More than just dirt, Earth’s soil is essential for feeding and sustaining humanity. It’s the very basis of our food system! Natural processes like wind and precipitation erode the soil, while processes like the decomposition of organic matter and weathering of rocks build new soil. Alarmingly, human activities are causing soil to be lost at a much faster rate than it is formed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Land management, deforestation, and intensive agriculture all contribute to a net loss of soil. This is bad news for everyone, because poor management of soil leads to declining soil fertility and nutrient-deficient plants, which in turn means that crops that are grown on declining soil provide less nutrients for us.
We can address the problem of soil loss by changing land use, agricultural production, and waste management practices. One part of the solution is keeping food waste and other organic matter out of the trash. After all, more than one third of the food that is produced worldwide goes to waste. When food ends up in a landfill, the resources that went into producing that food are trapped in sealed landfills and wasted. Furthermore, the anaerobic conditions in landfills generate lots of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to our planet warming! Gleaning, composting, and feeding food scraps to animals all prevent finite resources like water and nutrients from being trapped in landfills.
We all have a role to play in soil conservation. As consumers, we can choose food produced with sustainable land management practices. As gardeners and land stewards, we can choose plant species and planting systems that contribute to soil health, through strong root systems that mitigate erosion, planting windbreaks and rain gardens, and more. As concerned citizens, we can support initiatives that protect our soil and educate others about the issues at hand. Here at Glean Kentucky, we’re committed to keeping fruits and vegetables out of landfills and to supporting local farmers. We invite you to join our work and help us make a difference for soil health!