The Myth of Dirt
Often in my conversations with customers, the terms " compost, mud, soil, dirt" all seem to slide seamlessly into one another. It's interesting to note that in our minds these terms are interchangeable for most of us. Yet the keen farmer or ecologist will be offended if you equated mud with compost or dirt with soil.
When I began Daily Dump 15 years ago, I did not know anything about soil. Even the term was something I'd picked up in a geography class that gave this thing I stood on a name. I had no connection, though I knew its taste (I loved eating soil when I was 4 or 5 years old). I knew its smell when the rains fell. I recognized its grittiness on the soles of my feet. But I did not "know" it or know how much my life depended on it.
And then compost came into my life!
It all began with waste. My education on soil, its magic and its presence began with my inquiry on waste. It took rotting tomatoes and eggs metaphorically to get me to "see" soil and make a fresh acquaintance. It was the invitation to look down, right now and notice "that," which I was not paying attention to.
I felt such excitement at finding this new treasure through managing organic waste and this made me even more convinced that more folks should compost - only so that they could meet "soil".
So what's great about soil? I did not know that soil was such a huge building block of our ecosystem. This means literally, no soil, no life.
We acknowledged the importance of Soil in 2015 - the year the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, paying tribute to the life-giving ground beneath our feet.
"It is difficult to rate the importance of the different soil functions, since all are vital to our well-being to some extent," it said. "However, the function of supporting food and agriculture worldwide is fundamental for the preservation and advancement of human life on this planet."
After having interacted and communicated with it, I have not a scientific view, it's a more emotional and practical connect with this material.
In my mind soil has these 7 super powers
1. Soil is alive - if it is not alive, then it is dust, it cannot be called soil.
A teaspoon of healthy soil contains millions of organisms including vertebrate animals, earthworms, nematodes, 20-30 species of mites, 50-100 species of insects, hundreds of species of fungi and thousands of species of bacteria and actinomycetes. This vibrant diverse life in soil is why soil is called Living Soil and your compost made at home with your waste - helps keep it alive.
2. Soil is a sponge - it stores water for plants
Soil and the vegetation it supports catch and distribute rainwater and play a key role in the water cycle and supply. Soil water flows can affect the size, shape and capacity of rivers, lakes and streams.
In fact the more organic matter in soil, the more it can store water - according to one statistic - “every 1% increase in organic matter results in as much as 25,000 gallons of available soil water per acre.” - Another reason to compost and put compost back in soil.
3. Soil is a filter - it purifies the water as the water flows down
By natural processes like soil absorption, soils filter surface water of dust, chemicals and other contaminants. No wonder we say ground water is clean.
4. Soil is a mood lifter - who would have thought?
A recent study states "Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance under study and has indeed been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier."
Even if you don't believe you will feel better, you should know that soil is linked to our health in many ways. Many of our antibiotics originated in soil. I always thought we invented them in a lab. So it was a eureka moment for me when I learnt this and it did make me look at soil with even more respect.
5. Soil is a climate change champion
Soil locks carbon and helps reduce green house emissions. Compost in fact increases soil's ability to lock carbon in. In fact the soil had left the academia and scientific community and was began becoming the subject of the global movement to find new alternatives - we had from 1990 onwards many books, films and communities that brought fresh focus on the importance of soil.
6. Soil is the recycling champion
The minerals in soil have been recycled since the time earth was formed, so that is a persistent recycling set up right here. Soil is made of 45% minerals and these are recycled with the organic matter to provide food for plants and for the life in the topsoil. Everything that was once living can go back into soil and be processed for food for other creatures in this crucible - Soil.
7. Soil is the shape shifter
Soil seems like a renewable resource - but it isn't. This last attribute is a super power for me because it urgently reminds us to be careful while we walk this earth. If we are not careful it seems to say, I will disappear and you cannot bring me back for another ten thousand years.
Yes that's how long it will take to create 1 cm of soil for the earth.
So you can see that Soil is worth making friends with. It builds the necessary affection we all need to have for this planet if we are to reduce the harm we are doing to it currently.
Composting at home or in a community helps build this appreciation of soil and natural systems, because you see the process of living matter breaking down to give life to a new host of creatures and finally back to creating a tomato or a chilli or a flower. It foregrounds nature as the important force in our daily lives.
The words dirt, mud, compost and soil then are more nuanced and you have built a deeper relationship with the ground that supports all of us!
Enjoy getting your hands dirty today!
And if you're wondering how to get started, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp 9916426661. My team and I are here to help!
Poonam Bir Kasturi
August 12th 2020