The wealth of a nation doesn’t have a lot to do with the rising and falling numbers on Wall Street—numbers based on speculative value and as we’ve seen recently, imaginary worth. It doesn’t have to do with military might, patriotic fervor or unity of purpose.
It has to do with all kinds of unseen, unsung, and poorly understood connections. For example, the connections between people. These mutual webs of caring and concern are the lifeblood of our society. Co-workers laughing together, neighbors looking out for one another, older children helping younger children, strangers talking at the bus stop, friends taking a walk. Scientists tell us these connections improve our physical and emotional health. Such connections also measurably improve our communities. These connections are deeply rooted. They stem from a beautiful diversity of interests, mutual need and the freedom to flourish in our own ways.
Even more poorly understood is our connection to the soil, and perhaps more importantly, the intrinsically complex interconnections of microbial life and mineral balance within healthy soil. To support growth, soil teems with life. It’s said that a handful of fertile soil contains more living organisms than the population of the planet. A nation’s soil is more important than any fuel, more vital than winning a war. Agriculture has a long history of abusing the land with profitable and expedient practices. Even the earliest agrarian practices removed perennial plants and natural cover, causing erosion and loss of topsoil. Later monoculture plantings sapped the soil’s vitality. Now agribusiness standards such as continual soil exposure, toxic chemicals and crushingly monstrous machinery have literally turned once bountiful farmland into nearly useless wasteland which requires the agricultural equivalent of ICU treatment to grow anything, and what it does grow is drastically reduced in quality, nutrient levels and taste.
We depend on the land to feed us. We cannot allow agribusiness to degrade our nation’s true wealth. We must turn back to the age-old wisdom of crop rotation, pastured animals, perennial and diverse plantings. We must listen to the warning call sounded by honeybees and our own failing immune systems. A national agriculture policy that resonates with the sustainability movement is necessary. Such a policy would stimulate young people to start up small farms. It would provide incentives for organic farming, homesteading and urban gardens. It would reawaken us to the true riches in living soil and healthy foods.