It’s important to care for the Earth’s earth

Goals of the UN International Year of Soils include educating the public about the vital importance of healthy soils.

Goals of the UN International Year of Soils include educating the public about the vital importance of healthy soils and supporting effective policies and actions for sustainable management and protection of soils.

In his book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilisations, David R. Montgomery, a professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, describes how the erosion of soil due to plow-based agriculture has led to the fall of many civilizations, from ancient Greece in the Bronze Age, to now.

Scientists at Witwatersrand University have published (in Science) their conclusion that “Great civilizations have fallen because they failed to prevent the degradation of the soils on which they were founded. The modern world could suffer the same fate.”

Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance, a recent report by the World Health Organization, confirms that bacterial resistance to antibiotic treatment is now a major danger to public health. The report focuses on seven different bacteria responsible for: bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea. The results show that these bacteria have mutated into ‘superbugs,’ resistant to our antibiotic medications, especially to ‘last resort’ antibiotics, in all regions of the world.

At the same time, a new study from Washington University School of Medicine has revealed that bacteria that naturally live in the soil are very unlikely to develop antibiotic resistance as fast as the infectious bacteria.

Children raised on ecologically run farms in central Europe have much lower rates of allergy and asthma than urban children or those raised on industrialized farms. The answer seems to be microbes – in manure, in unpasteurized milk, in stable dust, on unwashed food and in the soil. How soil and other farm microbes protect against allergic diseases is still unknown, but research is increasingly pointing to the need for a new relationship with bacteria.

Daphne Miller, a family physician, and associate professor at U.C. San Francisco, writes in an article for the Winter 2014 issue of YES! Magazine: “I now tell my patients that food grown in well-treated soil might offer distinct advantages when it comes to scoring the best nutrients and building a healthy immune system.”

Miller believes that “farmers who live on their land and feed their family from it tend to care for their soil as if it were another family member” and therefore advises her patients to “know your farmers.”

2015 is also the beginning of a four-year term for councillors in B.C.’s villages, towns and cities. All municipalities have soils bylaws, but they don’t talk about the health of soils. They talk about soil as ‘fill,’ and as something that gets moved from one place to another so frequently that we need a bylaw to regulate its movement.

Because municipalities play a major role in land use through zoning, citizens could contribute to the International Year of Soils by asking councillors to take action to protect and maintain healthy soils.

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at

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