Stewards of the Soil: Nurturing a Sustainable Connection to the Land
Mar 30, 2011 07:39PM
By Linda Sechrist
As the cities on my Stone Soup Listening Tour rolled by, it became obvious that there was a good reason why the sustainability movement got its start in the soil. Healthy soil begets healthy food and healthy people who recognize that the land is what sustains them, not the grocery store shelves.
Every hotbed of sustainable activity was abuzz with conversations about fresh food and the Buy Fresh Buy Local aspect of growing a greener economy. My Stone Soup sister Sharon Joy Kleitsch, founder of the Connection Parnters, and I quickly discovered that our World Café gatherings always included stories about farmers’ markets, CSAs, farm-to-table restaurants and the small, healthy corner grocery stores in low-income areas. We also realized that no stop was complete without gardening stories.
Walter Moora, author of A Farmer’s Love, shares a rich story about his passions: farming with respect for the Earth, and helping non-farmers deepen their relationship with the land. “People’s connection to the soil and their food is mostly lost,” says this biodynamic teacher and farmer, who splits his time between Ecuador and the U.S.
Moora’s vision for the future includes farmers and gardeners that realize they are partners and co-creators with nature and with the spiritual world. His guided meditations help students, apprentices and newbie gardeners to sense the kind of connection with nature that Moora’s mentor, Rudolph Steiner, sought to clarify through his lifelong research and investigation of the forces that regulate life and growth.
“I’ve studied Steiner’s fundamental principles of biodynamics, which are a unified approach that relates the ecology of the Earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos,” says Moora. The method treats farms as unified organisms and emphasizes balance, as well as the holistic development and interrelationship of soil, plants and animals.
For Shawn Studer, owner of Instant Organic Garden, and Anna Allen, founder of Natural Living Source, a holistic relationship with the land honors water, nature’s endangered resource. In their organic landscape programs, both recommend completely eliminatingharmful pesticides, herbicides and toxic fertilizers that damage the soil and create health risks.
“Only organic fertilizers and products that are healthy for people and the environment should be used on edibles and landscapes,” advises Allen, who cites the organic practices used on Harvard University’s 25-acre campus. Fungi, bacteria, microbes and roots under the soil are now fed with organic compost and compost tea, rather than pesticides and synthetic nitrogen, reducing the use of irrigation by 30 percent and saving two million gallons of water annually.
For San Diego’s landscapes and backyard gardens, Studer and Allen suggest a garden-hose chlorine removal system, which protects soil biology by neutralizing nearly 100 percent of chlorine and other toxins in the water supply.
“Reducing the amount of water necessary for growing fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers indoors is just one of the benefits of hydroponic growing, indoors or out,” say Jim Hill and Scott Stark, co-owners of California Hydroponics. Plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only, or in an inert medium such as perlite, gravel, mineral wool or coconut husk. “The nutrient water can be reused several times,” advises Hill.
Greywater and Rainwater Harvesting
Greg Bullock is the founder of Water Recycle, an environmental enterprise that designs and installs greywater irrigation and rain harvesting systems. The sustainable landscaper and senior level certified greywater installer is recognized by Greywater Action, a collaborative group of educators, designers, builders and artists that provide education about building a sustainable water culture and infrastructure.
Bullock’s mantra—“We harvest rain and greywater to create regenerative landscapes”—is a reflection of his enthusiasm for using water from sinks, showers and washing machines to irrigate plants as a way of increasing the productivity of sustainable backyard ecosystems that produce food and clean water and shelter wildlife.
“Greywater use makes people rethink the personal care products, such as shampoos, conditioners and hair coloring, as well as cleaning products like clothes and dishwashing detergents, that go down the drain and into their irrigation system,” advises Bullock. He also promotes rainwater harvesting to reduce the need and demand for water transport systems that threaten the health of the water cycle and local environments.
In order to build awareness for water recycling, Bullock emphasizes the story of how water comes to San Diego County, as well as a University of California-Los Angeles study that examined the potential of greywater to address California’s water challenges. “Study results showed that if just 10 percent of Southern Californians used their washing machine water for landscape irrigation, it would offset the need to build a large desalination plant. By turning wastewater into resourceful greywater irrigation, most San Diegans could cut their water bill by more than 50 percent and could recover the cost of a greywater system in oneto two years,” he advises.
A unified approach to farming and gardening that relates the ecology of the soil to that of the entire cosmos is the big biodynamic picture. To move humanity into a new paradigm as co-creators with nature, we must make every effort to nurture our connection to the land, become more mindful of better management and conservation practices and honor all natural elements as finite resources, not commodities. According to Moora, as co-creators with nature, we also need to remember the spiritual aspect of stewardship.
Perhaps gardeners, as they dig, plant, weed and harvest from the soil up, are fortunate stewards who are a little closer to sensing the energy forces of the cosmos that invite this connection.
Walter Moora, visit GrowBD.org.
Shawn Studer, Instant Organic Garden, call 760-707-6200 or email [email protected].
California Hydroponics, 564 Stevens Ave., Solana Beach 92075. Call 858-436-7775 or visit CaliforniaHydroponic.com.
BMS Water Filtration (Body Mind and Soil chlorine removal system), call 760-707-6200 or visit BMSWaterFiltration.com.