Healthy environments have key indicators which tell the story of just how healthy any given ecosystem is. Healthy ecosystems offer visual clues that anyone can observe. Typically, higher diversity equates to a healthier environment. Soil is no different. If soil is healthy it will contain a high diversity of organisms along with high levels of chemical and microbial interactions. In healthy ecosystems, these interactions and processes will be found no matter where you look. These functions play an important role in breaking down organic matter into useable nutrients for plants and other soil dwelling organisms, protecting plants from diseases and predators, and are important for soil stability. In essence, over the long term, heathier soils are more productive soils.
Natural disturbances such as floods, drought, or fire, and how we manage our soil through the addition of fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, tilling, and cropping cycles, can have either a positive or negative impact on soil health. Natural disturbances and the practices of management disturbances (cultivation, pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides) cause stresses on soil organisms. These can result in temporary or permanent disruptions in soil populations. If soils are healthy, the disruptions will quickly return to healthy states. If stresses continue for long periods of time, a new, possibly a less diverse, system will take hold.
So, how does this equate to healthy food? Healthier soil allows for better nutrient uptake by plants and in turn leads to nutritionally richer food. “…all animals get their food directly or indirectly from plants, and all plants get their food from the soil. Therefore, mineral-deficient soil may be one of the greatest original sources of disease in the world today. According to D. W. Cavanaugh, M.D., of Cornell University, "There is only one major disease and that is malnutrition. All ailments and afflictions to which we may fall heir are directly traceable to this major disease." Simply stated, food crops grown on depleted soil produce malnourished bodies, and disease preys on malnourished bodies.” (Empty Harvest, 1990).
To conclude, “Soil is an amazing substance. A complex mix of minerals, air, and water, soil also teems with countless micro-organisms, and the decaying remains of once-living things. Soil is made of life and soil makes life.
To the farmer, soil is where crops grow. To the engineer, soil is a foundation upon which to build. To the ecologist, soil supports communities of living things. To the archaeologist, soil holds clues to past cultures. To the city dweller, soil nurtures grass and gardens. To the soil scientist, soil is all of these things. Soil has been called "the skin of the earth" because it is the thin outermost layer of the Earth's crust. Like our own skin, we can't live without soil.”
Source: Soil Science Society of America
Submitted by Deb Denzer, Nourish Program Development Committee Member