fertilizers are added to fields to improve crop yield.
While the effects on the crop may initially be impressive, digging a little deeper reveals that the soil life below has become depleted and devoid of living organisms. As these important organisms die off, the soil becomes barren and more and more expensive chemical additives are needed to support plant life of any type. Thousands of acres of farmland every year are laid waste and left completely barren due to the extensive use of soil destroying chemical fertilizers. The soil no longer has the ability to hold water as all organic matter is dead and desertification takes place. Millions of people go hungry and are displaced every year as a result of this deadly cycle, even causing political strife as the once farmers become nomads in search of food and water.
Additionally, the purchase of chemical fertilizers puts an enormous financial burden on farmers, who with already slim margins and very little room for error have to come up with money, often in the form of loans, to purchase more chemicals. The ever-rising cost of oil (from which petro-chemicals are derived) compounds both the material cost and logistical cost of transporting fertilizers.
There is another way:
At Urban Edible Landscapes we reject the ‘traditional’ forms of farming used over the past 80 years and go old school –all the way back to way it was done before the introduction of destructive petro-chemicals. Our main focus is cultivating healthy soil by mimicking natural systems using no-till, soil aeration, organic manure composting, lasagna layering, green composting and mulching. Every year, our garden’s soil life and diversity increases, resulting in ever increasing crop yields. Contact us to see how we can design and integrate healthy soil practices into your edible landscape and for general advice on building healthy soil.
If you have Netflix, make sure you watch the award winning documentary about soil and its important role: Dirt! The Movie.
Also, take a look at this article showing how soil degradation in Ethiopia has led to the loss of all but 5% of the country's plant life. The only exception being the protected Church Forests - which are now in danger of dissapearing. The bird's eye photos are quite dramatic: Protecting Ethiopia’s 'church forests', green patches in a parched landscape