June 15, 2021
Soil vs. Dirt
Visual Takeaways on Soil Health

Soil health is the latest rabbit hole I’ve stumbled down. I’m learning that there’s a lot going on beneath our feet. In fact, according to the Soil Health Institute, for every acre there’s about 10,000 pounds of biological material that includes fungi, bacteria, microbes, earthworms, and other tiny organisms. We need these critters to have healthy soil because good, healthy soil produces the food we eat and impacts the water we drink. We might not think too much beyond that relationship, but signs of erosion, desertification, and other ecological disasters are getting harder to ignore. While this may sound like all gloom and doom, soil experts tell us that with better sustainable practices in how we grow our food, soil can actually help us take the bad carbon out of the air and put it beneath our feet where it belongs. 

That’s really good news! But, we also know that we live in a multi-layered society, and adopting some of these practices may feel out of reach to many farmers. I really appreciate Becca Lucas’ op-ed that goes into the complexities of this social issue when she says how the “narrative puts the soil depletion onus on the farmer, propagating the false and ultimately harmful dichotomy of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ farmer.” She goes on to say:

“Countless societal and emotional pressures weigh on a decision to change practices, to change your identity as a farmer, without even factoring in the high likelihood of financial instability, especially when extreme weather changes related to the climate crisis make the business even more risky.”
- Becca Lucas

I am only at the surface of understanding what soil health is all about, but I am eager to dig in, pun intended, to find out more. I hope you will, too, as reducing carbon emissions takes both global and local coordination. Regenerative agriculture is just one means of drawing down carbon emissions and it basically follows Earth's natural processes. Even after decades and decades of abuse, nature shows its resilience with the ability to heal itself — we just need to learn how to support it.

Indigenous peoples implemented sustainable practices in land management for millennia.
carbonomics  Nature has its own currency exchange to keep its various players moving. The atmosphere is made up of 78% nitrogen. Plants can’t pull nitrogen from the air, but they host bacteria in their roots that can. The microbes convert nitrogen into nutrients the plants need for growth. In exchange, the plant produces carbon from photosynthesis that the bacteria can store. This naturally occurring process is an effective means of getting bad carbon out of the air.
Components of Healthy Soil: species diversity, minimal soil disturbance, cover crops, and animal integration.
it’s an economic problem.  Farmers have a living to make like everyone else. Government subsidies for commodity crops like corn and soy guarantee profits for farmers. They are just one part of a supply chain made up of industrial food processors and retailers built on a system of cheap goods.
it’s not an animal problem.  Livestock that live in crowded, unhealthy conditions can contribute to the greenhouse effect. But, those same animals can be part of regenerative agriculture where their hooves and cow patties replenish and accelerate the soil biology to make healthy soil.
legacy load - an amount of carbon that will last for decades or even centuries. Even if all emissions stopped today, we’re left with 1000 gigatons of CO2 currently in the air. Sequestering carbon through regenerative agriculture is a natural solution to drawing down carbon levels.


Resources:

WATCH
  • Living Soil
    Living Soil tells the story of farmers, scientists, and policymakers working to incorporate agricultural practices to benefit soil health for years to come. The 60-minute documentary takes you on a journey from lush landscapes in Oregon, the sun-baked fields of California, the vast green acres of the Midwest, to the waterfront farming and fishing communities in and around the Chesapeake Bay. Directed by Chelsea Myers of Tiny Attic Productions and produced by the Soil Health Institute through the generous support of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
  • Kiss the Ground
    Narrated and featuring Woody Harrelson, Kiss the Ground is an inspiring and groundbreaking film that reveals the first viable solution to our climate crisis. Directed and produced by filmmakers Josh & Rebecca Tickell of Big Picture Ranch.
READ
  • Native American Land-Use Practices and Ecological Impacts.” 
    M. Kat Anderson and Michael J. Moratto, Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project: Final report to Congress, vol. II, Assessments and scientific basis for management options. Davis: University of California, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources, 1996.
LEARN
  • Project Drawdown
    From dynamic glass to electric bicycles, browse solutions to reduce emissions.
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