The Soil Trilogy - Part Two: Humans and Soil
In the first “soil to dirt” blog, we covered the “how” and the “why” of soil degradation; now, our question is “who?” Who does soil degradation effect? We know that degraded soil, or dirt, doesn’t have the ability to sustain the life of microbes and beneficial organisms that feed on and live in healthy soils, but it also doesn’t have the ability to sustain human life. Healthy soil is the key to the survival of the human species.
The thing about soil degradation is that it’s a sliding scale; it’s not an “all or nothing” deal. When we hear that we only have about 60 years of growable topsoil left, that doesn’t mean that we have 60 perfect years left and then nothing. It means that each year we have a little less, and then a little less, until we’re facing the loss of productive food growing areas. And with no food – or no nutritious food – where does that leave us? Let's take a look!
Effects of soil degradation on human health:
1. Food deserts
The first is that we’re left with food deserts. On a small scale, a food desert is an area that doesn’t have access to healthy and affordable food like a grocery store. On a large scale, it’s what we’ve seen happen in previously rich growing areas like the Middle East, sections of Australia, and African countries, which all used to be abundant in resources and food. With mass colonization came the mining of resources without replenishing them, leaving us with bare areas that are unable to grow food at the rate we need it to anymore. Now, creeping in on the United States, is the same fate. Areas that were once abundant growing fields are facing a similar fate due to the level of consumption without proper regeneration.
2. Loss of Nutrients
Though we changed the areas we were mining, we didn’t change our practices. This is mainly because there was no accessible information out there that indicated that the way we were producing food was wrong. Conventional farming continues to focus on “monoculture” or “monocropping”, which is growing the same crop on the same soil year after year, as seen with the big three: corn, soy, and wheat. Let’s compare the soil’s microbe health to a human’s and think of yourself eating the same foods every day for years. Eventually, you’ll develop malnutrition from the lack of variety.
That’s just it: soil requires a complex diet, just like humans do, and benefits from systems where it receives anywhere from three or more crops rotated over the course of a year. Without these systems, soil loses beneficial microbes which causes poor plant (crop and food) growth over time. This results in nutrient-deficient soil growing out food, which plain and simple means that the food we consume has virtually no nutrients in it.
3. Consuming pesticides
On top of consuming nutrient-deficient foods, there’s the element of poisoning our bodies with a little growing “additive” called pesticides. Now, we already know the effects that pesticides have on our soil, so let’s dive into how pesticides have affected human health. Pesticides were invented to help preserve and protect crops from foods, and initially, there were no known side-effects, so no cause for concern. Though the 1950s, the chemical actually made foods cheaper, which was great for a post-war family budget. It wasn’t until the 1990s and early 2000s that professionals began noticing long-term health effects like cancers, asthma, childhood leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease.
You’re probably asking yourself: well, how could we still be using pesticides after all that we know? For one, it’s still making food growing cheaper, which is attractive to our economy. Secondly, it’s also very well hidden by manufacturers. It’s only slowly being released that the US continues to use pesticides, like atrazine, glyphosate, 1,3-D, paraquat, and neonicotinoids, that are banned in Europe and other countries, but there are still some ingredients which are considered “trade secrets” that actually don’t have to be disclosed to the EPA (Environment Protection Agency)!
Taking Health into Our Own Hands
It’s hard not to be jolted by this information, and you’re right, it’s scary stuff! The thing that’s supposed to be fueling us, is actually making us sick. It’s hard to solely rely on organic produce because as healthy foods become harder to grow, we see an influx in pricing and an alienation of lower-income populations having access to these foods. An amazing and empowering solution is one that involves working together and feeding everyone while we’re at it! Starting a garden may seem like a simple task, but it’s the best way to take your health into your own hands and know WHAT you’re growing and HOW you’re growing it. You can also start a community garden yourself, or approach someone in your community who you know would be able to start one! All it takes is a couple of backyard plots, some seeds, and the many hands to make light work! Gardening on your own can be time-consuming but dividing the tasks between an entire block or neighborhood will not only save you time but save you money AND grow enough food for everyone! A large contributor to human health is also having a sense of belonging, and what better way to socialize than to grow nutrient-dense food with a beautiful community of people? Having a community garden will not only heal your body, but will help begin to heal our soil.
The next piece in our Soil Trilogy series dives further into how sustainable – or “regenerative” farming will help to save our planet and our species, and how you (yes YOU!) are part of the solution.Click here to read!