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Chelsea Green Blog

The Soil Community

H. C. Flores in her book Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community, wrote this passage about the soil community that all land-dwelling creatures share. From Food Not Lawns:
In The Soul of Soil activist educator and agronomist Grace Gershuny points out that all land-dwelling animals, including humans, are members of the soil community. She writes, “Humans disregard this fact at their own peril. Soil fertility has historically been squandered for the immediate enrichment of a few at the expense of future generations. Cultural values—ethics, aesthetics, and spiritual beliefs— have a profound influence on how soil is treated. [Because of this] political and social activism are essential components of soil stewardship.” Unfortunately this is not the mainstream attitude toward growing food (or anything else having to do with the soil). Irresponsible agriculture has been responsible for the collapse of civilizations since time immemorial, and much of what are now the world’s vast deserts were once agricultural lands where the soil was not carefully cared for, such as in Peru, most of the Middle East, and large parts of Africa. In the last century the Dust Bowl of the Midwest was caused by unsustainable agriculture. Unless we put a stop to the excessive tillage, chemical inputs, and general disregard for the life in the soil, we are headed for a similar situation with what’s left of the prime agricultural lands in California and Oregon and beyond. In the late 1800s chemical companies and government agencies started promoting chemical fertilizers, miracle pesticides, and laboratory-developed seeds. This trend led to a rapid decline in soil and human health, which was promptly met by a continued increase in dependency on more chemicals. As is their basic nature, insects, diseases, and weeds have adapted to each new, stronger dose of poison with increasing vigor, developing resistances that force chemical companies to develop even more lethal toxins each year. This chemical dependence is a self-perpetuating cycle, and it is passed on to consumers, who routinely suffer from malnutrition or straight-up poisoning as a result of a lifetime of eating toxic food. This is evident in the increased dependency of humans on pharmaceutical drugs and vitamin supplements to provide the essential life-giving nutrients that stripped, dying soils cannot. Commercial agriculture is one of the most polluting, destructive industries in the world. Some two and a half billion pounds of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are used every year in the United States alone to mass-produce fast food for a consumer population that insists upon convenience at every corner. These chemicals poison drinking water worldwide and devastate soil communities. Modern industrial agriculture is so toxic that 68 percent of farmworker pregnancies end in miscarriage, and cancer is the leading cause of death among farmers and farm laborers. Hundreds of different chemicals are routinely used in conventional farming, and residues are often present in nonorganic food, including high levels in baby food, spinach, dried fruit, bread, apples, celery, and potato chips. Many agricultural chemicals are made with known cancer-causing agents such as organochlorines, heavy metals, and chemical industrial wastes. The very same companies that profit from these poisons also control the advertising, research, and marketing sectors of the industry. Do you really want to continue to eat food from the same companies that make cleaning supplies, rat poison, and weapons? It seems obvious, but chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides, manufactured for killing, do not stop with the bugs and weeds shown on the box. They kill everything, from butterfly eggs to beneficial nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Please never use these horrible substances in your garden. At best a cruel hoax, they are more likely a devastating curse upon humanity. When we blanket the garden with deadly poisons and artificial fertilizers that destroy insect communities and shock the plants into unnatural growth spurts, we not only upset the balance of the natural community but also rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn what nature has to teach. This is an example of our dysfunctional relationship with nature. We see the evidence of this dysfunction everywhere, in widespread famine, war, and environmental devastation. We can look back at history and see where societies structured much like our own have failed due to inadequate and unsustainable stewardship of agricultural lands.9 We can avoid repeating history by going organic, not just with our food, but throughout every aspect of our lives.
For more about soil stewardship and growing your own food, see this book, Food Not Lawns. For more about the chemical industry’s propaganda campaign and push into agriculture, see The War on Bugs by Will Allen.

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