What is soil? It is not just the dirt under out feet, but a living, breathing organism that we depend on for our very survival. Soil is one of the main resources that sustain life on this planet along with water, air and sunshine. Healthy unadulterated soil is quite literally alive with insects, microorganisms, bacteria and humus, decaying organic matter. It is the resource we walk all over and don’t spend much time thinking about… unless of course you are an organic farmer. Now the United Nationals Food and Agriculture Organization and the USDA agree: soil health and awareness is essential to the health of our eco-systems and the food security for the billions who must be fed.
It is that very narrative as to “how we will feed the world” that drives us to mono-crop food production. We plant vast quantities of grains as cheaply as possible with the goal of achieving the highest yield per acre. For the most part, this highly intensive industrial form of agriculture takes a titanic toll on biodiversity, the air, the water and our soil.
On the flip side organic agriculture’s entire mission is to build the organic matter of the soil. In 1945 Sir Albert Howard, one of the early organic proponents, refined the principles of organic agriculture in the classic book: The Soil and Health. He took notice that industrial agriculture disrupts the delicate balance of nature and irrevocably robs the soil of its fertility.
As far back as 1924 Rudolf Steiner was discussing “biodynamic agriculture,” a method of organic farming with a holistic understanding of agricultural processes. This method emphasizes the use of compost and manure, excludes the use of artificial chemicals on soil and views the treatment of animals, crops, and soil as a single living system. Read more about biodynamic agriculture from Simply Centered.
A focus on soil health is now sorely needed!
Usher in 2015 The UN’s International Year of Soils! 2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly of the UN’s Food and Ag Organization (FAO). They are planning a yearlong program for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and nutrition and essential eco-system functions. “Healthy Soils for Healthy Life” is their motto and they have a calendar of events highlighting conferences and outreach worldwide, from Korea to Cuba, Germany and beyond. It will culminate on World Soil Day, 5th December 2015 at FAO headquarters with the launch of the first “Status of the World Soil Resources Report.” It will be interesting to see how organic measures up.
A recent paper from Royal Society Publishing penned “Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap” found a smaller yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture than previously thought. The good news is that with multi-cropping and crop rotations there can be an even greater increase in yields with organic!
This study goes on to summarize that: While tremendously productive, our current agricultural food system causes many environmental problems, often trading off long-term maintenance of ecosystem services for short-term agricultural production. This results in biodiversity loss, massive soil erosion and degradation, eutrophication and oceanic dead zones, pesticide effects on humans and wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, and regime shifts in hydrological cycling….To maintain the Earth’s capacity to produce food, it is imperative that we adopt sustainable and resilient agricultural practices as soon as possible.
It is clear that the world’s hungry need many things; access to clean water, air, native seeds and especially healthy soils. Organic agriculture embraces and nurtures these basic resources and it all starts with vigorous balanced soil.
Won’t you join me in celebrating 2015 as International Year of Soils? You can if you purchase, grow and eat organic foods. Choose organic textiles, towels and clothes. Every organic choice you make helps an organic farmer build the hummus and topsoil one acre at a time.
You can also help science by sending in soil samples to the researchers at Northeastern University. Please read my blog: WHAT’S THE DIRT ON ORGANIC SOIL? YOU CAN DIG IT! to help them study organic soil health in 2015.
As Sir Albert Howard once said “we must respect and restore the health of the soil for the benefit of future generations.”
Happy New Year! Happy Soil!