ZesterDaily piece by: Katherine Leiner
As “Symphony of the Soil,” the latest film written by Deborah Koons Garcia, points out, “One can go down thousands of years into the soil. Soil is the water and land having a dialogue. Soil is the interface of biology and geology. Soil is an ecosystem, a living thing. As long as the soil remains healthy, the planet will be healthy.”
The Soul of the Soil
First in a three-part series on soil used to grow food crops.
In the 1970s, Garcia became a vegetarian. She also became a fanatic about good, clean food. She doesn’t eat white sugar, white flour or anything that isn’t organic. As she became educated about real food, she began to think about a film. What resulted were a number of films and then “The Future of Food,” a documentary that, among other things, deals head on with the issue of genetically modified organisms and the world of agriculture.
“Symphony of Soil” does not focus on the agriculture world. It deals with deeper issues that affect the soil. Although the film is an overlay of facts, time-lapse photography, animated water colors and beautiful soothing music, the details are deeply disturbing. Here are some:
In the last 25 years, the biology of soil all over the world has been interrupted by antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides. Whereas soil used to be full of lively diverse microbes, in most places this is no longer the case. In the last 50 years we have destroyed the world’s topsoil. In order to rectify this situation, synthetic fertilizers are used to enrich the degraded soil, which only puts further stress on the soil and increases its vulnerability to pests. This causes farmers to use more pesticides, stronger pesticides and stronger herbicides. One-third of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion.
Seventy percent of our freshwater is used for agriculture irrigation. And that resource is quickly dissipating at an unsustainable rate. Among the chemicals that causes the most concern is aminopyralid.
Taking a toll on health
The medical ramifications of pesticides and herbicides are being studied. Research reveals they may be related to everything from birth defects to cancer.
The good news is that land that has been sprayed with most herbicides that have decreased microorganisms can be improved if it is treated organic compost for two or three years.
Although climate change is affecting every one of us, one of the ways of addressing the issue is by improving our soil. Planting a cover crop after a vegetable crop creates benefits including suppressing weeds and protecting that precious soil from erosion. Long-term cover crops also improve the soil condition. Even short term, cover crops can increase yield and save nitrogen. If the soil is improved, less water is used on crops and what run off there is goes directly to feed all the needy aqua filters.
Compost also improves soil. If the soil is organic and full of microbes, crops planted there produce large yields.
It is also important to feed nature as we feed humanity. When cattle farmers stopped using antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs on their cows, dung beetles returned to the cows’ paddies. As the beetles did their work, cleaning up after the massive cattle herds, there were fewer weeds and thistles in the field, thus less need for pesticides and herbicides. Properly managed grazing is great for the land.
Spiraling down a 1950s hole
In the 1950s, the conventional wisdom could be summed up as “better living through chemistry.” We are now trying to repair the agricultural damage we did during that decade with “better living through biology.”
With good soil we create a food web of health and good taste.
“Symphony of the Soil” shows us where we have gone wrong and gives us a plan to begin righting those wrongs. In her last film, Garcia gave us a generous and hopeful look at the possible future of our food, and now she gives us that hope with our soil.
After watching this film, we can begin to ask our elected officials important questions such as why herbicides are being used to kill noxious weeds, some of which, like thistles, can actually be used for food. When we have the information we can do our own research.
This is a movie that should be seen. The simplicity with which Garcia handles the explanation of how we can come to the aid of our own soil is wonderful. If each of us takes responsibility for a handful of dirt, we will have enormous movement. The movie gives us another chance to know our food from the ground up.