Why Is Soil Health Important?
Soil is essential for life. Civilisations have risen and fallen based on the fertility and health of their soils. Under most conditions on the planet, it takes 3,000 to 12,000 years to build enough soil for agricultural productivity, it is a resource that is being exploited in the modern world, leading to degradation, compaction, erosion, and salinisation of our soils.
As a biodynamic trainee, I want to learn how to grow the most nutritious produce possible, and currently, the most nutrient-dense foods are produced through sustainable agricultural practices that fortify the soil.
Recently, I have been reading a compelling book about nutrition that urges us to eat the way our ancestors ate. The author Catherine Shanahan, MD continually emphasises the link between soil health and food quality, which has made me consider where I’m sourcing my food from. She recommends that fruits and vegetables are bought based on smell – as opposed to appearance. A tomato sold in the supermarket may look bright and healthy but sometimes it’s just cellulose and water, devoid of nourishment.
“Today, at every stage in the process of producing food, we do things differently than our sturdy, self-sufficient ancestors did, wasting opportunities to provide ourselves with essential nutrients at every turn. We fail to fortify and protect the substrate on which the life and health of everything depends: the soil” – Catherine Shanahan, M.D., Deep Nutrition, Why your genes need traditional food
The current paradigm doesn’t appreciate the link between soil health, food, our health, and the health of the planet. Perhaps, the soil is neglected as we strive for quantity over quality, in order to feed everyone cheaply.
Today, corporations and wealthy individuals are scrambling to buy and consolidate farming land across the world. The billionaire Bill Gates is now the biggest farmland owner in the United States, owning 242,000 acres, he is an outspoken advocate of genetically modified crops, and the use of fertilizers. Bill Gates along with other major landowners are awaiting the revolution of farming 4.0 when artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data, and other technological innovations open the way for the farmer-less farm. Will our soils continue to degrade with the continuation of chemically dominated reductionist farming?
There are numerous ways of understanding and perceiving soils, and our perspective dictates how we treat our soils. The so called ‘green revolution’ skewed farmers and educators to adopt a chemical dominant perspective on soils. The Green Revolution or the revolution of farming 3.0 resulted in the development of a few genetically modified hybrid plants, dependent on artificial fertilisers, and prioritising all of their energy into their bushels, while their lethargic roots had minimal contact with the soil.
The soil in intensive agriculture is essentially regarded as a lifeless substance that merely holds the plant in place, while artificial human implements provide all of the fertility, and nutrition the plant needs. What are the consequences of the mainstreams misguided understanding of soil, and how do this method of growing affects the nutrient density of the foods we eat, and ultimately also our health?
A chemical dominated view prioritised short-term crop success, over long-term healthy soils. In this essay, I will investigate soil from a Physical, Chemical, Biological, and Biodynamic perspective, seeking a holistic understanding of soil.
I will also outline various ways of assessing the health of soils and conduct a soil test, prior to suggesting practices and cultivation styles improve or maintain soil health, such as the no-dig or introducing biochar.
Physical Perspective On Soil
A physical perspective of soil is often the easiest to observe. By looking at the soil surface we can begin to gain insights into the health of the soil.