Posts tagged Agriculture

Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

The sustainability trend has spawned local production and do-it-yourself initiatives encouraging low-impact lifestyles and supporting local economies. We seem to have taken a step back in time with the rise of backyard chicken farmers, urban agriculture, and home-made products of everything from cheese to pickles. In certain areas, you can now even rent goats to mow your lawn!

Individuals’ interest in harvesting honey from their own beehives has been mainstream in the U.S. for some time. American beekeepers were the ones who first noticed a decline in honey bee populations. News about Colony Collapse Disorder seem to be everywhere these days. Why should this matter to us? Bees and other pollinating insects, such as Monarch butterflies, play an important role in ecosystems. We would not have food and flora without them.

Infographic: Angie's List.

Infographic: Angie’s List.

Most of the attention is focused on the European honey bee species, Apis mellifera, and the impact of neonicotinoid – an insecticide – on bee health and their life cycle. Neonicotinoid is widely used in U.S. agriculture. However multiple factors such as chemical treatments, parasites, and crop monocultures are also contributing to the decline of all bee species, not just honey bees, and other pollinators.

Infographics: Pollinator Partnership.

Infographics: Pollinator Partnership.

We can do something to help encourage pollinator abundance. The U.S. Fish and Game Wildlife Service and the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit with a mission to protect the health of bees, provides information and resources on the subject. If you are afraid of bees, these facts may take the sting out of your fear. Honeybee pollination alone adds more than $14 billion in value to U.S. crop production and some crops are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination.

Why should we care about soil?

“Soil is our planet’s epidermis. It’s only about a meter thick, on average, but it plays an absolutely crucial life-support role that we often take for granted.”Dr. Donald Sparks, University of Delaware, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

I don’t typically think about soil in this context. Instead, the mention of the word evokes remembrance of the distinct fragrance of moist earth. I love the smell of it. I also recall a familiar sound: a shovel breaking into the ground during planting season; the scraping of metal against silt, clay, and rock. If you’re a gardener, you know what I am talking about.

Do you recite a prayer, as I do, when digging? I pray that my efforts reveal a healthy soil, with worms wiggling away in the disrupted ground, and burrowing further into its rich brown to black colored mass. In those moments I give in to the urge of removing my garden gloves and touching the soil, testing its texture for the plants it is about to nourish.

This connection to the soil and the need to care for its health is more critical when considering the importance of soil from a global perspective. Dr. Spark’s analogy of soil as the outer layer of the earth’s “skin” explains how soil serves a protective function against a variety of environmental disturbances. It purifies our water, absorbs and stores carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, and provides nutrients to help plants grow.

Most importantly, without soil there would be no food. The relationship of soil to food production and global hunger engages scientists, governments, factory farmers, NGOs, environmentalists, and others in the rhetoric about climate change policies and agricultural practices.

From environmental health to global hunger, individuals should care about soil fertility and quality. An exploration into the subject empowers us as citizens and gives us tools for our own practices on a micro level.