Love the soil
According to recent studies, only one part in 32 of the surface of our world is covered with soil that is capable of cultivating crops. Obviously the oceans, high mountains and deserts form the lion’s share of the earth’s surface, but still, it’s a startlingly small amount of land – especially when you consider that the world’s population has now, for the first time ever, exceeded 7 billion. Never before in history have human numbers been this size, nor come anywhere near!
It reached 6 billion as recently as 1999, and in only 12 short years, the earth is now inhabited by an extra billion people; all of whom need feeding.
We shouldn’t ever forget that many of the world’s people will go hungry tonight. Given that fact, one would hope that every step possible would be taken to preserve that precious part of land, that one part in 32 that feeds us. As the world’s population grows ever bigger, the land that is able to support us by growing foods should be also getting bigger, not smaller. Could anybody argue against that?
This is not the case, however, in this, the era of environmental mismanagement. We have forgotten how to treat soil, and instead of enriching it and making it better so that it can provide for us, the soil is being damaged in just about every country there is.
To take just one example (and there are very many examples) of land damage worldwide, take a look at the oil mining that is currently taking place in Canada. Basically, in this undeveloped region in the centre of the Canadian countryside, huge vehicles, each with wheels the size of a two-storey house, gang up to dig the land (which is sandy in this region) and squeeze the oil out of it. The process itself uses vast amounts of oil to power operations – destroying the land to extract non- renewable fuel. These machines are eating the Earth! Soils that have taken thousands of years to form are crushed and cast aside as the world’s quarries get larger.
Building soil is a simple process, but in theory only: It is difficult to achieve. It is easy to damage soil, quite another thing to improve it, and even if funds were found to aim at some study or investment in soil rebuilding, the knowledge is fast disappearing.
Soil is the crumbly surface of stones, where land meets air and mixes with the weather and decaying animal and plant substances, as nature planned it. It makes the most precious element, material that’s able to support plant life – far more precious that gold for example, which grows no crop and hurts the earth in the gathering process (mining).
On the Aran Islands, west of Galway Bay, they know about making soil because soil had to be made on these rocky islands to get potatoes and vegetables to grow. Seaweed and sand was dragged from the shoreline on a journey inland, and mixed with manure and composts. This soil was made by hard work. You can be sure that a meal of potatoes grown in these man-made soils were well deserved and the value of the food well known to the islanders.
This resourcefulness and understanding of soil is a far cry from what’s happening at the present time, where most households and places of employment don’t even have a compost bin. And even if compostable stuff is saved up, there is no service to collect it – we are throwing tomorrow’s soil away in to bin bags and wheelie bins to be buried into a landfill site, with its heavy duty machines trying to hide the mess we make. A poor show. It really is time for a change.
Chris Brown is a food producer in Louisburgh. He has a particular interest in food miles and buying local.