It Starts with Soil Health.
24 hours a day/7 days a week carbon dioxide and other gases are cycled into the soil from the atmosphere. Some gases stay in the soil, others are returned to the atmosphere. Usually, plants are the “middlemen” for this by way of transpiration (sweating in plant terms), photosynthesis, and root growth. When soil is healthy, nutrient cycling takes place in the soil, making them available for plants and crops. We benefit because of the higher nutritional value of those crops. Everything works in cycles. The plant increases its symbiotic relationships with soil microorganisms. This increase relationship benefits the plant with timely essential nutrients it requires, making it vigorous and capable of resisting stresses. The plant able to grow stronger and bigger leaves increases photosynthesis which increases its CO2 intake. This CO2 intake translates into sugars and proteins transferred back into the soil as exudates that feed these microorganisms with whom the plant creates symbiotic relationships.
Gut Health and Soil Health
The complex of microorganisms, mineral particles, humic substances, and air and water pores that we call “soil” is a mirror of the microfauna in our gut. The complexity of our microfauna is determined to a great extent by what we eat. If we eat a diet heavy in highly processed foods, our gut microfauna will reflect that. If we don’t feed our gut with diverse foods, our gut microfauna will be limited. Have you ever had the experience of going to a potluck, ate someone’s offering that tasted wonderful, only to get home and have intestinal issues? Your gut biome didn’t have the microorganisms to digest something in that dish, probably a particular spice.
A nutrient-rich diet will benefit you in 2 ways:
- Better health
- Ability to digest foods not usually in your diet
So, you won’t have to worry about most digestive issues.
Soil has a biome, just like we do. Highly processed food to “soil” means synthetic fertilizers. Plants take up the fertilizer but don’t give off exudates to microorganisms in the soil. The root exudates are food to the microorganisms, and as time goes by and fertilizers are added, there are fewer microorganisms because the plant has quit feeding them. At some point, soil becomes dirt because the only living things in it are the plant roots, dependent on fertilizer every year.
Cycling Nutrients From Healthy Soil for Healthy Crops
Farmers know the value of nutrient cycling both for nutrition and for cost savings. When a good cover crop is planted, it keeps the soil from eroding, holds nitrogen into the soil, and retains water on sandy soil or creates water channels in clay, all advantages for the farmer. It also improves the nutrient value of the soil by creating an active microbial community. In that cover a farmer can plant a cash crop knowing that it can handle extreme weather conditions and still give a profit.
But a crop can be healthy only if the soil is healthy. If you’re a farmer feeding your soil “processed foods,” aka synthetic fertilizers, you will need to start weaning your fields off them. The length of time you’ve been feeding your soil “processed foods” determines your next step. The first thing you need to do is get your soil tested. You can’t know the route to your goal if you don’t know where you are. The goal of a regenerative farmer is to create a healthy soil food web rich in organic matter and sustaining an abundant microbial diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, etc., that will cycle nutrients in the soil and feed plants in a mutualistic relationship. A healthier soil biome (soil food web) is able to assist plants in protecting themselves from disease and insect damage. It also allows plants to take up nutrients, so crops are nutrient-dense.
Retain Fungal Hyphae for Nutrient Dense Food
Biologically active soils act as nutrient cycles, but when the soil is tilled or plowed this biology is harmed; fungal hyphae are destroyed. Nutrient cycling decreases sharply. Soil scientists like Christine Jones are reanalyzing the accusation that foods today have lower nutritional value than in the past. She believes that:
"The problem stems from soil conditions that are not conducive to nutrient uptake. The minerals are present in the soil but are not available to the plants because the soil biology that facilitates this has been disrupted through heavy tillage."
85 to 90 percent of plant nutrient uptake is mediated by microbes in biologically healthy soils. Crop management such as tillage, spraying of “icidals” and fertilization are responsible for the decrease of microbial activity in the soil and nutrition loss in our food. The microbial community facilitates optimum plant nutrient uptake. She blames conventional farming practices for the nutritional decrease in our food.
Soil is the key – healthy soil. Regenerative farming practices make soil health the major priority. When soil is healthy – the food grown is healthy – and when you eat that nutrient-dense food, you’re healthier.
Nutrient cycling starts with the soil, to plant, to you, and your compost starts the process again. It’s a circle that creates more fertility with each rotation.