Soil, It’s more than just dirt

Jerry Glover

Soil scientist/agro ecologist Jerry Glover

Out here on the Midwestern prairies of Wisconsin were surrounded by acres of farmland. This time of year as we ride road bikes along the creamy smooth highways of Dane County. From one township to the next it’s vast fields of tall green corn plants as far as the eye can see.

Photo by Michael Leland

Photo by Michael Leland

photo by Jim Richardson National Geographic

photo by Jim Richardson National Geographic

Averaging between 14 and 17 mile per hour, we whiz past one corn field after the next. With ours heads tucked in the draft stream keeping pace with the summer training schedule the last thing anyone’s thinking about is the soil beneath our spinning tires.
It’s not just dirt you know. Earlier this summer during the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride Colorado I met a guy, a scientist who succeeded in changing how I’ll think about soil forever.

My name is Jerry Glover. I’m a soil scientist/agro ecologist at the Land Institute in Selina, KS.

Glover was one of the many presenters at day-long symposium on food and where it comes for. He taught me a thing or two about why soil is so important to sustaining human life.

photo by Jim Richardson National Geographic

photo by Jim Richardson National Geographic

All you have to do really to think about how important soil is, is pinch yourself. Because our flesh and bones are made up of elements: nitrogen, carbon Oxygen, hydrogen, Those comprise 97 percent of our body.

We’re also made up of other elements alike phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium

These elements have to come from somewhere. It’s not like we take a breath we know suddenly transform a breath into bones and flesh and skin. It’s from the food we eat. And of 5760252_420x300_mb_art_R0course then we need to ask, where does the plants that feed us or feeds the animals that we eat come from? They get it from soil.

Unfortunately, Glover says there’s problem. Modern farming techniques are eroding the planet’s soil and robbing it of the vital nutrients we desperately need to survive.
As soils erode wash away or degrade our abilities as humans to grow the food that we need to sustain our nice secure civilizations is degraded. And we see evidence throughout history. The Mediterranean civilizations that eroded and lost their soil, their civilizations collapsed. Likewise around the world, where people don’t have enough topsoil to produce abundant foods, they suffer political, they suffer social and economic crises, often resulting in wars, famines and you know a lot of serious problems that we don’t want to hand down to our children and our grand children.

Despite the lush green farm fields of our agricultural landscape Glover says the soil beneath is in serious trouble.

Click here to listen>> Soil

For more information on soil read the September 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine:

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.