Little hands wriggle with worms in chocolate-colored soil. Gleeful cries fill the air. Smiles and eyes sparkle. Excitement bubbles up as three-year old and four-year old children are quick to feel and see that beneath our feet, life abounds. Children revel in what they discover growing in the garden and that starts with the life in the soil that nourishes plants, which, in turn, can nourish humanity. All good gardeners, like wide-eyed children, know that bountiful gardens depend on the vitality brimming underground.
Healthy soil teems with life. Composting is a key process of that life as myriad microorganisms, fungi and bacteria break down organic matter from leaves, plant clippings, food scraps, manures, etc., helping to create the dark brown organic substance called humus, full of trace elements essential for and accessible to growing plants. In essence all life recycles and in turn can contribute to healthy soil that can help give birth to healthy plants and good food. That soil also holds carbon, a key component of life on Earth.
What is now better understood and appreciated, especially with our climate crisis, is the importance of soil as a “carbon pool” and a passage for the natural carbon cycle. Building healthy soil with compost enables carbon to be put to work in feeding plants and in facilitating photosynthesis and not to be emitted into the atmosphere in destabilizing quantities of CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Organic, that is “regenerative,” gardening—or urban farming and agriculture—is a lively climate action.
In a variety of media formats, including a YouTube animated video, The Soil Story comes alive for anyone to dig into and, most significantly, to share. Its sophisticated simplicity relates lessons about the science of carbon in the soil and the dynamic movement of carbon in a balanced manner through Nature supporting life. The Soil Story teaches us:
“It would be impossible for life on earth to exist the way it does without carbon. It is the main component of sugars, proteins, fats, DNA, muscle tissue, and almost everything in your body and other life forms on the planet. It is the main component of sugars, proteins, fats, DNA, muscle tissue, and almost everything in your body and other life forms on the planet. Unlike aerosols or other toxic chemicals, carbon is not a pollutant. However, too much of it in the wrong place can be highly destabilizing.
“Most of the Earth’s ‘carbon pools’ are stored in the soils, ocean, atmosphere, biosphere, and fossils. Carbon flows between these pools in an exchange called the carbon cycle. Any change in the cycle that shifts carbon out of one pool puts more carbon in another pool.”
How energizing it is to cultivate gardens with composting and organic practices that can regenerate life in the soil and in natural ecosystems and habitats and in all kinds of species!
Rachel Carson eloquently reminds us, “In Nature nothing exists alone.” To me, each species of life—human, animal and plant— above ground or below, above the oceans or below, is really a fellow creature of the biosphere. Our relationship with ourselves and with each other fosters priceless, precious opportunities as we respect our interconnectedness and the fundamental rights of both human and natural communities. Santa Monica’s Sustainability Rights Ordinance establishes those fundamental rights as the law. From the deepest part of the soil to lofty sunflowers, corn stalks, passion fruits, songbirds or Monarch butterflies soaring in sunlight, sustained or stressed by climate, there is so much to what it means to be alive.