As a child, I didn’t think about soil except using it to make a perfect mud cake. All these years later, as a gardener and promotor of landscaping with native plants, I’ve come to realize that soil is a sacred commodity and we must continually make peace with it. Soil is a living ecosystem, far more complex than once thought. It has been written that we owe our lives to healthy soil. Yet, it is often overlooked by the average person and, in fact, is threatened through our actions. Soil is lost 13-40 times faster than the rate of renewal and sustainability. Soil conservation on a larger scale is land conservation and it is all essential to the health of the planet.
Healthy soil has billions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes which provide nutrients for plant growth. Healthy soil filters and buffers pollutants and absorbs and holds water. Healthy soil is important for human health through its essential role in food production. Farmers must especially be mindful of keeping soil healthy through actions that prevent soil erosion, reduce tillage and prevent overgrazing. Organic matter is the most important aspect of healthy soil. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that for every 1 percent increase in organic matter in soil, U.S. farms could store the amount of water that goes over Niagara Falls in 150 days! That is amazing.
Unfortunately, soil and land are undervalued. There has been much land pollution as a result of human activities. You can probably recall examples. I mourned the loss of a field around a university that used to be home to pheasants. Now it is a large parking lot just like Joni Mitchell wrote about. Forests and wetlands have been lost through construction and agriculture. Overcrowded landfills are a result of over consumption and excessive garbage that cannot be recycled.
So how can we make peace with the soil? Where do we fit in? Can we advocate for land conservation? Can we financially contribute to land conservation efforts? Can we conserve and wisely manage land that we own? Can we eat locally and support small farmers? Can we diversify the plants on our properties which, in turn, supports healthy soil? Can we compost and use it to enrich the soil around our homes and properties? Can we live simply by reducing our own consumption and reduce what we contribute to landfills? None of us can do all these things, but we all can do some of them. Just doing one can help make peace with the soil provided so lovingly by our God.