Guest piece by Michael Cantu

Dirt vs Soil

What is soil? Most of us refer to it as “dirt”, this annoying stuff that you have to sweep out of the house. We have sidewalks so we can walk to our destination easily and keep clean. However, it is also where gardens are grown, it is underneath our lawns and on those trails we use to escape the buzz of everyday life. This is where we might start to think of it as “soil”.

Soil is as vast as the sea while also holding the same mystery of the unknown; we continue to learn and discover so much more about it. Believe it or not, soil is actually home to millions of microscopic bacteria and fungi, along with other microscopic organisms and some slightly larger ones such as earthworms.  

Bluegrass Landscape & Snow Management. Bluegrasslawn.com, 2020

All of these creatures dwelling in soil play a vital role in plant health and growth, as well as being beneficial to the planet as a whole. Healthy soil plays a crucial role in the hydrologic cycle, otherwise known as the water cycle, and affects the quality and availability of clean water on our entire planet.

Effects of Modern Agriculture

Through typical agricultural methods we have created a system that is destroying our planet’s soil and its overall health with it. Large tractors and constant tilling create compaction in the soil; crushing, slicing and dicing all of our microscopic friends. And this is merely one example of the detrimental practices used in modern agriculture. Alas! There is a solution.

Regenerative Alternatives

The core principles of permaculture have led individuals to implement easy to follow solutions similar to those used by mother nature. These include methods such as Korean Natural Farming, which focuses on the microorganisms in soil that are local and collected through fermentation practices, holistic livestock management practices that replicate conditions which focus on quality of life and natural environments, proper land stewardship with biodiversity, and controlling and capturing water on land to prevent soil erosion.

With these methodologies and principles in our arsenal we can tackle climate change and deforestation while also working toward solving our food crisis and lack of access to clean water. All of this can be achieved when we stop looking at our planet's soil as “dirt” and start looking at it as an important ecosystem that many microorganisms and plants depend on.