Dirt, mud, the earth from where all life has sprung is miraculous stuff, and perhaps where a lot of the answers to the mysteries of the universe reside. It often takes repeated exposure to what sometimes appears very mundane information, until there is suddenly a light bulb moment which permanently alters your perspective. I had one of these moments today which has finally rammed home a deep, profound respect for plain and simple soil.
I had already heard that 5g/1tsp of healthy soil contains more living organisms than humans on this earth. But I hadn’t really considered the implication of this until I saw a 3D graphic image of 1g of soil spinning round on a big screen, illuminating all the porous spaces (said to contain up to 10,000,000 cells, 5km of fungi, 10,000 different species). It was a wake-up call to visually see how much life is simply taking place under our finger nails! (soil traceability being a very important part of forensic evidence in criminal investigations)
Helen Browning of the Soil Association introduced the speakers at the Soil Symposium this year, with some astonishing facts. No news to the organic farmers and growers present but perhaps of interest to people like myself who don’t come into daily contact with soil and aren’t conscious of its vital importance to our survival.
- It takes 500 years or so to create an inch of fertile top soil and only a decade or so to deplete it
- Worldwide we have damaged over 15% of our land, destroying soils 10 times faster than creating them
- In the UK 2 million tonnes of soil is lost each year, which is £150-250 millions worth of soil damage
The talks that followed all upheld the importance of bio-dynamic farming, which use organic methods in soil cultivation to essentially feed the soil and maintain high levels of bio-diversity, creating more nutritionally dense, fertile and high yielding soils.
Professor Dr. Urs Niggli from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, advocated a new approach for farmers to prevent soil depletion called ‘eco-functional intensification’ rather than the over-used meaningless term ‘sustainable intensification’. In 2002 a report showed how this sort of farming, using reduced tillage and organic fertilisers, doubles the physical and microbial properties of soil – data which even the pro-GM Avery clan of this world couldn’t refute. The soil becomes more porous-retains more water, carbon and biomass which creates healthier, high yielding soils.
The underlying truth to highlight is that much like the universe, our brains, uncharted ocean depths, we understand very little about the life of soil at the microscopic level. It still remains to be discovered but one thing is clear that biodynamic farming is the way forward to ensure a thriving planet that can sustain us.