Showing posts with label soil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soil. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Soil. Sweet, sweet, soil.

AliciaLast weekend, I was eating lunch with a good friend out in her garden.

She used to be a farmer, so when she found her apartment in the city she was quick to convince her landlord that she could transform the once-barren backyard into a formidable little garden. She was right. Complete with veggies, herbs, trellises for peas, mushroom logs, and even a shady little nook tucked under grape vines, the space is truly lovely.  And on that sunny, perfect Saturday afternoon, it was particularly soothing to this city gal.

At some point in our conversation, she needed to run back into the apartment. She turned to me and said:

"But you go over and touch the soil while I run in."

I snickered. "Sorry, why am I touching the soil?"

"Because it's grounding and healing. Duh."

A funny little exchange, but I decided to take her up on the advice. I removed my shoes and lightly stepped onto the space between the kale and arugula rows. I kneeled down and dug my fingers into the soil – a bit dry at the surface but darker and richer just beneath. The sun beating down on my neck, I closed my eyes and felt the full expanse of my feet against the ground. I took a deep breath and instantly, felt calmer.

Perhaps it's something farmers take for granted as they work the land each season and nurse modest seeds into the proud, full crops that we all get to enjoy: a connection with the soil. If you really stop and think about it, that stuff under our feet that we work so hard to avoid, that we pave over in our cities and even contaminate with oils, chemicals and waste when we're truly careless, is the very stuff we need to survive. Perhaps that's why some farmers consider "dirt" a dirty word. That's far too simple a term to capture the teeming ecosystem they know so well, yet admire.

A new documentary called the Symphony of the Soil explores the vast mysteries of the "living skin of the earth" that makes life possible. With a sense of awe and warning, the movie invites us all to pay attention to the quiet but mighty layer beneath our feet. In the face of mounting environmental dilemmas, rising food insecurity and diet-related illnesses, hope lies in getting "back to the fundamentals of the soil," as our good friend Fred Kirschenmann reflects in the trailer. Check it out here:

And sometime this summer, be sure to take a little soil-inspired adventure. Pot a plant in your house. Garden. Volunteer at a local farm for a day or take a trip to a pick-your own farm in your area. Visit for ideas on how to deepen your skills and knowledge in growing your own food and read about our Farmer Heroes to stay inspired!

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons by flickr users Pat Dumas and matthiasq

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Francisca's Farm & Food Roundup

FranciscaThe New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is a nonprofit organization in Lowell, Massachusetts that trains farmers in organic farming and helps them find land. New Entry has created a matching service that uses GIS mapping to find landowners who are interested in renting their property to farmers. The program can screen properties based on size, soil quality and zoned usage. It can also pick out patches of unused land on homesteads, so there are several property options to offer farmers.

Livestock on farms near hydraulic fracturing sites have been falling ill and dying. Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed report was published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health. The report documented 24 cases of food animals that experienced neurological, reproductive and gastrointestinal problems after being exposed to fracking chemicals. Proponents of hydraulic fracturing criticize the article because it uses anonymous sources and does not name specific chemicals as the cause for illness.

Lawmakers are urging Congressional leaders to pass the 2012 Farm Bill because of its potential to save billions of dollars. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner believes that farm policy should be included in talks about deficit reduction between President Obama and Congress. Geithner and lawmakers say that changes to farm subsidies and agriculture programs will raise a substantial amount of money. Lawmakers warn that if the bill is not passed before January 1, many farm programs will revert to a 1949 farm law, which is the last permanent Farm Bill. The old law did not provide price support for crops like soybeans, peanuts or sugar. Farmers' markets and minority farmers would also be left without government support.

A recently published study from Washington State University found that urine from animals treated with cephalosporin, an antibiotic used in veterinary medicine, may cause antibiotic resistance in soil. According to researchers, bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, developed resistance to the antibiotic within 24 hours. Food animals can pass drug resistant bacteria from their urine to the soil. The soil then becomes contaminated and could infect any other animal that settles onto the bedding. Researchers would like to see farmers and ranchers use improved waste management, the addition of adsorption agents to the soil, and bioremediation to solve this problem.

Recently, the California Farm Bureau Federation conducted an online survey. Of the 800 members who participated, 61 percent have experienced worker shortages. Several farmers have cut back on production to compensate for the lack of workers. They have also tried to offer higher wages, delay harvesting and leave part of their crops to rot in the fields. Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger suggests more effective programing that allows people from foreign countries to work legally in the U.S.

Earlier this year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned that the recent series of extreme weather could severely increase the prices for foods. The UN now reports that the prices of basic foods fell by 1.5 percent last month. Sugar costs went down the most, followed by oils and cereals. The international prices for all commodities except for dairy decreased.