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Organic Consumers Association

Sick Soil

Via Organica is the Mexican sister organization of the Organic Consumers Association. Luc Monzies is the Director of the Via Organica Farm School in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Soil - the outermost skin of our planet - is a living organ of interconnected tissue. When soil is damaged, the tissue loses connectivity and the intelligence of its ecosystem collapses. Soil in this state is in critical condition.

20th century farmers have plowed and poisoned this vital organ to near death. Agribusiness has ignored nature's innate intelligence by treating soil as a mere growing medium, replacing its biological functions with inert chemicals. Initially this synthetic approach was expected to produce more food per hectare. However, as weeds and pests become immune to these chemicals, an evermore expensive cocktail of chemicals is needed to sustain current levels of production.

The application of these toxic recipes has resulted in the loss of up to 16 tons of microorganisms per hectare. As soil dies, its weakened structure becomes prone to erosion. In just a hundred years, over half of the planet's topsoil has disappeared.

A new niche of soil studies has emerged focused on soil's ability to give life without synthetic input.  Soil scientists have begun to microscopically explore worlds of decomposed plant matter, earthworms, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and minerals. These pioneers are discovering that a small handful of healthy soil can contain billions of such microorganisms, many of which are still unidentified.  As these scientists begin to understand soil's sophisticated web of nutrient cycling, it is becoming evident that natural, healthy soil is a very efficient way of growing crops.

In order to nurture this soil/food web, organic farmers have learned to feed microorganisms. Many studies have shown that biologically active soil reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizers, and improves soil moisture retention. Microorganisms also excrete substances which bind soil particles together - minimizing the risk of erosion.  

Unsustainable farming practices are now really beginning to threaten us. Historically, farming the same land over and over again for hundreds of years has only been possible when carried out in harmony with nature. Mesopotamia and Sumeria are two often cited examples of failed civilizations that neglected to sustain their soil life. Though highly complex, the soil food web is very fragile.

Much like its human counterpart, the earth's skin needs to be clothed in a protective layer - trees, grasses or decomposing plant materials - to protect its vital functions, thus avoiding nutrient depletion and soil erosion. Only by respecting nature's way will we be able to heal our soil and live from it. Thousands of species are likely to perish if we do not reestablish Earth's equilibrium and ensure a sustainable food supply system.

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