Annie Leonard and Tom Newmark on how they came to see soil as a solution to one of our biggest environmental problems—and as a tool to build more resilient communities.
Wendell Berry called it “the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.” Ninety-five percent of our food is grown in it, it stores and filters our water and provides a home for the majority of life on the planet, and yet most of us rarely pay much attention to it. We dump poisonous chemicals on it, inject it with synthetic nutrients, slash it with plows, strip it of its natural diversity, and bury our trash in it.
But soil has a story to tell us, and we are all a part of it.
For as long as humans have engaged in agriculture, and even before, we’ve relied on healthy soil and the organisms it supports. And for most of that time, we’ve cultivated good soil. Early societies developed food production systems that actually enhanced soil fertility and food abundance, such as with “terra preta,” or Amazonian dark earth, and the food forests of the Mayans. We planted, harvested, and consumed but also took care to nourish and regenerate.
What changed? At some point, humans started relating to the planet differently, and our emotional and spiritual connection to the earth was severed. Whether the shift happened during the Neolithic Revolution, when humans settled and established agriculture, or the Age of Enlightenment, when nature became viewed as an object to be observed and controlled, the result was a disconnect from nature. We became, in the words of Daniel Quinn in his book Ishmael, “Takers” and not “Leavers.”
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