Health Begins in the Soil

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As a healthcare practitioner, I’ve learned that repairing the digestive system is the key to restoring and maintaining health. Using diet and key supplements, leaky gut can be healed and our gut microbiome can be improved, helping to reduce inflammation, infection and degenerative processes in the body and brain. Restoring the vitality to the trillions of microbes in our gut improves our digestion and immune system and enables us to digest and extract the nutrients in our food, which in turn, should be feeding these beneficial microbes in our gut.

Another passion of mine is agriculture, specifically soil health. A tablespoon of fertile soil also has billions, if not trillions of microbes. Similar to the benefits of our own gut microbes, soil microbes deliver minerals and nutrients to plant roots. Soil microbes are fed by the addition of organic matter and carbon to the soil.

I started my first garden in 1971, along with my first compost pile. From then on, wherever I lived I began a garden and compost pile My family and friends tolerated me starting compost piles at their homes and encouraging them to recycle kitchen food scraps to feed the compost.

Later, as a dairy farmer I would recycle all the animal manure back to the fields, and would plant rye on cropland in the fall as a cover crop over the winter and as a “green manure” to be worked into the soil in the spring, not so much as fertilizer for crops, but food for the soil microbes. Within a year after taking over a conventional 60 cow dairy farm, I had eliminated all chemical fertilizers, and weed killers. The chemical bug killers used in the milking barn to control flies were replaced with oil of pennyroyal and Shaklee Basic H soap, which controlled the flies as well as the toxic chemicals.

Antibiotics for mastitis were replaced with colostrum injected subcutaneously or filling empty gel caps as big as my thumb with goldenseal root powder and getting it down a cow’s throat.

Commercial dairy feed was replaced by my own organically grown feeds, to which I added kelpmeal by the 50 pound bag.

April in upstate New York was when I first turned the cows out to pasture after a long winter in the barn. When the cows realized there were acres of fresh green grass in front of them, they would run through the fields, even the old cows would kick up their heels before they would settle down and gorge on their natural food, grass. Their milk would then be yellow with vitamin A and the carotenoids from the grass. It had a very distinct flavor and was loaded with nutrients. Butter and cheeses made from spring grass milk was very yellow, flavorful and nutrient dense.

Had I not done those things, the usual agricultural chemicals would have continued to kill the soil and send a stream of contaminants and toxins into our country’s dairy products.

In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt said “the nation that destroys it’s soil destroys itself.”

When European immigrants moved across North America, the prairie grasslands were lush with grasses, herbs and wildflowers that were food for 100 million bison and countless other mammals, songbirds and insects. Topsoil depth was measured in feet. It was an incredibly diverse and productive ecosystem.

Now, when you drive through eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Indiana, you see endless fields containing only one crop, such as corn or soybeans. All the weeds are killed by Roundup and Atrazine, all the insects killed by chemicals, such as the neonicetenoids that last for years, killing our pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies.

The soil holding up these plants is dead, killed by years of tilling, erosion, herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Today, only 3 percent of the American prairie remains. Topsoil, if still present, is measured in inches, not feet. Short-sighted farming practices such as tilling the soil and leaving soil bare has resulted in most of this previous topsoil being washed down “Big Muddy” to the Gulf where this sediment and chemical load have created a huge “dead zone” as well as some of the highest cancer rates in the United States in New Orleans.

Vegans who are fond of saying “there is no death on my plate,” or vegetarians who are convinced that plant foods somehow represent “sustainable agriculture,” like most of us, are blind to the incredible loss of life and biodiveristy so that we can have corn, wheat and soy, or the loss of fertile wetlands, with their abundance of plant life, birds, insects and reptiles, so that we can eat rice.

Death is a part of life. We kill plants and animals so that we can eat. Everything living on the surface of the earth is tomorrows food for something or someone.

The only proven way of building topsoil is the way the bison did it on the great plains, intense, short term grazing, manuring and then moving on. Animals heavily grazing on grasses stimulates their regrowth, and the manure worked into the soil by their hooves rapidly builds topsoil, teeming with microbes, carbon, and humus.

Modern agriculture kills the microbes and does not feed the soil. Dead soil produces nutrient poor plants, which when fed to us and our food animals, lowers health and vitality, increasing the need for pharmaceutical drugs in our food supply and our disease care system.

Despite the toxic nutrient destroying effect of Big Ag and Big Food, we can change this. How can we change it? By starting your own compost pile or garden. If you can’t, then “vote” with your food dollars by purchasing pasture-fed animal products and organic vegetables and fruit. If you don’t garden, but have a lawn, trees or shrubs, use nontoxic ways of caring for these, or garden or nursery services that use only nontoxic care. Don’t spray the dandelions, their blossoms are an important early food source for bees. Support your local farmer’s markets and those farming families who replenish the soil, and local ranchers raising cows and other animals on grasslands.