When asked : "Why is Soil Important" one cannot overstate that soil is the center of our very existance on this plant.
From growing crops, providing plant matter for ruminants to feed on, providing the raw material for life saving medicines to filtering and retaining rainwater and sequestering atmospheric carbon, soil has never been so important as we enter an age of climate change and over population.
"The soil is the gift from God to the living" - Thomas Jefferson
What is Soil?
Soil refers to the thin and loose layer of surface material that surrounds the Earth.
Healthy Soil is a whole lot more than lifeless dirt beneath your feet and it is in fact a dynamic ecosystem with intricate plant and wildlife, organic matter, decayed plant matter, bacteria, minerals, clay, silt, water, gases all of which allowing it to play a significant role in agricultural practices, water retention and carbon absorption.
Topsoil is only a few feet deep and comes in various shades and consistencies depending on the area’s climate.
For example, you will likely stumble across red soil in desert regions like Arizona. Meanwhile, colder, damper regions like Siberia typically feature black or dark brown soil.
We firmly believe it is essential for all consumers to understand the importance of this ecosystem that produces the food we eat and that healthy soil is the foundation for all food we eat be it plant based or from animals.
How To Determine If Soil Is Healthy?
Healthy Soil can sustain plants, animals and humans in a balanced system of food farming.
There are several easy ways to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy soil so if you are making your first no till, no dig garden or a seasoned tillage farmer, the basics of soil health never change.
If the soil is healthy, its underground ecosystem should be blooming with activity from insects to worms to spread out root systems.
Good healthy soil will also have a rich fresh organic scent which comes from decomposed organic matter.Healthy soil should have pH balance between 6.0 and 8.4. Greater than 8.4 means the soil is too alkeline.
Other signs to look out for include its workability and how the soil maintains shape when pressure is applied.
In addition, black and dark brown hues are often indicators of whether the soil is well-nourished.
Healthy Soil is moist with good water retention and thriving root systems throughout.
On the other hand, unhealthy soil is typically dryer, cracked, and lacking moisture and has a light color. Unhealthy soil will not maintain a shape when pressed together and will simply fall apart.
Unhealthy soil has little to no scent and devoid of earthworms and little to no organc matter.
Poor soil is also more susceptible to erosion in which wind or water runoffs gradually diminish the surface. Although, you may be able to save unhealthy soil through proper irrigation techniques.
Why is Soil Important? Soil Grows Our Food
Soil either grows our food or grows the food for the animals that we eat.
As mentioned earlier, soil is necessary for cultivating crops as it functions as a medium for plant growth. So, all the fresh produce stocked on supermarket shelves is available thanks to the soil’s underground ecosystem.
Even if you classify yourself as a die-hard carnivore diet practitioner , you would not have great grass-fed beef without soil. It is the base layer for the open pastures necessary to feed and raise ruminant animals like bison, beef cattle, lamb, or mutton. No grass or forage would grow without soil, meaning that the animals would have nothing left to feed on, thus leaving you with a lot less animal products to eat.
In summary, soil is a complex yet crucial ecosystem that impacts every other land based food source on this planet and is vital for human existance.
Why is Soil Important? Soil is Home to a Thriving EcoSystem
Soil boasts its own unique ecosystem with much biodiversity.
Did you know there are more micro-organisims in a teaspoon of organic soil than people on earth!
Image: The presance of earthworms is an indicator of healthy soil
The importance of soil and the vast eco-system is holds is recognized by permaculture, regenerative and organic principles of farming and market gardening. This underground ecosystem is home to various living microscopic organisms (or microbes), including algae, fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, moles, earthworms, and different insects. In addition, it is the base layer for botanicals, grass, fruit trees, and other pivotal plant life.
Why is Soil Important? Medicine and Human Health
Many common antibiotics, such as penicillin and vancomycin, were developed using soil microbes. Penicillin was discovered in the the soil fungus Penicillium by Alexander Fleming and has saved millions of lives over the past 90+ years.
