Following the cycle of soil

In a cover article for Ode Magazine, Larry Gallagher describes the planet’s soil problem — poor land-use practices destroy soil faster than nature can create it — and examines how farmers and others are trying to solve the problem. He starts with a visit to Ecology Action in California’s Mendocino County, a non-profit focused on sustainable agriculture that is headed by John Jeavons. Jeavons claims that his biointensive system can grow food while also increasing topsoil depth at a rate that is 60 times faster than nature. Gallagher’s next stop is Jepson Prairie Organics in Vacaville, where green waste from San Francisco goes through a 60 day composting process, then is shipped to nearby vineyards, farms, and other growers (related: Marc’s write-up of his tour of the Jepson facility). One of the users is Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm. Walker works hard to maintain good soil on his 105-acre organic farm by planting cover crops, avoiding the use of heavy equipment, rotating chickens through the fields, and spreading compost from Jepson. Walker notes that there’s still a gap in the soil loop, the digested remains of the food that he sells, and jokes that “I should make you show up with a bucket of waste each week you pick up your [CSA] box.” Gallagher then explains one of his own contributions to soil recovery: the composting toilet in his backyard. Finally, he looks at “green burial” practices, a way to return the nutrients in your body to the Earth with the least negative impact. (Ode Magazine)

Also on the subject of soil, PBS is airing “Dirt! The Movie” April 20 as part of the Independent Lens series. View a trailer and check your local listings at PBS (related: Marc’s review at Ethicurean).

One Responseto “Following the cycle of soil”

  1. One of the little details we do is terracing. We live on the side of a mountain. The soil is thin and rocky. It is washing down into the valley and eventually to the oceans. That’s how the world works. I fight back with terraces and careful fencing that cause nature and our livestock to strengthen the terracing. This results in the rain water soaking into the soil rather than rushing away in flash floods after big storms. This prevents soil from being carried away. Over the past 15 years or so we’ve gradually and greatly improved the soil on our farm. It’s a long term task.

    Planting legumes, buying winter hay from a farm in the valley and acid rain all help to build up the soils too. Plants like clover suck up huge amounts of nitrogen. All plants are sucking up carbon dioxide from the air. A key is that we not extract and sell off more materials from our land than we build up.