Soils seem to get a lot of attention lately – especially after the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization made 2015 the “International Year of Soils”.
Commonly known as “dirt”, the “ground” or “fields”, soils are a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and other organisms that provide us with both nourishment and life. Our soils have many important tasks:
- Providing nutrients, water, oxygen and root support for plants.
- Cycling nutrients and controling plant diseases & pests.
- Acting as a buffer to protect plant roots from temperature fluctuations.
Without healthy soils, we’d be in massive trouble: the FAO estimates that almost all of our food, some 95% percent, is directly or indirectly produced in the world’s soils. Healthy soils provide food for both humans and animals.
Whether fruits, vegetables or grains - nearly everything we eat is grown in soils. Apart from aquatic foods, soils give life to pretty much all of our nutrition.
The FAO reports that about a third of the world’s soil has already been degraded, mainly due to chemical agriculture, soil erosion caused by deforestation, and global warming. If the world continues down its current path of soil degradation, the United Nations estimates that the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years.
That’s right - 60 years. Farming in the future just won’t be possible if we don’t have healthy soils to rely on. Add in our rising global population coupled with the future need for more food around the world, and it’s clear to see that protecting our soils should be a top global priority.
One way to take action now is by choosing organic foods—in turn supporting organic agriculture. Organic production systems aim to replenish and build topsoil, not deplete and degrade this precious resource.
Organic farms and farmers do not rely on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to grow crops, but rather on production methods that sustain and enhance the health of our soils and plants. Rotating crops is one key way organic farmers maintain soil fertility and health. They also use natural fertilizers and biological control methods to deal with weeds and pests (read the Canada Organic Standard here, for example). These methods are not new—in fact replenishing soils in this way while growing our food has sustained humanity for eons.
Many agree that our soils need dire attention, and organic food production is arguably the way forward to stop their destruction and ensure future generations have a healthy food supply.