From the Files of the Odd, Overlooked, and Underappreciated: Soil

Soil does not get nearly the attention it should, often dismissed as just dirt or mud. Yet, it is not merely the ground beneath our feet or a place to put our gardens or crops. It is essential to life on Earth.

It is soil that provides a place for the roots of plants and trees and crops to take hold and the nutrients for them to grow. It collects and stores rainwater, and can protect against flooding. Soil filters pollutants out of the water. Soil also stores two to three times more carbon than vegetation. Around the world, many homes are built out of soil. And think about the mug from which you drink your tea or coffee – it’s made from soil (clay)!

Soil is also an entire living, thriving ecosystem. In fact, each tablespoon of healthy soil can contain more microorganisms than there are people on Earth. That’s a lot of microorganisms! Those organisms are like the workers in a massive underground factory keeping the planet running. They work together to drive Earth’s water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles that in turn provide us with the food we need to survive – 95% of our food supply relies on soil. Finally, get this, soil provides medicines. Many antibiotics, vaccines, and other lifesaving drugs were discovered in soil’s biodiversity. Not only that, keep in mind that the medicinal plants we use grow in soil.

We need to celebrate soil and understand it’s value, especially in agriculture. Regenerative practices play a role in keeping soil healthy. We can all play a role. That includes not raking leaves, avoiding pesticides, rotating crops in gardens, using mulch or cover crops to protect topsoil, and feeding the soil with compost and other organic matter. Next time you are outside, scoop up a handful of dirt – take a moment to marvel at its essential role and to wonder about the tiny world you hold in your hand.