Loren King

For the last eight years, I’ve been learning about topsoil erosion and preventive, regenerative agricultural practices as a means to understanding how our food is grown and how it relates to the plant-based eating vs. meat-eating discussion. The two instances currently driving my curiosity and concern are the extent of the solar arrays on the Sandy River Farms and other farms across Maine and a new paper published in February 2021 by UMass Amherst graduate student Evan Thaler and professors Isaac Larsen and Quin Yu. My heightened awareness makes me feel guilty that I am complicit in my contributions to destroying soil health. Living in Maine makes it easy to be complacent in an area where trees are abundant, many people have flower or vegetable gardens, and most farmers have mindful farming practices.

Amherst graduate student, Evan Thaler, reports that by “Using a remote-sensing method for quantifying the absence of A-horizon soils and the relationship between soil loss and topography, we find that A-horizon soil has been eroded from roughly one-third of the Midwestern US Corn Belt,” whereas prior estimates indicated none of the Corn Belt region has lost A-horizon soils (topsoil). The loss of A-horizon soil has removed 1.4 ± 0.5 Pg of carbon from hillslopes, reducing crop yields in the study area by ∼6% and resulting in $2.8 ± $0.9 billion in annual economic losses.” (https://www.pnas.org/content/118/8/e1922375118) One-third of the Midwestern US Corn Belt is nearly 30 million acres! These results indicate that the US Department of Agriculture has dramatically underestimated the magnitude of soil erosion.

Think of topsoil and its billions of microorganisms as a vast community food network with the ability to hold water and turn soil carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide. Yet, we’re destroying the home to these microorganisms faster than Mother Nature can regenerate. As a result, we have reduced crop yields, less carbon sequestration, and less dense food which contributes to global hunger and decreased health outcomes. We don’t want just to grow food; we want to grow amazingly delicious, nutritious food and not destroy the planet with food production practices!

Industrial and home agricultural practices make the global fertilizer industry worth $170B, resulting from repurposing WWll bomb materials and nerve gas. These practices contribute to poor soil health and dead food. With a paradigm shift from feeding the plant to feeding the soil, we switch the focus to what actions we’re applying to the soil that destroys or feeds it. We envision how to use waste to enrich the soil. Instead of vast solar arrays on farmland and high electrical wires that destroy forests and soil without regeneration, we develop environmentally and socially responsible ways to collect energy. Instead of investing $30B to artificially lower food prices and encourage long-distance food transportation, we invest in closed-loop biomass operations that utilize waste from plants and animals. We grow food close to home and invest in mindful farmers, farmers’ markets, and local entrepreneurs.

Soil gives us life. Protecting it is one of our highest callings.

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