There are a myriad of Fad Diets out there; we’ve all seen them: the South Beach, Atkins, Probiotic, etc. Then there are lifestyle diets like veganism and raw food. Years ago, I switched to a vegetarian diet for ecological reasons to lower my footprint. As I read and listened more about food, this grew into a strict organic food based diet, then to organic local, and now I’ve backed off a bit and am “virtually” vegetarian as I learned more of the importance of animals to the function of a farm ecosystem . Food issues are of paramount importance to me – as a parent and a global citizen– driving much of the work for this blog, in my gardens, and my outreach. Whether you are trying to lose weight, make a statement or live your ethics, what we put into our mouths to sustain us has a huge impact not the least of which is on our health, but our food choices also greatly impacts our economy, our scenery, the climate, and our planet. Food matters… alot.
Over the course of the next few months I will expand on the topic of food grown in Living Soils as part of a Fall/Winter series of articles / essays concerning this topic. It is far bigger than even a 2000 word post, and I am looking forward to the 1000+ pages of books I have inbound to help me expand my knowledge on the topic. Plus its been awhile since I have written a larger article and I am rather looking forward to it. In the mean time here are some High Points, mostly opinions, though later posts will be better referenced.
The data on the ills of our current, conventional farming system are legion, and well documented. Conventional farming practices promote erosion, are poisoning our groundwater, most of our food is trucked in from at least 1500 miles away, the farmers can’t earn living wages, and small town America is all but extinct outside of bedroom communities. The case for a different kind of Green Revolution is strong. Conventional Farming is crude, reductionist and is founded on failed assumptions. It is time to recommit to growing our food in Living Soils.
As part of the back to Earth movement in the 60’s a growing number of farmers began to grow “organically” – the way that our grandparents had done prior to WWII. The inspiration for this blog, Masanoubu Fukuoka, was part of this movement to create a more sane, sustainable and productive agriculture that worked in partnership with Nature. One of the firm tenants that has developed in Organic Farming is the need to foster a living soil. Feed the soil, so that it may feed your plants and they, in turn, will feed you. In a single gram of living soil there may be as many as 100 million to 3 billion bacteria, but in denuded soils destroyed by chemical dependant industrial farming there can be as few as 100. The incredible interconnected biodiversity of our soil’s food webs is only beginning to be “discovered” by science. But we do know some things.
First off, organic food is better for you. I know we’ve all gotten used to the see saw reports on this topic, but the majority of reports done in unbiased, or at least less biased, manner are showing what our “Common Sense” test has know all along. Food grown in living soils are more nutritious for you. From the USDA’s own reports, the nutritional content of our [conventionally grown] food is 25% less than it was 50 years ago because the soil is dead and it takes far more than Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to grow Real Food. At the least it takes 18 micro nutrients including zinc and copper to create a balanced soil for plants – and those nutrients need to be in proper proportions to each other to prevent imbalances. Balancing 3 points can be challenging, balancing 18, plus tilth, moisture, density, and air porosity is a herculean task far beyond the scope of our technology. It takes the help of those millions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, earthworms and other soil organisms with the wisdom of millions of years of evolution behind them, to get it right for us. When the soil web is healthy and stable -living- it is an amazingly self regulating system that balances itself over time to best foster healthy plant growth. Nature is beautiful.
Not only are the plants more nutritious, but the heirloom varieties that can be only be grown in a holistic, organic, and local system are far superior to the supermarket varieties. Anyone who has tasted one of my heirloom Carola potatoes after eating Idaho Russets from the Kwik Trip understands exactly what I mean. Several years ago, I invited my Mother over to sample our first strawberry harvest at our home. Upon putting the small, Sparkle berry into her mouth she almost swooned, exclaiming “I haven’t tasted this since I was a girl!”. Strawberries are supposed to all but melt in your mouth – they are not intended to have a rigid core – that was bred in to allow them to be transported by truck, rather than by basket from the garden to the kitchen table. Our forefathers and mothers saved the seeds of the varieties with the best taste, and I fervently believe that our sense of taste is evolutionarily designed to sense nutrition – our bodies know that organic food is better for us.
But living soils matter far more than just helping to offset the massive Health Care crisis of our time (we are the first society to be overfed to the point of chronic obesity, while simultaneously being malnourished). Our conventional farming practices are a significant cause of Climate Change. In a lecture some friends of mine heard in Sweden comparing the carbon cutting benifits to be had from transportation, housing, and food sectors – the Food Sector won by a margin of over 400%. Granted Europe’s Transportation and Housing sectors have come a long way compared to ours, but a recent article claims that switching to local foods and cutting back on red meat (to sane levels v. American levels) could reduce your carbon emissions more than swapping out 20 primary light bulbs (who has 20 primary bulbs?!) and cutting back your driving by 10%. But back to the soil. To feed the soil ecosystem you must supply one primary thing – organic matter. And the primary component of organic matter is carbon. The reality is that switching to a Soil Based agriculture system will have HUGE ramifications on our ability to sequester carbon as a planet. Much of the Ag land in America today is depeleted – down to 2-3% organic matter – less in many cases. Healthy, living soils have at least 5 – 8%. And here is the amazing stat: for each 1% you add back into the soil, you sequester as much carbon as exists in the entire atmosphere above that acre. And we need to sequester 3-5% back into every acre to rebuild the soil webs to rebuild our soils so we can rebuild our selves and our planet. That is an amazing amount of carbon – 21 tons per acre, per percent, in fact. In other words, a 200 acre farm that rebuilt its living soils and raised its organic matter 4% would sequester 16,800 tons of carbon. Damn!
Living Soils are giving soils, providing far more bounty for less inputs because Nature is doing much of the work of the fertilizer supplier. When my grandparents farmed they raised a family of 10 on 175 acres – and that was a large prosperous dairy farm for its day. Now it would be a hobby farm in this era of industrial, corporate agriculture. With the need for literally over $1,000,000 in rolling equipment, not to mention the silos, dairy barns, etc to support the 2000 acre “farms” of today the bank interest alone is staggering – forcing most farmers to work additional jobs. Conventional farming has also killed our rural communities – 2000 acres 70 years ago would have supported 10-15 large families well, where now one farmer struggles with bankruptcy every other year because most of the income from the land goes to Cargill for supplies and to the bank in loan interest.
Saner scale farms based on living soils, working in partnership with Nature, can rebuild our countryside, help to save our climate, and will provide a huge step towards stemming the tide of “lifestyle” disease and cancers as we put the nutrition back into our bodies.
We need Living Soils for a Livable Planet.