“In Spring, at the end of the day, one should smell like dirt.”- Margaret Atwood
As Spring creeps across the land, we turn our gaze downward to catch the first green buds with their promise of warmth and abundance to come. The sight of new life springing from the seemingly-sleeping soil has the capacity to send our hearts soaring, even as we dig our fingers into the dirt to plant to new seeds. This March is Soils Support Agriculture Month, part of the 2015 International Year of Soils, and is an excellent prompting to dig a little deeper.
Healthy soil, alive and teeming with biodiversity, may be the greatest security a nation can have; in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” Roosevelt would go on to establish the Soil Conservation Service in the 30’s, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, after the devastation brought about by the Dust Bowl laid American Agriculture (and the economy) low.
Not surprisingly, soil health impacts our food supply from the ground up, and may in fact be the bedrock of a civilizations success or failure. We’ve known for quite some time that healthy soil creates healthy crops, and the growing movements of organic and sustainable agriculture have had a lot to say about soil sequestering carbon and mitigating drought (crucial elements to support farming). Links between soil health and human health are hard to ignore, whether you are looking at the many microbes that build our immune systems and to which scientists turn once more for medicinal purposes, or the decrease in our food’s nutrient density associated with depleted soil.
This is a timeless issue, exacerbated by unsustainable practices. *Recently, Maine adopted the Joint Resolution Recognizing the Importance of Soils to Maine’s Future Prosperity, designed to raise awareness of the vital role soil plays in our lives. Organizations such as SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) and the Soil Science Society of America, working in conjunction with the NRCS and the USDA among a widening group, have brought this issue squarely to the fore. Great minds alike agree- replenishing the soil is a no brainer.
On the individual level, hailing back to the notion of voting with your fork, consumer demand for organic produce is driving the market and increasing incentives for sustainable agricultural methods. Whether you work on a farm or have never visited one, your purchasing power can be harnessed to advocate for healthy soil- the very foundation of our health and a source of “fresh strength” for us all.
*Edited to reflect that Maine’s Soil Recognition Resolution is an platform for discussion and awareness, rather than an initiative. Thank you to the well informed commenter below! (You can also read more about the Resolution here)