From the ground up
Why we should value the earth and the produce it provides
The soils beneath our feet are fundamental to life on our planet. As well as helping to grow 95% of the world’s food, soils can also be a wildlife habitat to billions of organisms, reduce the risk of flooding by absorbing rainwater, and mitigate the impacts of climate change by storing carbon.
Did you know..? Soils, incredibly, hold 3 times as much carbon as the atmosphere!
Unfortunately, soils are a limited resource, which the world is ploughing through at an alarming rate… It might appear that we have plenty of mud in our fields, but it’s the quality that really counts.
Due to intensive farming practices, contamination and natural processes, many of the world’s soils are now in crisis – severely degraded and eroding.
When organic matter is not replenished in the soil it then diminishes, harvest after harvest. As the layer of fertile topsoil thins, it becomes increasingly difficult to grow crops for food.
It takes 1,000 years for a single centimetre of topsoil to form. In the UK, we are losing almost 3 million tonnes of topsoil every year, and some parts of the country may only have a decade of soil fertility left.
To continue to enjoy the riches of our soils in the future, it is critical that we question how and what we grow, and urgently implement ways to preserve our soils and halt this loss.
By changing the way we farm and eat now, we can help protect our soils for generations to come.
3 reasons why soil needs our care and protection
1. For health
95% of the food we eat is directly or indirectly produced on our soils and the health of our soils is critical to the quality of food that comes from them – healthy, well-structured soil means strong, nutritious and disease-resistant fruits and vegetables.
Research has found that soil may have a major role in responding to risks from emerging infectious diseases, as microbes that live in the soil are a promising source of new therapeutic drugs.
2. For biodiversity
More than a quarter of the Earth’s species live in our soils. From the familiar earthworms, ants, spiders and millipedes, to the lesser-known micro-animals such as tardigrade (or ‘moss piglets’) and many undiscovered species. An ecosystem relies on the species at the bottom of the ladder (often lurking in the ground…), which means that ecosystems depend on the soil.
Soil protects seeds and plants so that they can germinate, nurturing them with the heat, nutrients and water they need to grow. The quality of the soil impacts what types of plants can grow, which then affects the type of organisms that can survive there. If the soil quality changes, the entire ecosystem and life in it can all be disturbed.
3. For the environment
Soils store more carbon than the atmosphere, and all of the world’s plants and forests combined.
If replenished and managed carefully, the capability of soils to sequester carbon (which happens through the processes of photosynthesis, decomposition, and soil respiration) give them the potential to be one of the greatest tools we have to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
UK soils currently store about 10 billion tonnes of carbon – That’s roughly equal to 80 years of annual UK greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine how much more this could be if every landowner nurtured their soil to optimum health.
“A mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.” – Dr Rattan Lal, soil scientist
Farming that gives back to the earth
At Earth Trust, our role as farmers and producers of food is a critical part of our identity and the green spaces we care for.
We have 500 hectares of mixed farmland, demonstrating the links between environment, wildlife, landscape and growing food. Our aim is to farm in a climate-friendly way, working with the environment to enhance biodiversity, minimise carbon emissions and maximise soil carbon sequestration, whilst producing quality food.
Our 5 year strategy emphasises that focusing our time on healthy soils is critical to the management of our farm and the impact it has on biodiversity and human health.
We are seeking to evolve our arable farm operations to reflect growing soil science principles – for example, by increasing the diversity of crops we grow and minimising soil disturbance, reducing tillage, protecting the soil surface with cover crops, using livestock within the rotation and keeping living roots in the soil. Much of the farm is grassland; and this too within the mixed farm significantly contributes to biodiversity, carbon sequestration and wellbeing.
Advocating for change
The farming sector itself is undergoing significant change, with impacts coming from many angles including Brexit, funding and policy, plus a triple threat of the biodiversity, climate and wellbeing crises. All these elements combine to demand change for how we farm, produce and think about food. Our aim is to respond to, and influence, future food and farming polices and to practice, test and demonstrate the financial make-up of green spaces and the political incentives to farm with nature.
Using our green spaces as a model, we want to bring food and farming to life by working with communities to explore how food choices directly impact health for both humans and the planet. In the long term, this will include the development of a Market Garden at the Earth Trust Centre to help us demonstrate the ‘farm to fork’ story.