Putting the Earth Back in Earth Day

Karen Adler's picture

“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil... There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” --Charles E. Kellogg /USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1938

How often do you think about the earth beneath your feet?

If you are a farmer or soil scientist, it’s many times a day. Otherwise, probably not very often, since our soil is something that most of us take for granted. But did you know that half of our topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years, and we’re now losing it at rates 10 to 40 times faster than it can naturally be replenished? Currently, 40% of the soil used for agriculture throughout the world is classified as degraded or seriously degraded.

Jerry Hatfield, Ph.D., thinks about soil a lot. He asks the question, “Who speaks for the soil?” in his guest column in the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture spring newsletter. Hatfield, who is director of the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, urges us to become the voice for the soil. “Soil is one of the most precious resources we have,” he says, “yet we ignore its value and consider soil a renewable resource that always will be there for us.”

One of Hatfield’s biggest concerns for the soil, and the way we use it, is the general lack of awareness that “agriculture is a complex set of interactions which must be understood as a system rather than individual components.”

Fortunately, this systems approach is at the very heart of organic agriculture.

And OFRF is now part of a powerful and dedicated group of people who are working to speak and act for the soil in multiple ways. The Soil Renaissance initiated in the fall of 2013 by The Farm Foundation and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, seeks to make soil health a priority for farmers, researchers, foundations, nonprofits, and government agencies around the world. To achieve their mission, they have brought together a group of agricultural leaders ranging from organic and conventional farmers, researchers, and policymakers, to university professors and industry professionals. OFRF is proud that these leaders include OFRF Board members Klaas Martens and Jeff Moyer, as well as OFRF’s former executive director, Maureen Wilmot.

Klaas Martens explains that the project began last fall during A Dialogue on Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century, a Farm Foundation initiative to promote discussions on the challenges we are facing to sustainably feed 9 billion people in 2050 (the projected increase of more than 25% of the current 7 billion on the planet).

It became clear during these discussions that healthy soil will be crucial to meeting these challenges. The fundamental issue arose: What is soil health? Soil Renaissance’s first working group reached this answer: The continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.

“Now we’re working to define a standard for measuring soil health; identify opportunities for specific research work; provide education; and quantify the economics behind improved soil health,” writes Bill Buckner, president and CEO of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, in his post on the Farm Foundation AgChallenge2050 website,  “This is a whole-system, industry-wide, global effort aimed at changing our perception of soil forever.”

Klaas Martens hails Soil Renaissance as a platform for common ground across all of agriculture in the area of soil. “This is an urgent matter. The Dustbowl awakened the first renaissance of soil awareness. This is a reawakening of that first renaissance.”

Read more:

Top Five Reasons You Should “Root” for Soil Health Farmers on Earth Day 2014

The Soil Renaissance: Knowledge to Sustain Earth's Most Valuable Asset

And for your viewing pleasure, check out these acclaimed films:

Symphony of the Soil

Dirt! The Movie

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