Image: Soil Fungus Penicillium
According to studies completed in Brazil, some of these soil microorganisms are being be used to produce anticancer chemotherapy drugs like bleomycin.
Soil, especially clay, also boasts numerous benefits for skin health due to its mineral content. It aids exfoliation while reducing inflammation and redness. Multiple face masks, moisturizers, and other skincare products are crafted with clay-based muds like that from Israel’s Dead Sea.
Soil Helps Provide Us With Our Drinking Water
As most of us already know from 4th-grade science class, healthy soil retains and regulates water. It is also cleansed and filtered out through topsoil and bedrock to produce groundwater, which is eventually used to create our drinking water supply.
Water and soil work closely together to create an abundant underground ecosystem.
Certain regions like Pennsylvania and New York have exceptional natural tap water because of the rich and healthy soil from the Catskills’ watersheds.
These watersheds, which are land areas that flow into bodies of water, obtain drinking water from more than twenty lakes and reservoirs all fed through the soil system.
Excessive rain, floods, hurricanes, and other storms can severely impact the quality of the soil. Over time, this may result in erosion, especially if the ground is dry or cracked. The period known as 'The Dust Bowl' along with the resulting Soil Conservation Act of 1935 shows just how important soil is and how soil erosion can be a national emergency is not properly nurtured and cared for.
Luckily, healthy soil prevents erosion caused by runoffs since it adequately retains rainwater.
Healthy Topsoil, acts like a sponge, retaining water in greater amounts and for longer which in turn provides moisture for plants and fungi to thrive.
According to the USDA, every 1 % increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre.
Why is Soil Important? Soil Absorbs Greenhouse Gas
Image: Soil plays a key role in sequestering atmospheric carbon
Not only is soil responsible for growing our food, filtering our drinking water, and creating life-saving medications, but soil also captures greenhouse gas.
Soil can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through a process known as carbon sequestration, in which carbon dioxide is stored and reduced from the atmosphere.
Gasses like carbon and nitrogen get trapped inside soil via plant roots which turn to sugars which in turn feed the myriad of microorganisms.
Importance of Soil and Earth : Human Spirituality
Spirituality is typically used to answer our unknown questions about the Earth we have lived on and the meaning of life.
Thus, it is not surprising that there are many references, structures and deities honor soil, the earth and ‘Mother Earth’ across different theological beliefs throughout history.
Celebrating a plentiful harvest is a common theme, dating back to the Neolithic and Mesolithic ages. Humans were experiencing an agricultural revolution during these periods where soil and its continued fertility was vital to their very existence.
Neolithic sites like Newgrange in Ireland acted like a clock to celebrate the winter solstice and as a place of worship to give thanks for a plentiful harvest.
Many pre-Christian civilizations and indigenous communities worship the Earth’s natural elements: fire, sky (air), water, and soil. In addition, those familiar with shamanism know that most healing plants and herbs are derived from soil.
Image- Greek Godess Gaia
Finally, we cannot discuss soil, spirituality and the clear importance of soil for survival without mentioning Demeter, the Greek Goddess of Agriculture. Several other deities in Greek mythology protect and utilize our planet’s natural resources, especially the Goddess of Earth, Gaia.
Looking to learn more on the subject of Soil Conservation and Regenerative Agriculture? Check out our new article on our Best Books on Regenerative Agriculture: Our Top 5 which is a shortlist of titles we highly recommend to anyone looking to lean more on this critically important topic.
- Soil is important to every aspect of human, animal and plant life on earth.
- Soil is important as it sequesters atmospheric carbon therefore reducing greenhouse gas.
- Healthy soil retains more water and also acts as the preliminary filter for drinking water.
- Soil is responsible for many important medicines we take for granted such as penicillin.
- Recognizing just how important soil was, the Soil and Earth have played an important part on human spirituality for thousands of years.