2015 was the International Year of Soils. Here's why that matters. (And why you should come to our next Movie Night!)

Central Co-op is screening DIRT! The Movie on January 21, 2016. Free, RSVP. Click for details

A version of this article ran in the Summer issue of the Central Register.

The Big Picture: International Year of Soils

By webster walker

Getting Dirty

The United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils! It may seem odd to grant such recognition to such a lowly substance, but the dirty truth is that soil, the very foundation of land-based life, is degrading worldwide. The International Year of Soils is an inspiring opportunity to influence national and international agricultural policy and save our land.

The Roots of Life

Land plants and animals, including humans, our crops, and our domesticated animals are entirely dependent on soil. Soil is the foundation of agriculture, which gave rise to civilization. No soil? No people. Soils are among the most complex ecosystems on Earth, and soil science remains far from identifying all the tiny creatures that bring soil to life. A single teaspoon of healthy soil contains anywhere from one hundred million up to one billion microbes!

Scientists estimate that half the world’s topsoil has been lost in the past 150 years, and it can take a century to grow just one millimeter of soil. So unless we stop the loss of topsoil, and learn to practice agriculture and civilization in ways that restore the soil, we are headed toward a terrible reckoning, on a global scale.

Who Dunnit?

The forces driving loss of soil are activities of human civilization: agriculture, overgrazing, deforestation, over-use of firewood, and industrialization. The great Dust Bowl in the 1930s was caused by agricultural practices, as plowing the prairie destroyed the indigenous long-rooted grasses that maintained the soil structure through variations in climate and weather. When a period of drought inevitably hit, millions of tons of soil literally blew away.

Soil conservation practices introduced after the Dust Bowl, such as planting hedgerows, taking land out of production, or converting cropland to pasture, have been reduced under economic and political pressure to grow commodity crops for export and animal feed. Also, reliance on artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides in modern industrial agriculture degrades the complex biology of soil ecosystems, reducing it to a lifeless medium for the transfer of chemical nutrients and increasing the risk of erosion. While the Dust Bowl has not returned, agriculture and overgrazing today account for over 90 percent of soil loss in North America.

What We Can Do

Improving agricultural practices is the primary opportunity to stop destroying the soil that feeds us. The keys to reversing the catastrophic loss of soil are rejecting fossil fuelbased industrial agriculture and “factory farm” CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations), and supporting organic and agroecological farming methods that mimic the complexity and diversity of natural ecosystems.

"Soils are a finite natural resource, and are nonrenewable on a human time scale."
The Soil Science Society of America

Central Co-op is part of a broad movement of consumers and farmers working together to maintain and build soils. We’ve accomplished a lot, growing the organic food sector to what it is today. But transnational chemical and commodity corporations still have far more influence over national and international agricultural policy than our movement does. Even in the organic sector, industrial practices like extensive monocropping can improve market efficiency at the loss of truly holistic stewardship of soil.

"Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production."
José Graziano da Silva Director-General, UN Food and Agriculture Organization

We need to counter the influence of transnational corporations over agricultural policy. A big part of the current fight in the U.S. Congress over the Trans Pacific Partnership is about agriculture. The Monsanto Corporation and other chemical and commodity corporations are at the table negotiating this massive free-trade agreement that will influence trade and agriculture policy for decades to come.

"We're doing the same things today that past societies have done, and at the same rate. We have to learn to farm without losing the soil."
David Montgomery, University of Washington, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Our movement is not at that table, but awareness is growing about the power of agroecology and organic agriculture. Individuals and businesses in our movement continue to build and share our commitment to the soil that supports our existence. Our families and communities make food choices in line with our understanding of the impacts of agriculture—every meal, every purchase, every farmer we sustain, every sustainable farm enterprise we help start, all of us working together, are building a future agriculture that will not undermine civilization, but sustain it.

"We will continue to create the other world that we are sowing – seed by seed, inch-by-inch of soil, person by person, community by community – until all of this planet is embraced in one circle of a resurgent life and resurgent love. We will not give up."
Vandana Shiva Author, activist, and founder of Navdanya

Can our movements save the soil? In the big picture, we need to work toward the day when democracy, community rights, and the ideals of “fair trade” carry more weight over global policy than do investor rights, corporate rights, and the ideology of “free trade.” Our growing awareness and action must translate into an Organic and Agroecological Millennium.

More on soil: The good news about farming and the Paris Climate Talks

"There’s nary a mention of farming in the new Paris climate change agreement. If you look beyond the document itself, however, the Paris meeting did yield a truly exciting agenda for getting farms to suck up carbon and improve food security at the same time. That potential fix lies in the soil."

Read the full article on grist.org

FREE Co-op Movie Night: DIRT! The Movie

DIRT! The Movie shares the stories of experts from all over the world who study and are able to harness the beauty and power of a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with soil. How can you affect that relationship for the better? Watch DIRT! with us to find out!

RSVP to hold your spot! 

This free movie night is open to everyone. Space is limited! RSVP with your name and contact info at Central Services, or RSVP online now.


This event will held in our Rochdale Room, which is a wheelchair-accessible space, and the restroom has a lever-style door handle. Please let us know if we can make the space more accomodating. About the space and directions

Date: Friday December 18, 2015

Category: Community

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