When asked about soil, most people will tell you that it’s the dirt we use to grow food. Soil is not dirt – it is a vibrant, living community of organic matter and contains more living microorganisms than we even know about. It has been said that 1 million creatures exist in a tablespoon of topsoil, and as longtime leader in sustainable agriculture Fred Kirschenmann reveals in a TED Talk, “Soil science tells us there are more living organisms beneath the surface of the soil than above”.
Oxford Dictionary defines ‘soil‘ as “the upper layer of earth in which plants grow, a black or dark brown material typically consisting of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles”. The organic matter (decomposed plant and animal material) within soil, is commonly called “humus”, and it is not only essential for life to exist, it is life. According to author and educator Graeme Sait, “If we look at the etiology of this word, we find that the words “humus” and “human” mean the same thing”. The health and quality of our soil directly determines the health and vitality of human beings, and without the community of life existing within our soil, we wouldn’t have any life at all.
Agriculture is turning grasslands into desert all over the world. Each year about 10 million hectares of cropland are lost due to soil erosion. In his book Gardening the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America, Agricultural Historian and Author Steven Stoll wrote, “The plow is at once the symbol of domestication, and the world’s most feared ecological wrecking ball. It unearths microenvironments, destroys nests and burrows, throws open moisture”. The 15 million acres of native tallgrass prairie in Nebraska, once known for their fertility, are now 98% gone due to our parasitic industrial food system. Like a parasite, modern agriculture rages war on biological life, until soil becomes salt and dust, incapable of growing anything.
This article was written so that we can understand and appreciate three very important things:
- The miracle of soil and how fundamental it is for all life on earth
- The devastating effects modern agriculture has had on our soil
- The need for new and sustainable ways to produce our food
With this understanding, we can move forth in Planet Earth’s Official Sustainable Food Course and learn how to produce the healthiest food possible while simultaneously feeding the entire world.