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Nature's Economy -- Another Looming Collapse?

"If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won't much matter."

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As everyone scrambles for a solution to the crises in the nation's economy, Wes Jackson suggests we look to nature's economy for some of the answers.

Soil is nature's "liquidity" -- equivalent of the liquidity of the financial banking system.

"We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what's in the bank," said Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute. "If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won't much matter."

Writer/farmer Wendell Berry proposed in a New York Times op-ed that the Obama administration should consider a "50-year farm bill" to stabalize soil and revitalize a sustainable agricultural system.

Jackson believes that a key part of the solution is in approaches to growing food that mimic nature instead of trying to subdue it. While Jackson and his fellow researchers at the Land Institute continue their work on natural systems agriculture, he also ponders how to turn the possibilities into policy.

"For the past 50 or 60 years, we have followed industrialized agricultural policies that have increased the rate of destruction of productive farmland. For those 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe the absurd notion that as long as we have money we will have food. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy." says Jackson.

The solution? Support for soil conservation and protecting water resources have to be central.

And we have to avoid wasting any more resources on biofuels made from annual crops, especially corn, which is certain to exacerbate soil erosion, chemical contamination and a larger dead zone in the gulf.

How is agriculture unsustainable, as it is practiced today?

"All organisms are carbon-based and in a constant search for energy-rich carbon. About 10,000 years ago, humans moved from gathering/hunting to agriculture, tapping into the first major pool of energy-rich carbon -- the soil.

"It was agriculture that allowed us effectively to mine, as well as waste, the soil's carbon and other soil-bound nutrients. Humans went on to exploit the carbon of the forests, coal, oil and natural gas. But through all that, we've continued to practice agriculture that led to soil erosion beyond natural replacement levels. That's the basic problem of agriculture."

"Added to the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has given us pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams," he says. "We have less soil and it is more degraded. We've masked that for years through the use of petrochemicals -- pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers. But that "solution" is no solution and is, in fact, part of the problem. There are no technological substitutes for healthy soil and no miraculous technological fixes for the problem of agriculture. We need to move past the industrial model and adopt an ecological model."

Soil is one of those "obvious" things we take for granted, but is as essential as a good wife or a mother! :-) Soil isn't just an issue for agriculture...it affects all of us, and we affect it by the choices we make such as organic foods vs. chemically enhanced foods, such as biodegradable products vs. plastics that never return to the soil.

The solution is to first be aware that soil is an essential for healthy life. Then to make choices in every area of life to support and sustain the delicate, but very complex habitat under our feet.

Read an interview with Wes Jackson of the Land Institute.

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| soil | sustainable agriculture | landscaping |

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