Through the realization that toxin free foods have become a rarity in American culture, we see that soil health is strongly connected to public/community health. Soil is an integral part of our biosphere and therefore, an essential element of the health and sustainability of our community. Through the knowledge that-just as we are what eat-plants are composed of their growing environment. Many “large scale” farms use chemically structured seeds and fertilizers to increase yield. However, the chemical and biological composition of soil is extremely fragile and if imbalanced, has the potential to endanger health and even create famine on a global scale. By establishing locally-managed agricultural communities in urban areas we create healthier food conscious communities, responsive to the needs of the people who grow and eat the food.
As delicate as our human lungs, soil is highly susceptible to pollutants and toxins. Soil’s porous nature resembles the lung’s alveoli, absorbing oxygen,carbon,minerals,hydrogen and gases. Soil transmits its elements into glucose fueled plants which extract harmful components from the depths of the earth .This extraction eventually passes toxins and other chemical waste to the budding fruits and vegetables that will be harvested. Like that deep breath of city smog or cigarette smoke, seeping into your body, toxins gradually mark their presence beneath the soil surface, poisoning and clogging the passageways and expelling to surface what it cleanses.
In addition to industrial contaminants,synthetic-based agricultural practices, in an ill-informed attempt to increase profit,have created chemically and biologically altered soils and plants. Now we know through various experimental results that synthetic-chemically based agricultural processes are extremely hazardous to human health and ecological sustainability. These results cause growing concern in our communities and as the knowledge spreads, motivates agriculturally focused communities in urban areas. What happens when you consume that toxic tomato or lead-infused kale? Although mild levels of common toxins (chemical pesticides,fertilizers, road runoff etc.) are allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, extended periods of exposure to such toxins can cause chronic migraines, anemia, malignant growths,fertility problems or even cancer. Pregnant women, children and elders are the most susceptible to the immediate adverse effects of toxic soil. Conversely, the beneficial nutrients we expect to receive from a plant must be present in the soil. If nutrients are absent or the soil imbalanced, we will not find proper nutrition in the foods we consume.
I am working for a program that involves youth in in-depth agricultural, nutritional, and ecological education. Strengthening these communities by implementing ethical soil and compost practices, provides healthy urban food sources as well as confidence and familiarity with the practices and methodology of growing food rather than depending on supermarkets and factory farms. Over time, we would find that these populations will begin to experience an increase in mental and physical health due to: positive exposure to community oriented interactions, lower toxin levels in diet, and adopting a healthier diet.
Upon asking our youth group why raised beds are common in urban gardens we found that many of them were able to pinpoint several pollutant sources, such as roads, pipes, garbage,abandoned houses and nearby painters/constructors. Few students knew that lead pipes were once used for sewage and water lines which began to deteriorate and expel toxins into the soil. Most of these pipes are long gone but their chemical shadows remain. Recognizing toxicity and grasping the importance of soil health is part of a larger coming-to-consciousness about the ill effects of corporate agriculture, the processed food industry and government actions. Unfortunately, many urban gardeners are not educated about soil toxicity and unknowingly plant household vegetable gardens in contaminated soils.By not having been educated about the importance of soil testing they are putting their health at risk. Not only are we able to build a stronger community through educating locals about soil health, we instill hope for our toxic community soil,encourage better health, and reap the benefits of greater self-reliance.
What can we do with this toxic soil? Although costly and time consuming, bioremediation is a feasible soil cleansing method in which high levels of toxins can be stabilized by altering the chemical composition of the soil. Bio remediation coupled with several seasons of production without harvest can restore native soil toxin levels. This remediation allows the root cavities in strategically placed plants to “pull out” toxins from various soil layers. Nutrient restoration can be achieved in numerous ways. Our community garden favorite is Hugelkultur. Hugelkultur is a German-style raised bed that initially acts a harvestable raised bed which eventually becomes a natural,“filter” like mound for the soil.
Through the centuries of pollution and chemical warfare on our planet, farming has evolved and changed in many ways. Communities in urban areas are now returning to a focus on farming/gardening. The relationship between humans and the natural world is an essential ideology for creating an agriculturally conscious community. The importance of this relationship has caused sustainable biodynamic farming methods to gain in prominence. Biodynamic farming combines animal husbandry,ethical/organic farming methods and precise compost practices to create a self-sustaining, high yielding farm without the need for synthetic-chemical inputs. Numerous communities have adopted biodynamic farming because of its sustainability and ecology-focused benefits.
When it comes to soil health and community health, the connectivity is undeniable. Through examination, comparison and experience we can make a strong correlation between soil and community health. Soil toxins laid down by industrial practices,combined with scientifically sound evidence of global climate change, rain acidity changes, and the negative biological effects of synthetic-chemical agriculture, we create an urgent demand for healthy soil in the coming generations.