A year-end tribute to soil

How important soil is to life!

Photo 1

95 percent of our food comes from soil. It is a natural resource that needs to be protected way more than it is today. Making soil takes years and requires practices that aren’t yet adopted by most farmers. The demand on soil for food production for humans and animals is increasing each year, faster than anyone can make soil.

The first photo in this blog post is of the soil in our perennial pastures. Iowa has some of the richest soils in the world, thanks to the glaciers. Our rich topsoil can grow just about anything. These perennial plant roots hold soil in place and hold more water. The plants above ground and our grazing practices keep the soil covered, protecting the soil, while the soil helps pump nutrients into the plants for the animals to eat. It’s this perfect cycle and balance that cannot be artificially replicated very well, if at all.

In November, I saw a lot of the second photo: Tilled-up corn stalks. Nothing will be growing in this field for another six months. The soil is exposed to wind and rain and sun. One strong wind event – in Iowa in the winter, we have a lot of wind (look at all the windmills in this photo!) – and this precious topsoil gets blown away (see the third photo).

Photo 2

I cannot control what my neighbors do, I can only control what I do. And perennials are my solution for protecting and saving this precious and valuable resource during my lifetime. Because I cannot control the weather either, and climate change is causing higher variability and more intense weather events. I’ve discovered that perennials are the most resilient way to ensure abundant food, fiber and fuel now and into the future.

In tribute to soil, I wrote this little thank you letter. A little cheesy, I know, but writing it reminds me of how important soil is to life.

Dear Soil,

We celebrate you! You are life, and you hold what sustains almost all living things on Earth. Thank you, soil, for being the most generous resource humans and animals need to live. Thank you, soil, for your vast networks to grow food. Thank you, soil, for your amazing ability to store and clean up what we humans have exhaustively released into the air and water. Thank you, soil, for your continued patience as Western Civilization begins to set aside its ego, power and greed to help protect you. Thank you, soil, for teaching us about generosity, collaboration, connectivity and cooperation…things we humans should be doing more of. And thank you, soil, for your infinite giving, no matter how badly we treat you. My human promise to you: I will continue to protect you so that you can flourish and provide like you’ve done since time immemorial.

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In deep gratitude to you today and always,



Wendy Johnson operates Jóia Food & Fiber Farm in Charles City, IA, and is Federal Policy Co-Lead for Climate Land Leaders.