I have said for along time that food does not give us nutrition, the soil does. We can eat all the 'healthiest' food that we want - but if the soil does is not healthy, than the food will not be (even if its broccoli). Soil Health and human health is not a separate combination.
Soil is a living ecosystem with a mixture of minerals, water, air, organic matter and countless organisms. Topsoil is what is in the uppermost part of the earths surface and is needed to grow crops. When it comes to nutrition it is important to understand that soil contains nutrients that we need to be healthy. These nutrients then get into our food via the plant's roots. If the soil lacks nutrients, than our food lacks nutrients also. Not all vegetables are equal, some will be more nutrient dense, and some will be less.
Our soil becomes void of nutrients for many reasons including
- Frequent tilling
- Pesticide/herbicide runoff
- Lack of practices to boost organic matter.
This is when you plant the same crop over and over again. For example a farmer may have several thousands acres of only soy beans and thats all he/she grows. 75% of the world's food comes from 12 plants and 5 animal species and in the United States just under half of our total farmland is planted with soybeans, wheat, rice, corn. This practice strips the soil of nutrients and loses organic matter (basically topsoil) because there is a higher need for fertilizers/pesticides. Then there is a decrease ability to retain water and the soil erodes much more quickly.
Tilling is a practice that compacts the soil. Think of the big heavy machine going over and over again on the field. Everytime this happens, soil structure is destroyed and the soil is much more prone to erosion and biological degradation.
Agriculture uses A LOT of chemicals. What is even worse is that 80 to 90% of applied pesticides hit non-target vegetation and stay as pesticide residue in the environment. Basically that means when a farmer sprays a crop, 80 - 90% of it leaves the crop and goes elsewhere. This causes many problems including
- Threatens species such as Honey bees, Birds, Insects, Aquatic species
- Pollutes water & air
- Degrades soil by destroying soil microorganisms such as bacteria and fungiÂ
- Creates pesticide resistant crops
With all these negative practices, our soil is degrading quickly. A lot of land that is ideal for farming is being lost. Currently only 17% of land is arable. Without healthy soil, we are unable to have healthy crops. Without healthy crops, we can not have healthy people. What we can do is support farms that use good soil management practices such as
- Planting several varieties of crops on their land
- Implementing crop rotation
- Minimizing pesticide and herbicide use
- Planting crops that attract beneficial insects
- Practicing non tilling methods
Even if you have a tiny garden - you can still implement these positive practices. We have less than 1 acre cultivated on our farm and able utilize these practices.
These farmers are working towards improving soil health as the years go on. This is going to be imperative for the future health of people and the planet. Soil health and human health are inextricably connected.