Today we give it the recognition it deserves.
By Becca Vaughn
For those working with soil on a day-to-day basis, its importance is never overlooked. For those of us outside of the business, it’s easy to underestimate the power and value of what is beneath our feet.
In third grade, my class learned about plants and the nutrients soil gives them. Each of the children planted sweet peas in a small container to put in the window sill. We labeled them with our names and took time out of class to water and care for our plants. Near the end of the school year, we took them home as Mother’s Day gifts. At home, my mom propped mine up in the window above the kitchen sink and it died approximately two weeks later. That was the first of many plants I would throw away. This year, I dumped the two tomato plants, two strawberry plants, rosemary, parsley, and the oregano I had attempted to grow. Even my cactus died.
But you don’t have to plant a garden or even go outside to have a connection with soil. I have learned quite a few things since beginning my internship here at the Conservation District and one of the most fascinating is that everything—like, everything—we do is because of soil.
Maybe you are one of the 64% of Americans that had a cup of coffee this morning. But long before that coffee ends up in your mug, it’s being examined by soil scientists to help coffee bean farmers produce an efficient supply while protecting the health of the soil on which they (and my ability to get seemingly anything done in a day) rely. For many farmers—both in and outside of the coffee business—this focus on soil health is new, which is why organizations like ours and many, many others around the world exist to provide public education on how to improve soil and, in turn, our food and living conditions in the long run.
Or, maybe you skipped that morning coffee but had some eggs for breakfast. Or a bowl of cereal. Again, you can thank soil for that. Soil contains the vital nutrients for plant growth that result in both the crops we eat (fruits, vegetables, and grains) as well as the crops we feed animals to get our meat, dairy, and eggs. In fact, every meal you eat is thanks to soil and good soil health, since 95% of our food in the world comes from soil.
Soil is also key to addressing the changing climate and mitigating the damages expected to be seen in the upcoming decades. Many of the conservation practices funded through grants or assisted in through site visits with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) are focused on increasing carbon and creating landscapes that will help farmers in the long run combat these changes and, therefore, continue ample production. “Practices such as cover crops and reduced/no tillage increase the carbon content of soils, increase water and nutrient retention, water infiltration, rooting depth, microbial activity, and decrease erosion” (NRCS). These are conservation practices that help the soil system and give back to not only our planet, but to ourselves and our children.
If there’s one overarching theme I’ve learned in the last few months, it is that it’s all a system working together. We covered that in my third grade class, too. But, it didn’t really sink in until I watched the seasons change not from the window of my apartment, but from the fields here in Monroe County.