Editorial Jean English

Spring 2005
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Want to Host a Farm or Garden Tour?

By Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

Practicing organic farming and gardening is seen as a life or death situation in El Salvador, said Edith Portillo when she spoke in Maine last fall as a representative of the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities organization. (MOFGA is part of that organization through its sistering partnership with organic agriculture groups in El Salvador. See the story on Portillo’s visit in this issue of The MOF&G.)

Effects of not using organic practices and of not conserving forests confront Salvadorans blatantly and daily, as this country – a little smaller in area than Massachusetts and with 6.4 million people – is 90 percent deforested, said Portillo, and has limited access to water. On top of this, many farmers are over-exposed to toxic synthetic chemicals, including Roundup herbicide sprayed on industrial monoculture farms and possibly linked with the high rate of illness and death from chronic kidney disease in that country.

Dead soils are not good for life of any kind, including human. Less soil, and less living soil, means less organic matter (OM), which means less fertility, less water infiltration, and less resilience to heavy rains and droughts. Dead soils are susceptible to erosion, to crop losses due to drought, to pest outbreaks – and all of these, in a downward spiral, deaden soil even more.

This life or death situation occurs outside of El Salvador but not always so visibly. In a review article about soil erosion, David Pimentel and Michael Burgess say that about 80 percent of the world’s agricultural land suffers moderate to severe erosion and that soil erosion during the last 40 years has made about 30 percent of the world’s cropland unproductive.

Pimentel and Burgess note that when soil with an OM content of 4 to 5 percent has that OM reduced by 0.9 to 1.4 percent, potential grain yields are 50 percent lower. And that’s just grain. Life and biodiversity in the ecosystem are also reduced with OM losses.

The authors add, “1 mm of soil, easily lost in one rain or wind storm, is so minute that its loss goes unnoticed by the farmer and others. Yet this loss of soil over a hectare of cropland amounts to about 15 t/ha. Replenishing this amount of soil under agricultural conditions requires approximately 20 years, meanwhile the lost soil is not available to support crops. Along with the loss of soil is the loss of water, nutrients, soil organic matter, and soil biota.”

Our Salvadoran “herman@s” (brothers and sisters – hermanos and hermanas) are heavily promoting organic agriculture and other life-sustaining uses of the land, including permaculture – and with increasing success. We are thrilled that so many of our readers do the same – especially now, as the UN General Assembly has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils.

Here are some practices that soil-conserving farmers and gardeners may use:

• Grow horticultural crops on permanent beds, which minimize soil compaction.

• Let strips of diverse vegetation grow between and around growing beds.

• Recycle every bit of uncontaminated organic matter back to the soil.

• Integrate livestock and crop production.

• Keep something growing on or covering our soils year-round.

• Use conservation tillage techniques.

• Rotate crops.

• Use organic sources of soil fertility rather than synthetic chemical fertilizers.

• Use organic pesticides only as a last resort; don’t use synthetic pesticides.

• Grow biodiverse shelterbelts and hedgerows, including edibles!

• Maintain existing forests and reforest denuded lands – including some edible crops in the mix. Mushrooms, anyone?

“By many calculations,” say Mike Amaranthus and Bruce Allyn in their Atlantic article on soils, “the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable ecosystem, providing ecological services such as climate regulation, mitigation of drought and floods, soil erosion prevention, and water filtration, worth trillions of dollars each year.”

Just as all the little bits of soil erosion going on in various places add up to many tons of soil lost worldwide, every bit of soil you conserve and every bit of OM you add makes a difference, makes life. Thanks for every bit you do for this multi-trillion-dollar service!


Soil Erosion Threatens Food Production, by David Pimentel and Michael Burgess, Agriculture, Aug. 8, 2013, 3, 443-463;

Healthy Soil Microbes, Healthy People, by Mike Amaranthus and Bruce Allyn, The Atlantic, June 11, 2013; www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/healthy-soil-microbes-healthy-people/276710/


Want to Host a Farm or Garden Tour?

If you’d like to host a tour of your farm or garden this summer, we can put you on our “Daytripping” list, to be published in the June-August issue of The MOF&G. Just send (to [email protected]) your farm name, owners’ names, farm or garden features (briefly), date and time when visitors are welcome, directions and contact information. We publish the listing, and the rest is up to you and your visitors. You may get one or even no visitors, or you may get dozens. We suggest setting one or two particular times for your tour so that your entire day isn’t tied up. Many growers use our Daytripping list as a place to publicize that their farms are open on Maine’s Open Farm Day (see www.maine.gov/dacf/ard/market_promotion/open_farm_day.shtml).


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