So unlike World International Soup Week which we launched last month, the 2015 International Year of Soils is an actual officially UN sanctioned thing run by the FAO. As far as farmable soils go there’s not actually that much land on our planet we can use for farming and when you think we’ve already turned about a third of that salty and infertile then a year of soils makes sense – really it should be a millenium of soils which is how long it can take for nature to build a centimetre of soil.When you hear somebody like microbiologist Elaine Ingham (that’s her above) tell the story of the soil food web it’s like having a veil lifted on a secret universe living beneath our feet. In her Minnesota drawl she reveals the relationships between plants, bacteria, fungi, nematodes and earthworms, insects, animals right up to us humans – she delights in talking about plants putting out the equivalent of “cakes  and cookies” into the soil to trade for water and minerals with bacteria and fungi.  After spending 2 weeks on one of her courses in 2006 I never looked at soil the same again and it was there I learned the crucial role bacteria play in our lives inside and outside of us.  The beauty and complexity of the soil food web meant farming our market garden was never the same – the amount of destruction I caused, inflicted with a tractor and rotary hoe, getting a field ready for planting made me feel as heavy and sad as when we’d homekill a sheep for meat when I was growing up. It’s a big thing to do.

The challenge for us at whether we’re farmers or just getting our veggie plot ready to plant out this summer is to work out how we can play our role in the soil food web as disturbers and disrupters without being destroyers.  With the caveat being just because we can do something with our machines, chemicals and gene science doesn’t mean we should do them.  And that’s the thing the Elaine Inghams, the Rudolph Steiners, Eve Balfours, Allan Savorys and Colin Seis’ have been working on over this past hundred years of industrial agriculture, gently telling us the stories that are helping us save and rebuild our precious arable ground. Happy International Year of Soils.Read more … 

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