Soil Health, The Planet, and You!

Episode 65 Show Notes

In our 12 month journey to adopt new sustainable habits, the first month focuses on valuing the earth’s soil. This week, we will learn why soil health is so essential to the health of our planet – including you!

What is soil?

Soil is what makes up our outer world. It is a material that unites us, as it is under all of our feet—the source of life on earth.

Many names know it. Earth, peat, land, clay, silt, mud, sand, the list goes on. By definition, soil is “the upper layer of earth in which plants grow, a black or dark brown material typically consisting of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles.” Its many names and subcategories come from various colors, textures, structures, porosities, densities, and consistencies. There are over 70,000 different types of soil in the United States!

But although it seems to be everywhere, our soil is a limited natural resource. The USDA says that “Natural processes can take 500 years to form one inch of topsoil.”

Some estimates even range to 1000 years! A large majority of soil is home in our oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes. The rest is found in the desert and other rocky areas. And only a small percentage, around 10%, is Arable land, or land suitable for agriculture.

Why is healthy soil important to our planet?

Here’s the deal – Soil is the foundation for healthy water, plants, people, and the ever-important carbon cycling. Healthy soil creates resiliency for all of life’s cycles, even in less than ideal conditions.

Water

The soil’s ability to regulate our freshwater supply is crucial to our ecosystem. It absorbs, stores, releases, purifies, and redistributes most of the water on earth – providing us with fresh water to drink. Healthy soil also regulates rainfall, preventing flooding, erosion, nutrient loss, and desertification (the process of healthy soil turning to desert due to drought, deforestation, or agriculture practices).

Plants + Growth

Since soil consists of minerals and nutrients, it provides food and energy to plants through their roots. Plants that feed our world and pass along those same minerals nutrients we need to survive. Not only for us but for animals that share this planet with us. In addition to being a food source, soil influences the distribution of animal life, as animals depend on certain plants in certain parts of the world for food and shelter.

Soil Biodiversity

And it isn’t just a quiet ground under our feet; there is a bounty of living organisms, making soil one of the most biodiverse materials on earth. Columbia’s Climate School says that just one “acre of soil may contain 900 pounds of earthworms, 2400 pounds of fungi, 1500 pounds of bacteria, 133 pounds of protozoa, 890 pounds of arthropods and algae, and even sometimes small mammals. One gram of soil may hold one billion bacteria, of which only 5 percent have been discovered.”

If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest you go back and listen to Episode 51, “The Magic Of Mushrooms,” where we talk about the role of the mycelium network that thrives underground.

Climate Change

Beyond providing habitats for these organisms, soil’s biodiversity is what allows it to “interact and contribute to many global cycles, including the carbon and nitrogen cycles.”

Soil sequesters carbon and removes greenhouse gases from our environment. Over 2,700 gigatons (Gt) of carbon are stored in soils, mostly in peatlands and organic soils. This means soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere and biomass combined – making forests and other vegetation’s carbon sinks seem to pale in comparison. And, our Soil is said to remove about 25 percent of the world’s fossil fuel emissions each year. Our oceans are already filled to the brim with excess carbon, meaning having healthy soil is critical to slowing climate change.

Soil’s People Problem

Unfortunately, the earth’s soil is running into a people problem.

Years of intensive farming and improper management have severely degraded our soils – threatening our very livelihood. At the current rate of soil degradation, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years!

Industrial agriculture

Land clearing and deforestation to plant crops unsustainably removes the vegetation needed to support life and changes the soil composition. Over-cultivation of the land destroys the topsoil and causes erosion and desertification. Irrigation practices leave the soil dry and oversaturated with salts. Excessive use of fertilizer, pesticides, chemicals, and more acidifies and destroys the soil and the organisms that create life there.

And to top it all off, heavy farming equipment compacts the soil, making it hard for the good stuff, as well as water, to permeate it again. Meaning excess rainfall can lead to extreme flooding. And the soil filtration process that provides us, and the earth’s animals, with nutrient-rich food and fresh drinking water is disrupted. This leads to disease, malnutrition, hunger, and premature death.

Practice better waste management

We’re talking about recycling basics, microplastics, and hearing from companies doing cool things in the recycling and waste management space.

Agriculture + Climate Change

In the same way, soil can sequester carbon – it can also release it. Through these unsustainable agricultural practices, carbon gets released back into our atmosphere. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that “The steady conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland and grazing lands over the past several centuries has resulted in historic losses of soil carbon worldwide.” In agricultural soil, that number clocks in up to a whopping 50-70 percent of carbon loss.

Forbes reports, “Modern agricultural practices are estimated to contribute up to 25 percent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Farming practices that help to restore soil health would mitigate these effects, allowing soils to sequester up to 1.85 billion tonnes of additional carbon a year.”

Healthy Soil = Healthy Planet

Everything comes back to the soil. You can see now why valuing the earth’s soil is so important to the foundation of sustainable living. This soil, made of rocks and decaying plants and animals, is vital to survival.
J.I Rodale, founder of the Rodale Institute for Regenerative Organic Farming, said it simply.

“Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.”

And I’ll tack on to that = Healthy Planet!

What Can you do?

But, we’ve been living on unhealthy soil for so long – do we even know what healthy soil is or how to get back to it? Thankfully, the answer to both of those questions is yes.
Healthy soil leans into natural processes, teeming with organisms and allowing plants to grow to maximum productivity without disease, pests, or synthetic supplements. We can tell we have healthy soil by measuring its nitrogen, the number of organisms present, and how much water and carbon it can hold.
By changing how we interact with our land, we can restore it.
This involves everyone understanding the role of our soil in the planet’s health, practicing land stewardship, and supporting regenerative agriculture!

You’ve already taken the first step. By listening to this podcast, you now understand more about the role of soil health on the planet. And in next week’s episode, we will learn more about regenerative agriculture – so be sure to tune in!

Something to grow on

For this week’s ‘Something to Grow On’ segment, a segment where I give you one piece of wisdom, advice, or a challenge to help you grow, I want to challenge you to read one book this month related to soil health and the planet.

Some suggestions are Soil Not Oil by Vandana Shiva, For the Love of Soil by Nicole Masters, or the Soil will Save Us By Kristin Ohlson.

Need a little extra encouragement? I’m excited to announce the start of The Hello Neighbor Book Club! A virtual book club where we can hold each other accountable for learning more about the wonders of our world, topics related to sustainability, and more while growing a community and having fun along the way! To find out what book we’re reading this month, join the Facebook Group!

Until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor.

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