Posts tagged Food

Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

I recently attended an event held at the residence of Los Angeles architect Daniel Monti. The house was originally designed for the architect’s parents who required saving and protecting a large Italian Stone Pine tree located at the back of the property. I was struck immediately by the many vantages of the outdoor garden and the sunlight filling the rooms through the skylights and walls of glass.

Upon entering the home, my eye was drawn to the far end where the lone pine tree stood. It served as a feature in the garden while providing shade for outdoor dining and seating.

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As I moved further indoors, I noticed the tree above me, its branches of green pendulous needles arched over the house and framed by the skylights. This single tree embodied a forest. I felt its presence everywhere during a tour of the home; it seemed inseparable from the architecture.

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Pinus pinea, commonly called Italian Stone or Umbrella Pine, is native to the northern Mediterranean coastal region (southern Europe to Turkey and Lebanon). It was first introduced to California during the Spanish Mission period and grows well along the California coast. This drought-tolerant evergreen tree gets big, 40-60 feet over time (sometimes more), which means you would expect to find one in a large open space setting rather than a standard-sized residential garden. It develops a broad umbrella-shaped canopy, which flattens with age, and its foliage is comprised of 5-8” long green needles in bundles of two. The trunk of a mature tree is noted for having reddish-brown deeply-fissured bark.

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Photo: Linda Daley

Photo: Linda Daley

Pinus pinea is valued for its nutritious edible nuts. Several pine species produce edible nuts and their use as a food source has been found in the histories of many cultures throughout the world, including California indigenous tribes. Today, pine nuts are considered a delicacy, with prices to match. The pine nuts from the Pinus pinea are valued as the highest quality of all species based on contemporary preferences for taste, texture and size. They are the ones we find in our grocery stores.

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.