Hello to all who read this. And as usual: Thank you so much for joining my blog.
I saw this movie recently: ‘Our soil is our heritage’ and it deeply impressed me – therefore I’m writing this article, even though I had the headline on my mind for some time due to other experiences. For example due to working for 3.5 years in a service position in an organic store, where I was wondering about the self-calculated prices, due to my help and lettuce harvesting at a community solidary agriculture in France where every head of lettuce was a piece of art (a bit nibbled off or tattered, decorated with snail trails), during my Saturdays at the farmer’s market where I sold organic fruits and vegetables, during my research on organic agriculture and so on…
The movie started with utterly bad news: The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) predicts that we will only have 60 more years of harvests left if we continue to treat our soils the way we do at the moment.
Conventional agriculture leaches the soil and adds harmful substances and poisonous chemicals in high doses, so that the result is ‘degraded soil’. We have to learn as a society to appreciate a sustainable cultivation which keeps the soil alive. This is a macrosocial task – politics have to redistribute subsidies, the consumer/gourmets/valuator has to buy the adequate products, the farmer has to have the courage to change farming methods.
Soil how we probably would draw it (as bare brown ground) is actually a clinical picture. Soil is life, above it and underneath it. There has to be something, above and underneath, which shows that the soil is alive. In a handful of soil, we normally find more insects, worms and living species than there are humans on earth.
We have to appreciate what organic farmers do to keep our soils vivid and long lasting. On a field with onions in monoculture (onions are even cultivated in monoculture in an organic way as it corresponds to their needs), you can only plant them again in 8 to 9 years. In the meanwhile the soil needs time to recover with crop rotations. The same way a human being needs vacation, sleep and breaksJ.
At first sight, the end-product doesn’t tell the consumer how the soil was treated and which chemicals have been used and introduced into the soil and our water resources. This shows that it’s understandable that farmers economize and try to save time and costs while maximizing the yields due to the pressure they are exposed to. In conventional agriculture this is achieved with poisonous sprays that eradicate weeds effectively and long term. In organic agriculture weeding is done manually – requiring more time and incurring higher labor costs. The conventional agriculture of course is able to produce showpieces of white cabbage and prunes big as fists with artificial chemicals which leach out the soil. If this is still what the wholesale market asks for, the system is comprehensible.
But it’s all about our living global ecosystem – the soil is alive. It is the only ‘instrument’ that can feed us in the future. And it’s not only going to feed us, it provides us with everything we need. Cotton for our clothes, caoutchouc/rubber for tires or washer sealings, wood for paper, beds, cupboards and so on.
At the end its the ‘appreciator’ who decides, the consumer who appreciates how a product got produced, who appreciates what the producer did to bring this product into the world, but as well appreciates what kind of life-sustaining side-effects the production had.
Regenerating fields, that’s what we need to do. A field, heavily degenerated and ‘dead’ through overfertilization, long-term monoculture, erosion, where the layer of soil is practically empty and doesn’t contain any humus anymore, can heal. Soil can heal, even after only 2 years of help from humans. This is the very good message: We can also transform from destroyers of the soil to its healers.
With: Mixed cultivations, green manure, no digging – a complete unnatural process for nature, with the exception of pigs that occasionally come around and move the ground around. Pigs are actually ‘used’ as gentle plows in permaculture projects, in case the soil really needs an upheaval, e.g. to turn lawn into cropland.
But it’s important to mention that pigs also add something to the soil while unconsciously moving it around – their manure. Additionally, they do not concentrate their weight on small pieces of land as tractors do. Tractors compress the soil so heavily that everything below gets crushed. There won’t be any more worms or bugs alive under the tracks of a tractor.
The key feature is that the soil has to be covered all the time. The roots and everything above the ground are mutually dependent on each other. The green leaves above the soil transform light into nutrients by photosynthesis for the whole plant, including the roots. Therefore they are the only drivers of root growth. If the leaves are getting cut and reduced, the roots follow and get reduced as they do not get ‘fed’ enough anymore.
Simultaneously, the soil is capable to accomplish so much more! If we would help our soil to build up humus only by 0.4% everywhere on earth on our croplands, the complete annual global GHG-emissions could get absorbed. Virtually soaked up as plants urgently need this CO2 to survive – the same way we need O2 to breathe and survive. We can achieve so much if we make sure that the soil is covered and that there are plants that soak up the atmospheric CO2. At the same time, they enrich the soil with roots and keep the ground beneath alive. In addition, we can help adding organic material from above by just leaving autumn leaves on the top. This all means that we can transform our agricultural system from a source of GHG-emissions, which it absurdly is at the moment, into a real good, natural sink of emissions that is even able to gift us with healthy food and solves the climate problem.
We should also focus on the fact that it’s getting more and more difficult to practice organic agriculture nowadays. 10 – 20 years ago, farmers didn’t have to ‘pull out all the stops’. Today it’s a different business. Farmers have to deal with snow or icy temperatures in April whereas there is no rain for 2 weeks in May and temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius for 3 days in a row. This leads to frozen blooms or not. Onions might sprout or not. Strawberries might wither or not. Not leave strawberries to wither requires a lot of irrigation and if needed stable foil marquees. Concerning the onions, the time between the hail in April and the potential sprouting in July is long and the farmer has to take care for them hoping to harvest fruits and not convert everything into mulching material.
A large part of the food is already lost during the harvest as it’s not in line with EU-standards.
The appeal to the ‘appreciator’ or even ‚worshipper‘ = the consumer: you decide with your choice how our global cropland is going to be used, what is going to be cultivated/what can still be cultivated. Appreciate the cute and crinkly, but delicious white cabbage, the strangely curled carrots, the fair priced milk or the high-quality organic meat. HOW these vital things got produced, determines if its source, the soil, will still be capable to generate these goods for our kids and all coming generations.
One last thing: It also tastes better! Best example: high quality organic cheese from France –