The Many Benefits of Healthy Soils
You may have heard or read about CCF’s renewed commitment to improving the health of our soils. There are so many reasons for this.
It is often said that soil is the foundation of life. Healthy soil that is full of life (fungal and microbial) has the ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis, then store and use it to support the creatures living in the soil. This helps get the excess carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is wreaking havoc on our climate, and puts it back into the earth where it does a lot of good.
Did you know that healthy soil also produces healthier food? People started paying a lot more attention to the microbes that perform functions critical to our health after results from the National Institute of Health’s five-year Human Microbiome Project were released in 2012. This Project helped the medical community map and understand which microorganisms are vital to human health.
In the last several decades, we have unwittingly destroyed many of these vital microbes in the human gut through the overuse of antibiotics and the consumption of highly processed foods. In the same way, industrial agriculture has devastated soil microbiota essential to plant health through the excessive use of toxic chemicals and the overworking of the soil (plowing, disking, harrowing). These destructive products and strategies inhibit the natural functioning of soils and plants.
Through the process of photosynthesis, plants produce sugars – some of which the plants use and some that are shared with bacteria and fungi as carbon-rich sugary root exudates. These sugars are then used by the soil microorganisms to access minerals that they digest and make available to the plant roots.
These bacteria and fungi help produce healthy plants that contribute to a healthier microbiome in humans, who all depend on plants for nutrition and health. The challenge for farmers is to figure out ways to bring back the soil life and to find the right balance of microbes, fungi and minerals to grow the healthiest and most nutrient dense foods possible.
A lot of exciting research is going on in labs and on farms to identify ways to improve soil life. An abundance of soil microorganisms not only feeds the plants; it also protects plants against pathogens and other threats (insects, weeds, etc.).
The living soil is the Earth’s most valuable ecosystem. It provides services critical to human survival and worth trillions of dollars per year – climate regulation, water filtration, drought and flood mitigation, and soil erosion prevention. These are referred to as “ecosystem services”, a term which is now also being used by those who study the human microbiome to describe the critical functions that microorganisms play in human health.
We are experimenting with different cover crop mixes, as well as compost additions and additives of biodynamic nutrients, among other things. Our goal is to increase the microbial life in the soil and at the same time suppress weeds to eliminate the need for tillage, as well as to provide more nutrient dense products to enhance the health of our community.
Stay tuned for more on this topic and for updates on how we at CCF are faring with our efforts to increase soil health. There is so much potential.