Soil Health Gets Personal
Get savvy on soil, for your own good (or: soil health is your health)
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all... Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” – Wendell Berry
Much of our health has its roots in our diet. But the foods that make up our our diet have their roots in the soil. The quality of the food we eat is directly impacted by the quality of the ground in which it is grown.
Today, the state of soil on most modern farms is subpar, to say the least. As with so many elements of industrial agriculture, the road that got us here was paved with well-intentioned tech and short-sighted thinking.
Around the 1950s, the use of synthetic fertilizers skyrocketed, fueled by promises of higher yields and an end to the extreme volatility farmers face as they try to work with (and increasingly, against) the forces of nature.
Synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients (particularly nitrogen) that feed plants. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, sustain the entire ecosystem of organisms that live in healthy soil and keep it thriving and productive. As synthetic fertilizers became more popular, organic fertilizers fell out of fashion, which was like swapping real food for supplements.
The longer this continues, the more depleted the soil becomes, which, in turn, incentivizes farmers to lean in to heavier and heavier use of synthetic fertilizers.
The chemical kamikaze doesn’t stop there.
Pesticide use on farms feeds into another vicious cycle: Pesticides lower biological diversity in the soil, making it less resilient to pests and other harmful organisms. This weakened soil then requires more pesticides to protect it, further compromising its ability to protect itself.
The modern agricultural complex has become a helicopter parent, robbing the soil of its ability to care for itself and build resilience. At the end of the day, this over-reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers leaves us with sick soil that requires a chemical cocktail to produce the food we later eat.
But what does that mean for the quality of the food itself?
Putting aside any effects of the chemical residues themselves, depleted soils are producing crops with depleted nutrients. (go figure)
The scientific community is really just beginning to explore the effects of soil health on the food we eat, but thus far, the data does not look good:
By analyzing USDA data on the nutrient content of more than 40 fruit and vegetable crops over a 50 year period, researchers at the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas in Austin found that half of the nutrients tested had significantly declined, leaving our food with less iron, protein, calcium, and other critically important nutrients.
We promise we’re not just here to be a downer and tell you a sob story about soil health. We’re here because we want to be a part of the solution, and we want to bring you nutrient-dense food that is good for you and good for the planet.
Data on the other side points to the promising – and obvious – solution: There’s mounting evidence that organic fertilizer is linked with the production of foods that contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—not to mention that organic food also contains fewer potential toxins from chemical additives.
Right now, it’s easier to get food produced in a way that degrades the soil and doesn’t do any favors for our health.
It’s time for a paradigm shift.
At The Good Kitchen, we’re working hard to be the hub that connects our growing community (we’re looking at you!) with farmers who use soil-restoring practices, so that good food can become the norm, not the exception. With your partnership, we can turn this thing around.
Here’s to a food-future with healthy, self-sustaining soil, and delicious, nutrient-dense food!
You can find this week’s menu of satisfying, soil-saving dishes here.