Whenever a new documentary comes out about climate change and the environment, the solutions presented at the end are usually all the same: reduce your waste, recycle, compost, etc. However, with all the frightening statistics and facts that are usually presented in these films, we might come away feeling powerless and depressed. The most recent documentary we watched, however, provided us with a solution that is less commonly harped to the public. In Josh Tickkel’s “Kiss The Ground”, we get to see a completely different approach to saving the planet. The solution: healing the soil.
In order to fully be able to grasp the importance of healing our soil, we need to understand what its made up of. For most people, soil is known as a lifeless material that plants grow from. In actuality, soil is a living, breathing system of microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria that work in harmony to provide plants with the nutrients and minerals they need to thrive. This isn’t a one-way relationship though. In return, plants provide them with carbon sugars that sustain life. Through photosynthesis, plants are able to take carbon from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen - which all life needs to survive - and organic compounds, also known as soil organic carbon. The atmospheric carbon is converted into a form that is vital to the soil microorganisms and fungi. As the carbon in the soil goes through more processes, the carbon chains become longer and more complex. In the end you are left with humus. No, not the kind you dip your carrots into. Humus is a dark, organic material that is created from the decomposition of plants and animals. This substance is often referred to as “black gold” because of how valuable it is to all life on Earth. We try to replicate this substance in our compost pile in the backyard, and there is really no difference between the two end results other than one process takes place naturally and the other we can help move along. Soil is fertile and nutrient-rich because of this material. It gives soil the structure it needs to retain moisture and gases. It provides plants with all of the nutrients and minerals they need to thrive.
In conventional agriculture, ploughing and tilling the soil is is how the farmer is able to control weeds and pests, plant seeds faster and easier, and mix organic matter into the soil. This is a process in which the soil is upturned - usually with the help of heavy machinery that could cause compaction in the soil - and the lower layers of the soil are brought to the surface. Here it is left for the forces of nature to wreck all of its havoc on; soil erosion happens much faster when the soil is left in such a vulnerable state. There are many problems with this method. First and foremost, whenever the soil structure is disturbed, carbon is released into the atmosphere. Through tillage, this happens at an alarming rate. This destroys the microorganisms and fungi networks that established themselves and also helped give structure to the soil. The soil dries out much faster, causing dust particles to form. These particles are so small that wind can pick it up and displace it, water can wash it away, and plants really aren’t able to do much with it in this state. Nutrients are lost after a crop is grown on a field and these have to be replenished in order to have success with next season’s crops. In conventional methods, fertilizers are used to make the soil “fertile” enough to sustain any living plants. These are chemicals that end up running off into our waterways and destroying ecosystems in the long-run. If the soil were to remain undisturbed after a crop is harvested, the soil structure would remain and the nutrients and fertility of the soil would be sustained. Contrary to popular belief, moving away from these harmful agricultural practices won’t only give you healthier soils and crops, it can ultimately be less costly in the long run. Over-time, the natural processes have a chance to start up again within these complex ecosystems below ground, beneficial insects have an opportunity to reestablish themselves, the soil structure remains undisturbed, and the crops don’t need to be doused in fertilizers and pesticides.
Ultimately, plants take carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil for up to a millennium. Farmers all around the world are starting to see this solution and have implemented new techniques at their own farms in efforts to store CO2 in a beneficial way; by switching to a no-till method on their fields and implementing a crop rotation schedule, the soil is becoming healthier, and so is our planet. Its a win-win!