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 HOMEGROWN.org for ideas on how to deepen your skills and knowledge in growing your own food and read about our Farmer Heroes to stay inspired!