When I was a kid I loved getting my hands dirty, having mud pie bake sales and taking mud baths. Now back then it was a little more socially acceptable and some may even say endearing to be a muddy mess and live in the barn with the horses. Now I have to keep my dirt time to a minimum but it always amazes me how little time and acknowledgement we give to such a powerful substance.
Dirt is the true Mother Earth. It is the foundation for all life and civilization on this planet. We rarely give it enough credit and most of the time we are simply annoyed by its presence. Soil is just a fancier way to talk about dirt and get a little more respect. But whatever you call it, the ground provides free ecosystem services vital for the balance of the biosphere. Billions of microorganisms take up residence in the soil and contribute to much needed biodiversity.
What does good food and good dirt have in common? Well quite a lot actually. Healthy biodynamic soil provides a nurturing environment to the crops we eat. Good soil has a strong immune system and doesn’t require synthetic chemicals to keep it alive and kicking. Good soil has the natural ability to fight of pests and utilize nutrients. However, the nature of industrialized farming does exactly the opposite of what dirt needs to become good fertile soil.
Firstly, large-scale farms use massive tractors and equipment for everything. The constant tilling, planting and harvesting of monocultures yield after yield depletes the soil of all its natural fertilizers and nutrients. Topsoil is lost to the wind easily because of intensive plowing and it becomes necessary to use more and more artificial fertilizers and pesticides to produce the food. When our body’s immunity is low and we chose the remedy of antibiotics over and over to get a quick fix, we are not addressing the root of the issue but simply masking the real problem. It is the same for soil quality and industrialized farming practices.
Dirt helps illuminate the natural rule of interconnectivity. We depend on dirt to supply the natural resources we use to build our homes, make our products, fuel our lives and most basically feed us. When we cease to appreciate how connected we are to the environment and treat the natural world solely as a commodity the whole system is thrown off balance. Almost 35% of all greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere due to anthropogenic activities since 1850 are linked to land use changes . We have lost one third of global topsoil in the past century due to poor farming and forestry practices. This loss leads to more droughts and desertification in some areas and floods in others. Conflicts over dirt and fertile soil are extremely common especially in areas experiencing harsh climate shifts or those who are living in deforested and polluted lands. This unbalance brings us to seek solutions and help bring the dirt back to life.
There are many soil restoration practices and ways to regenerate the vitality of dirt. Many farmers use crop rotation techniques between plants that naturally fix nitrogen like legumes and those that are heavy users. Mixing crops together and encouraging bio diverse farming techniques can reduce pest problems and diseases. Hardy and healthy soil that provides a place for many different plants to sink their roots is not easily eroded or lost. The functions of soil organisms are enhanced, especially helping the cycling of nutrients and with building and maintaining the soil structure.
Finally the financial risk is reduced and food security is enhanced because we have more faith in the natural ability of dirt to do its job and less reliant on outside sources of nutrients. I think its time to start embracing and appreciating dirt on the daily. Lets support our local farmers that are kind to our mother dirt and farm with best practices in mind.
P.S.: Want to learn more about dirt? Check out the film aptly titled, Dirt!.
 Soil Science of America