Pathfinders - impact of Soil Health

The Impact of Soil Health

How Important is Soil Health in Your Daily Life?

Think about what you had for breakfast this morning or supper last night. Can you name the role soil played in the life of the food you consumed? Did you eat fruits or vegetables? What about your protein? Any grains? All of these are nurtured either by soil directly or by something that grows in soil.  Soil health is integral for our food supply and food production, but soil is also an incredible, dynamic substance that does so much more than provide an environment for plant growth.  

However, to fill all its role properly, soil must be in good health.  So what constitutes healthy soil? The USDA defines soil health as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” (1)  When soil is healthy, it is not only able to support and nurture plants by turning decomposing matter into nutrients, it is also able to protect against drought.  Soil that is in good health acts as a water reservoir in times when rain is scarce. Soil also provides physical stability for all of our man-made structures and plants’ root systems.  Additionally, because of the biodiversity in healthy soil, scientists are able to develop antibiotics with bacteria that is found in certain soils. (2)

In addition to these important functions, soil also helps to maintain water and air.  Soil prevents contaminants from reaching our water supply. These contaminants could be both organic, such as leaves or grass clippings, and inorganic, like motor oil from a car.  Soil holds nutrients including carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, which are beneficial to plants but pollute the air. (2)

So what does all of that mean for people?  Why is it important to understand what soil does and how much we rely on it?  To understand that, we need to look at the consequences of poor soil health. Soil that is in poor health does not have enough of the correct nutrients to support large plant life.  This greatly impacts the agricultural industry. If soil can’t support growing crops, then there may be a shortage of food and food products. This potential shortage would likely lead to food insecurity in many areas.  Food insecurity occurs when people lack access to healthy and plentiful food. (3) 

Not only does soil provide much needed food for us, the quality of the soil and the nutrients within it also impact the quality and nutrient content of the food produced.  Soil that is high in nutrients produces food that is high in nutrients. This is important to ensure that not only the food we are eating is fresh, but it is also providing us with optimal nutrients that we need to sustain a healthy life.  Another integral function of soil which greatly impacts human life is its ability to filter water. Soil is great at filtering contamination from water. This is a process that happens as water moves through soil’s porous spaces, which traps large contaminants; the absorption of other contaminants to soil’s solid surfaces; and the biodegradation of other contaminants by microorganisms living in the soil.  (3)

As you can see, soil plays a tremendous role on human health through food and water quality.  But this impact can be either boosted or impeded by our stewardship of the soil. If people don’t take care and take action to improve soil health, soil will lose its ability to support human life.  We are in a symbiotic relationship with soil that must be maintained.

Read more about how you can make an impact on the quality of your soil.