Soil Health: Why It Matters So D*MN Much

by Madison Cavallaro

Soil health is a hot topic. We talk about how soil health is important and how the planet should have healthier soil, but what does that even mean, and how is it done? Two words: Composting, Baby!

You guessed it, humans have a profound effect on the health of the soil, and in return, soil can impact health risks or nutrients we are exposed to. In commercial agroecosystems, contamination of pollutants is likely due to oil, gas, mines, and urban areas. People who work professionally close to soil, either as farmers or construction workers, are at an even higher risk for health complications due to pollutants in the soil. Researchers have found dust from soil can travel thousands of miles and impact people's health over these long distances. This dust can range in toxicity but can contain lead, arsenic, mercury, nitrates, and more. Sadly, all of these toxins are of human origin, just like P!NK said, "I'm a hazard to myself, don't let me get me." We are certainly causing some damage to our own health and the planet!

 

Not All Hero's Wear Capes

Composting is coming to the rescue for this human-created issue. We already know that composting diverts waste from landfills, allows it to naturally decompose, and reduces carbon emissions. But composted soil can help the soil recover from contaminants and pollutants. It does this by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere and reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. Because of this, composted soil also can play an essential role in protecting our watersheds. Runoff from crop production can carry pollutants, fertilizers, and pesticides to nearby streams, further spreading pollution. When a composted soil mixture is used, runoff is decreased because of the improved rooting system and elimination of fertilizers or pesticides. 

 

A Little Compost Never Killed Nobody   

It actually might be the exact opposite. Research shows that plants actually grow better and faster in soil using supplemental compost. Composting enriches plants with nutrients by breaking down organics into available nutrients. Compost also suppresses disease and harmful pests that cause overrun and poor soil. In traditional commercialized farming, soils contain synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that some researchers suggest can be linked to cancer. Regardless, the effects these chemicals could or already do have should be avoided. Compost seems to have a solution to every problem, considering it yields more crops that are nutrient-dense and the porous channels beneficially alter soil structure. It makes it less likely to erode and holds moisture. So, there is less need for water and holds nutrients tight enough to not wash out. If there was a competition, I'd say compost would take home the first-place medal.

 

Good Vs. Bad Bacteria

Another considerable risk associated with conventional soil is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a global issue, and many systems are exacerbating this problem, including the agriculture industry. There has been a rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance genes, and soil is a significant reservoir. This is because of antibiotic use in plant and animal farming. While soil is known as the most biodiverse habit on earth, commercial farming practices and human activity degrade the soil's natural abilities. This allows for the genes of these bacteria and fungi to mutate and become resistant. These resistant bacteria and fungi are transferred to humans and animals where they can breed infections that resist drug treatment and become impossible to treat. In the U.S., 2.8 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi each year. To address this public health problem, health officials are urging antibiotic use in agriculture to be eliminated. These resistance genes runoff into local water sources and impact everyone whether you purchase commercialized foods or grow them yourself. 

The most recent research for reducing antibiotic resistance genes is looking at composting. If you are still shocked that composting has this much power, I'll break it down for you. Composting can significantly reduce antibiotic residues through the high temperatures during composting processes, which should kill most if not all pathogens. Researchers also suggest that a composting model can make the soil even safer for human health. This can be done by adjusting the temperature, pH level, and amount of manure in each decomposition process. To summarize, compost is promising for addressing one of the most significant public health emergencies. 

 

Someone Show Me a Downside… I'll Wait

According to the Environmental protection agency (EPA), more than 28% of landfill garbage is food scrap and yard waste. Not to mention, food waste is a global problem along with antibiotic resistance. Composting provides a full-circle solution to many issues facing the climate, health, resources, and even the economy! Yes, compost is cheaper, safer, and requires less maintenance. So next time you are sulking because your spinach went bad, throw it in your compost and remind yourself, "it grows the economy, benefits everybody."  

Sources: 1 The Effect of Soil on Human Health: An Overview / 2 What Com / 3 CDC / 4 Antibiotic Resistance in the Soil Ecosystem: A One Health Perspective


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