The foundations of the soil
Phil Stocker - 01 December 2010
The words ‘The Soil Association’ slip off the tongue very readily. Yet even with the word ‘soil’ so central it is too easy to forget the role that soil plays in all we stand for.
Driving down to our soil seminar yesterday at Laverstoke Park in Hampshire, I began to imagine the sorts of discussions our founders might have had when deciding on our name. It got me thinking about the use of the word ‘association’. One of the joys of the English language is that most words have at least two meanings – as it the case for ‘association’. It is used to describe a ‘public body of people’, and it is also used to describe the relationship between two or more things.
I suppose we could have been the Royal Society for the Preservation of Soil or The Soil Trust, but I suspect our founders were well aware (perhaps Philip Conford can help here?) of the appropriateness of the double meaning of the word ‘association’.
Our soil seminar attracted over 80 people who braved the snow and ice to take part in a fascinating day of presentations and discussion. Interestingly, virtually everything led back to the association between soil biology and the availability and release of nutrients to feed crops and livestock to their optimum level. Although ideal soil biology may vary for different land uses, and even for different crops, optimum soil biology is found naturally in forest ecosystems where the laws of return, assisted by the absence of activities which result in compaction, are allowed to function.
Of course, replicating this principle in farmed soils presents challenges. But understanding soils and how their physical, chemical and biological associations work – and knowing what our soils consist of and how they may be changing over time – is essential if we as farmers and food producers are to form the right association with our soils and produce healthy food efficiently without reliance on ever scarcer and climate damaging inputs.
‘The Soil Association’ – a public body of people who understand and create so many beneficial relationships between the tiniest soil bacteria and our health and environment. The name couldn’t be more appropriate.
On the basis that the more widely we can share this information, the more people will benefit, we are making copies of all yesterday’s presentations and information from the event on our web site very shortly.
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