Soil. Dirt. Ingredients for a mud pie (just add water!). Whatever you call it, soil is one of the main reasons we are alive on this planet. We’re also losing it and polluting it at an alarmingly rapid rate. Soil works on such a vast geological scale that it can be hard to think how our individual actions can conserve and build it. Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here!
This Earth Day we’re asking everyone to try something new (just for 30 days) to help save soil and water. Below you'll find four easy ways you can make small changes to your lifestyle and become a better soil steward.
Buy local, seasonal, and—when possible—organic produce
Large-scale industrial agriculture depends on chemical fertilizers and economies of scale that heavily stress soil health. On the flip side, many small, local vegetable farmers use sustainable practices that preserve the soil. You can talk to these producers at local farmers markets to find out what practices they use, encourage them, and perhaps even let them know you want them to strive for even more sustainability. A satisfying interaction!
Two great ways to participate more fully in your local food system include joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program or just shopping at your local farmer’s market. And, there’s no time like the present: while farmer’s markets have grown like crazy in the last 14 years in the U.S., a recent USDA report shows that sales of produce by small farmers has declined slightly in the last five years. Let’s make those numbers rise again! Check out this awesome interactive USDA farmer’s market directory to locate one close to you.
Grow your own food
Even a small garden can bring immense joy into your life, and a connection to the soil. There’s also strong evidence that when young people garden they are inclined to embrace healthier eating habits, according to this recent article in The Independent. Those of us living in a more urban setting may be at a disadvantage when it comes to home gardening, but as Annie Novak points out in a recent Civil Eats piece about roof-top gardening, the lack of fertile ground is overshadowed by an abundance of sunlight. Growing your own food also let’s you practice soil regeneration techniques first hand. For inspiration, try reading this recent Food Tank article on scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman’s application of agro-ecological principles to reduce pesticide use. Also, seafood lovers who want to help reduce food waste and improve their garden should read this recent Washington Post piece on using crab-meal to improve soil.
Build your Own Soil
Sick of food waste and looking to dig some love into your soil at home? Composting is the perfect solution. It’s a great way really envigorate plants, use fewer chemicals, clean the soil, prevent pollution and save money. For instance, a recent Soil Association research project notes the positive yield boosting and money saving effects of compost tea. Read more about composting benefits and how-to’s in our compost compendium article. Your options for composting are many: compost piles, compost bins, vermicomposting are all things that you can do at home. In some cities, a growing number of composting services will pick up your scraps and deliver compost back to you. To learn more about how to compost, check out our guide, and to build your own simple composting system, see 5 Easy Steps To Build a Backyard Compost System.
Support Soil-Saving National Legislation
Soil is a natural resource deserving national priority. While the National Resource Conservation Services under the USDA offer opportunities for farmers and others to improve and repair their soil, as private citizens we often don’t get to interact with Federal policies that protect it. Every session in Congress sees a few bills that focus on preserving land and conserving soil. Two such bills in the Senate this session are S.1510 the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2015 and S.1699 the Oregon Wildlands Act and in the House HR 996 the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and HR 2554 the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act. Click on the links provided and follow the Govtrack.com directions to contact your members of congress to ask them to support these measures. Please drop us a line if you find other soil and conservation bills (there are many!) that you feel are worth supporting and we’ll help you spread the word.
And for those of you who don’t mind really digging into a subject, there’s the huge Federal Farm Bill, which is considered and passed every five years. This beast of a bill covers all things agricultural, and takes expert eyes to decipher. For more on conservation programs (soil included) that relate to the Farm Bill, start with this National Wildlife Federation explanation.
This Earth Day, let’s all do what we can to sustain the soil that...sustains us!