Friday, August 26, 2011

Respect for dirt

Plant rooted in the soil
What does it mean to treat someone or something like dirt?  Perhaps showing total disrespect?

Seems that dirt, or soil, the base of our environment, has long been under appreciated and often abused.

Did you know that much of the world's topsoil is being eroded?

Every second, a dump-truck load of topsoil is carried by American rivers into the Caribbean; every year, hundreds of millions of tons of topsoil erode from farmers' fields in the Mississippi River basin. "An estimated 36% of the world's cropland is suffering from decline in inherent productivity from soil erosion", reports Lester Brown, one of the world's leading ecosystem monitors. Globally we are losing more than 10 million hectares of arable land a year, with soil loss exceeding new soil production by 23 billion tons, resulting in the loss of 0.5 percent or more of the worlds' fertility annually.  (Woody Tasch, Inquiries into the nature of slow money, investing as if food, farms and fertility mattered).

It takes 500 years to create just one inch of topsoil.  So it seems we ought to take soil erosion very seriously.

Not only is much of our soil being lost by erosion, it is also losing its fertility.  Soil scientist Hans Jenny found that after 60 years of cultivation the farm soils in Missouri had lost a third of their organic matter.

What's in our soil?  Each gram of fertile soil contains hundreds of millions of bacteria and actinomycetes, hundreds of thousands of fungi and algae, and tens of thousands of protozoa, nematodes and other microfauna.  (Woody Tesch, Inquiries into the nature of slow money, investing as if food, farms and fertility mattered).

One of the key players in our soil are the earthworms.  Darwin estimated that 50,000 earthworms carry 18 tons of soil to the surface of an acre.  There can be an astonishing number of earthworms in an acre of soil... up to two million!

So, as we consider sustainability of this beautiful home we call Earth, it behoves us to recognize the critical role the soil plays, and start treating it with greater respect. To be well rooted and productive, future generations will still need good dirt in which to grow.

Wouldn't it be nice to change our perspective on dirt, so that in future generations when someone says he/she is being "treated like dirt", they're being shown great respect!

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