When I was a child one of my favorite outdoor play activities was making mud pies. Recycled aluminum pie pans were used to ‘bake’ the pies. And old kitchenware, such as measuring spoons, fueled my imagination!
The type of dirt was crucial to the quality of my mud pie back then, but little did I understand the full importance of the soil to my health. And soil’s importance to grow nutrient rich food so that I could fight inflammation.
The best dirt for mud pies was always found in my family’s garden. And trust me I experimented with all types of dirt. But I always came back to the rich, dark, and easily moldable soil of the garden.
To remember those days brings me joy. And now that I am preparing farm fresh food grown in healthy soil, I’m beginning to understand more about the importance of the soil.
You see, you can’t grow optimally nutrient dense food, such as vegetables and fruit without healthy soil. And you can’t raise happy, thriving animals without healthy soil.
To further this connection between the nutrient density of food and the soil, you can’t fight inflammation without good nutrition.
Eating fresh farm foods are nutritionally optimal which gives your body the nutrients it needs to fight disease causing inflammation.
The nutrition content of your vegetables and fruits are dependent on the health of the soil. The nutrient content of animal products, such as milk, eggs, meat, and organs are dependent on the health of soil.
So what’s the importance of the soil?
The obvious answer is your health and the quality of food produced. Yet, this is a short sighted answer. The soil is much more complex, so let’s dig into some rich reasons of soil’s importance.
What is Soil? What is Dirt? And is there a Difference?
Before we get into connecting the importance of soil for food and fighting inflammation, let’s dispel any myths about it. Soil and dirt may be used interchangeably, as I did in the introduction, yet they are not the same.
Referring back to my childhood mud pies, remember I wrote that the best pies always came from the soil in my family’s garden. At the time I didn’t understand why, yet I felt the importance of soil in my hands.
When I tried to use dirt to create my mud pies, I found that it was very dry. I had to apply water, and if I wasn’t careful the dirt would be carried away by the wind.
The dirt was useful to fill up the pie pan, yet I couldn’t easily sculpt or make shapes upon the top of the pie. Dirt worked, but I’d much rather used the soil in my family’s garden.
The soil in my family’s garden was dark, thick, cool and would hold its shape easily. I could feel that the soil was more nutrient rich, yet I couldn’t see that it was also a thriving ecosystem.
Importance of Soil to be Known
Think of the story Horton Hears a Who. Horton couldn’t see the vibrant living of Whoville, but he had evidence that was another tiny, microscopic world upon that clover. In a sense, that clover was its own Earth.
And if you know the story, this world was dependent upon Horton’s stewardship of their habitat. The soil is much like Horton’s clover. And this is the difference between dirt and soil.
Dirt is devoid of life. It has no community to hold it together, and no ecosystem to produce nutrients. The dirt unfortunately doesn’t have the capacity to produce food.
Whereas soil is teeming with life! And the more diverse the community thriving within the soil, the more nutrients are produced. The nutrients are sucked up so be used to grow healthy disease resistance food.
And just like healthy disease resistant food, when we eat farm fresh foods, we too are able to leverage that optimal nutrition to fight inflammation.
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What Makes & Keeps Soil Healthy?
As mentioned above, the more diverse ecosystems living within the soil, the more healthy. Thus the tiny creatures that reside within the soil are of the utmost importance of soil.
The tiny creatures living within healthy soil are just one organism, but several. These organisms include, and are probably not limited to the following : microbes, bacteria, fungi, bugs, and worms.
The reason for writing ‘these organisms include, and are probably not limited to’ are because we are just starting to understand this tiny diverse ecosystem.
Much like the biodiversity of our gut and the little we understand how it works, the soil’s ecosystem is similar. Both are diverse, complex, and are inner connected.
At this time, no one understands the full spectrum of how these communities work. Yet it is understood that the health of the soil’s ecosystem determines the nutrient density of food.
And food that has optimal nutrition is best for fighting inflammation.
How Does Soil Produce Healthy, Great Tasting Food?
To continue the diversity discussion for the importance of soil and its health, another factor to consider is that of life above the soil.
Farmers who steward the soil will tell you that plant and livestock variety work for the soils importance. And now studies link the biodiversity growing within and above the soil to nurture the tiny ecosystem below.
The Importance of Soil on Fruits & Vegetables
For instance, when plants, such as vegetables and fruits are grown, they utilize minerals within the soil to grow. The mineral content within the soil determines not just the health but also taste of the food.
