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Simple ways we can all respect our soil

Healthy soil, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is “a living system” that can “sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health.” It is estimated that 95 percent of the food we produce globally is directly or indirectly reliant on soil, and soil health can have an impact on everything from erosion susceptibility and crop production to pest and disease control. 

Today, about 40 percent of the world’s soil has been degraded, and the erosion and degradation of topsoil is an ongoing global concern. Therefore, it’s more crucial than ever that we all take steps to promote and support healthy soil through our choices as consumers and simple tweaks to our daily routines. 

Here are three great ways we can all pitch in to create healthier soil and a healthier planet.

Try composting

According to Statistics Canada, 79 percent of households in Canada that have a lawn or garden compost yard waste, but only 62 percent of households compost kitchen waste. At the same time, Canadians waste almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food each year. 

If we can increase our overall composting rate and encourage our neighbours to get started, whether it’s through a curbside organics program or home composting, we can create healthier soil while reducing the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills. Even with a simple backyard setup, it’s possible to compost things like cardboard, coffee grounds, and wood chips. Some municipal programs will accept items like meat, shellfish, and even diapers. 

Added as a soil amendment to garden beds, lawns, and potted plants, finished compost has been shown to improve soil structure and health, and it can even help minimize erosion. 

Practice soil-health management 

Both at home and at the cottage, there are many opportunities for us to create healthier soil and encourage soil biodiversity by researching and applying recommended soil-health management techniques.

Beyond adding compost, manure, and other organic matter, there are many simple ways to make the soil in our gardens and lawns healthier and more productive over time. Strategies include growing a variety of plants, rotating planting locations annually where possible, growing ground cover as needed, mulching garden beds to help with soil moisture and discourage weeds, practicing no-till gardening, working to prevent soil compaction and erosion, and ensuring good drainage. These practices don’t take much more time or effort, but they can positively change the health of the soil where we live.

Support local farms

Sustainability-minded Canadian farms like Utopia Farm, Blue Sky Beef, and Foragers Farms are actively growing crops and farming with environmental impact in mind. Organic farmers typically don’t use pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers, and those that follow regenerative agricultural practices may use cover crops and no-till or minimum-tillage farming to help improve soil biodiversity and fertility, and to encourage soil carbon sequestration. All of these techniques can help create healthier soil.

Supporting great local farms like these, whether through farm stand purchases or a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm share program, is one way that we can work together towards creating healthy soil for our food system and in our communities.