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The Solution is Soil {Week 20 CSA}

Let us all return to the soil

That lays the corners of its garments

And waits for us.

Life rears itself from her breast,

Flowers bloom from her smiles

Her call is the sweetest music;

Her lap stretches from one corner to the other,

She controls the strings of life.

Her warbling waters bring

The murmur of life from all eternity. — Tagore

For twenty weeks now, you've listened to us wax on about the vitality of healthy soil. About the ways that un-tilled and well-balanced soil lends better nutrition to the plants growing from it and better resilience in the face of the challenges occurring above it. There are important ways we can expand and improve our regenerative practices on our small farm, and we intend to, but it was critical for us to begin from the ground up. Tending to the soil's vitality is the hallmark of regeneration as it's truly the lungs of the earth—where the breath of life begins and ends.

In the last sixty years, with the advent of the green revolution and intense proliferation of chemical industrial farming, soils across the globe have been degraded at an alarming rate. Tilling the soil (which involves turning it over, typically by a tractor with a rotary tiller attachment) oxidizes the microbes, resulting in significant CO2 production as soil bacteria oxidizes. It disrupts the intricate networks of fungal pathways, called mycelium, and the delicate hairs, called mycorrhizae, connecting those pathways to root systems for nutrient delivery. Tilling, chemical fertilizers, and the vast array of biocides that conventional farming employ ultimately deplete healthy soil of its microbial life, organic matter, and proper ratios of micronutrients for sustaining life. What we see after this approach has waged its war across a landscape is a dusty terrain that no longer has the capacity to store water (via organic matter) nor to grow plants (via microbial networks). We find that it easily erodes with the wind and has too high salinity to grow much more than weeds (via poor drainage, chemical residues, and reduced water holding). We see desertification in action.

Healthy soils are alive and the communities of microbial life within them represent 95% of life on earth. Indeed, a single handful of vibrant life-giving soil has more microorganisms than there are humans on the planet. This activity is what fortifies our crops and forests alike, and also what keeps our planet's carbon cycle in balance. Researchers have only just begun to dive into the carbon sink that living soils provide, but it's known that the soil holds more than three times the carbon that exists in the atmosphere, and it previously held even more. With more widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture methods, experts have estimated that farmers in the U.S. alone could increased our collective carbon storing capacity by over 90%.

Soil respiration relies on the same microbial life our own bodies do, and the significance of the microbiomes