These mineral nutrients include but are not limited to : calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur.
The organisms living within the soil also ‘feed’ off the mineralization of the plants. And this is why for the importance of the soil, plant diversity is vital.
If a single plant, or a small number of plants are grown within the soil, the health of the soil’s ecosystem declines. The single plant, or low number of plants deplete the mineral content.
When this mineral overuse perpetuates, some of the tiny creatures living within the soil decline.
Think about it like this : if you only ate one food or a handful of foods, you too would suffer from nutrient imbalance, and that could lead to inflammation.
Thus, a wide variety of plant life is essential to the importance of soil and the vitality of its tiny ecosystem. Remember the community living within the soil is complex and interconnected, thus, diversity is vital.
Synthetic minerals can be added to enrich, but the best tasting food comes from a synergistic effect that occurs between the plant roots and the ecosystem of the soil.
Optimally nutritious vegetables and fruits grow in conjunction with tiny creatures thriving within the soil.
This process is much like how our bodies break down foods so as to uptake nutrients to fight inflammation. The synergistic effect within the body, like the soil, remains a mystery for now.
Soils Importance & Livestock Animals
The diversity of livestock life also has stock in the importance of soil. It’s obvious that large hooved animals such as cows eat the grasses and herbs grown within the soil.
For instance, it is plain to see that farm animals have taste preferences based on what’s left in the pasture. Some plants are forged after and when found eaten to the root, while other plants remain untouched.
It’s funny to think of farm animals such as cows, pigs, lambs, chicken and geese as having food preferences, but it’s true! Thus, the importance of soil to grow healthy, and tasty plants for livestock is vital to their health.
Now to flip this fact, the soil’s tiny ecosystem also depends upon the livestock. This fact is less established, but is deeply rooted in the importance of soil.
For example, when hooved animals move about the land, they graze upon the plant life and then poop. This poop, or mature, is a rich source of minerals.
Their heavy bodies in combination with their hooves break open the soil so that the nutrients within the mature can get down to it. The tiny ecosystem is able to ‘feed’ from the minerals found in the mature.
Again biodiversity below, growing within and moving above are all interlinked to the importance of soil and its ecosystem.
The Importance of Soil so to Cut Inflammation
So how is the importance of soil and its dependance on biodiversity linked to your body’s ability to fight inflammation?
Eat food that has been grown and/or raised by farmers who steward the health of the soil so that your body has access to optimal nutrition.
This doesn’t mean that your body is capable of absorbing and using the nutrients in fresh food from the farm to fight inflammation, but it’s a great place to start.
It is understood that food optimal in nutrients provides the means to fight inflammation, but it is unclear how exactly it happens.
If you would like to read more about the risks of long term inflammation, signs and symptoms of inflammation, and an anti inflammatory food list [pdf] to get you started in using food to fight inflammation, read my article : Anti Inflammatory Food List [PDF], 120+ Enjoyable Eats
Soils Importance within the Ripple Effect of Life
As mentioned before, the importance of soil is complex, not fully understood, but most of all interconnected to work synergistically within a biodiverse community.
Did you catch that?
Interconnected. Working synergistically. Depending upon biodiversity.
For now, that is the key to the importance of soil. And especially when it comes to eating fresh farm foods that are grown and/or raised on healthy soil.
All things are connected. And we too are connected to the ecosystem of life within and above the soil. Our farmers steward the life of the soil, yet we must also play a part.
What we choose to eat matters. Yes, it matters when it comes to fighting inflammation so to live healthy productive lives.
But it is also important for us to take on the responsibility to support these farmers who see it as their mission not just to profit off the land, but to care for the health of the soil.
So let me bring this discussion back to the story of Horton Hears a Who. Will you stand with the Sour Kangaroo or will you support Horton?
I choose to stand with the one who stewards and nurtures the tiny, mysterious ecosystem. And I am convinced that the nutrient density of food grown and/or raised on healthy soil is best to fight inflammation.
Besides, those mud pies made with healthy soil were always the best!
About the Author
Elizabeth Ray is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is on a mission to help you feel good about food! She believes food from the farm is best. And she is developing nutrition resources to help you discover the possibilities of real food that is grown/raised by the local farmer.
For more delicious, nutritious and adventurous recipes that are sourced from the farm, click here.
“May food from the local farm help you flourish!” – Elizabeth Ray Farmers Market Nutritionist