Thursday, December 30, 2010

Getting my fingers dirt-y

I think most parents dream that their children will have a better life than they did. If their children don't grow up to become doctors or lawyers, at least they should get a comfy office job where they don't have to put in back-breaking hours day in and day out at a local lumber mill or mine. That is to say, I think my own family would be a little disappointed if I were brutally honest with them and told them that all I really wanted to do with my fancy four-year degree was play with dirt.

But dirt is important.

Next to the sun, we owe much of our livelihood to dirt.We live on it. We work on it. We eat what is grown from it. But do we care of the dirt like we could?

I saw a trailer the other day for Dirt! The Movie, and it looks like it might make an earnest attempt at answering that question. The short answer, however, is no.

There's something that nature does exceptionally well that we, as humans, have historically sucked at. That is, giving back to the soil. Plants pop up in the spring soaking up vital energy from the sun. One might argue that these plants are soaking up vital nutrients from the soil, but that very argumentative person would be missing the larger picture. Those plants are digging their roots in deep and pulling up nutrients that have been leached by the elements. Come autumn, those plants die back or lose their leaves, returning all of those nutrients to the surface again, along with a whole growing season's worth of solar energy. Even that which is eaten will eventually be returned to the earth, either as manure or a decomposing doe.

I will reiterate that we suck at this. The closest we've gotten to respect the cycles of nature has been in keeping meat animals on pasture. Except, in raising a cow, the best we can hope for is to get one calorie out for every calorie we put in. We end up sacrificing variety in our diets and in our ecosystem for a quasi-balanced, but exceptionally inefficient system.

Our grand adventures in agriculture only take us further from the already-less-than-ideal. Slash and burn agriculture: we destroy whatever's there so we can put what we want in its place, and once we exhaust the soil of its resources, we move on. Feed lots: dedicate large swaths of land to growing food for animals that we keep neatly confined, stockpiling an obscene amount of excrement which then finds its way into nearby bodies of water, contaminating it, causing algae blooms, killing off fish populations, and endangering the lives of humans; the manure never makes it as far as fertilizing the fields that grow the food for the very animals in question, because... Chemical revolution: it's faster and cheaper to apply petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, etc. to the fields than to deal with compost or manure, neverminding that petroleum supplies are limited and have untold adverse effects, including the destruction of the microorganisms that make up a healthy soil.

We need to learn how to take care of the dirt so that the dirt will keep taking care of us. Things might be dirt cheap right now, but in a few decades, or a few centuries, we might be talking about how things are dirt expensive.

Which brings me the the whole point of my post. Geoff Lawton, a hero of mine whom I've written about previously has released another DVD all about caring about our soil. Both his food forest DVD and the short video on greening the desert blew my mind, and I have no doubts that his new Permaculture Soils DVD will be equally educational and inspiring. The only problem is that his DVDs are really hard to come by her in the states, so if you want a copy, you may very well have to have a copy shipped over from the land down under.

Can't wait for that? Here's a trailer to hold you over:

What about you? Besides composting, what other ways do you take care of your soil?

P.S. Dirt may even be good for your health!

Photo by cobalt123

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...