The human-soil connection

The health of the soil needs to be treated as our own health. Not just because they are inextricably linked. But because they also operate in remarkably similar ways. Although it doesn't look like much, the soil is a living ecosystem. There's more living organisms in a handful of soil then all animals on Earth. These organisms, like us, need access to high quality nutrients and a environment to match, in order to thrive. This is the opposite to the majority of our farms today. Our current methods involve constantly disturbing the soil (like a cyclone ravaging a coastal town), spraying with fungicides and other toxic chemicals that wreak havoc on the beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil, leaving the fields in fallow and exposed to temperature extremes with no protection (like lying in the sun without protection all day in the middle of summer), and on top of that, we 'feed' the soil with artificial stimulants to boost performance (like living on a diet of protein shakes - sound healthy?). 



At the surface level, as discovered in the 70s, soils with high amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) are responsible for the majority of plant growth. Just like protein, fats and carbs are the core nutritional components in food for humans.

But imagine operating on a diet of protein powder, starch, and oil.. Maybe some coffee and you'd be fine.. This stems from the human tendency to over simplify something in order for us to understand it. Which causes problems in complex systems like the human body, or our soil - where thousands of different variables all interact, and 1+1 can equal 3, and minor changes can have unintended consequences. When it comes to solving problems with soil, only focusing on different combinations of 3 different inputs to effect soil functionality is pure ignorance, or just poor problem solving.

One of the key problems with Western medicine is the band-aid approach to health. In other words, treating the symptoms and paying little attention to the root cause. Same goes for agriculture, if there's plant disease showing up, spray some fungicides. The plants aren't growing well, chuck on some N,P,K - that'll solve the problem. By constantly adding external nutrients, the soil gets lazy and stops producing them on it's own - just like using google maps has eliminated our need for a sense of direction. Plants and soil get dependant on these external chemical inputs that make it feel good, but when the buzz wears off, they need another hit. Then they need more and more, and more - increasing the reliance on agri-chemicals. 

Taking it back to the band-aid analogy... instead of putting on a bandaid, how about you just don't cut yourself? Sounds overly simple, but really it kind of is. Just as healthy humans rarely get sick, and well-balanced athletes are in optimum shape. A healthy plant does what a plant does best, it grows. And just as what we eat affects how we perform, for plants to be healthy they need nutritious food, and their food comes from the soil. 

A banana is made up of some fibre, sugar and potassium. We could put that in powder form and although that would be the same as a banana on paper, you and I know it's not the same. The reason is because the powder would be dissolved in the first section of our digestive tract (which is over 10m long) so we would get a spike of energy rather than the prolonged release of energy from a whole banana, because it takes longer to digest and therefore sustains us for longer. And once that spike of energy from the powder is over, we want more to keep going, then more, and then some more, or our energy levels deplete. Like an addict needing his fix to feel straight, our bodies crave that energy because it keeps us alive. But the constant fluctuations of energy levels, from high to low, and back again, wreaks havoc on our health, and our immune system begins to struggle to do it’s job. 


Soil is like our digestive system, in fact, the microbiome of our guts works in a similar way to the microbiome of soil - processing whatever food it consumes. 





The key difference is that we can control what we put in our bodies - most of the time. But the soil gets what it’s given, whether from nature or ourselves. So we need to better understand what the soil’s ideal diet is. This can change from paddock to paddock, however the goal is the same - build soil carbon, increase biological volume and diversity, and therefore climatic resilience and productive longevity. We need to feed the soil, but instead of rapid acting, short-term boosters, we need something that resembles a whole-food diet - creating a long term, sustainable form of energy. 

Using mixed, rotational farming methods, growing a diversity of plants, and in most cases incorporating livestock, all helps to recycle nutrients into the soil, and allows farmers to build soil carbon and feed soil biology. The addition of composts, seed meals, crushed rocks, and seaweed, among other things, can also be used to provide slowly digestible foods to help balance the nutrients in the soil (like adding some hemp seeds in your muesli). Other techniques like having something growing at all times helps constantly feed the biology (which eats the sugars extruded by the plants roots), keeping the soil covered keeps it protected from the elements, and minimising soil disturbance by using plants to loosen up the soil as opposed to relying on tractor plows - are all proven techniques.

All this helps to build nutrient rich, healthy soils, which in turn creates healthy plants that can fight pests and diseases without any chemical intervention. And those plants create nutrient dense foods, which make healthy humans. 

The human-soil connection
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.