Symphony of the Soil
Deborah Koons Garcia
Soil is not just dirt nor is it merely a collection of minerals. Edible plants won’t grow in a sterile collection of minerals. They require the complex ecosystem that we call soil. Minerals are part of this environment, but it must also include microbes, fungi, insects, air, moisture and maybe other things we don’t even know about that life requires. The mineral component of various soils can come from sources such as glacial run off in Norway, volcanoes in Hawaii, and wind-blown loess in Washington state, as “Symphony of the Soil” illustrates.
There are numerous categories of soil enumerated in the film. Prairie soil is the most productive, not forest soil as some might guess. All of the organic matter in a forest is in the trees rather than in the soil. The United States has a much higher percentage of prairie soil than most of the rest of the world. That is probably due to the wise management of those who occupied the North American prairies before the European invasion.
The ancient Romans did not wisely manage their soil. They liked to plow it up until there was little left. They also used lead plumbing, which would make any civilization too stupid to live, but destroying their soil was equally bad. I’m not sure which came first in their case. In the U.S. we are trying that same bad idea with our soil. The relentless westward push of the settlers in the nineteenth century was driven by the rapid depletion of soil and the continued exploitation of what remained of fertile prairie land. Much of the rest of the world is following those dead end ruts. Worldwide, one-third of the soil has run off into the ocean.
So a good plan of action would be to not destroy all of our soil. There are a number of strategies for achieving that which include cover crops and no-till farming. Chemicals and drugs fed to cows end up in the dung and kill off many of the dung beetles that are important to the fertility of the soil. It might also be a good idea to go back to farming without toxic chemicals.
As far as I can tell, ethanol is not as economical to produce as fossil fuel and is merely a transference of one resource shortage for another. Ethanol takes more critical nutrients out of soil that are already in short supply. Lack of healthy soil appears to have played a major role in the collapse of every major civilization in history. Are we going to be as dumb as the Romans? Time will tell. Meanwhile, my thumb is UP for this film.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2013.