Brown Gold.

21 Apr 2015

SBN is promoting healthy soils and healthy people through its Restorative work, as part of the 2015 International Year of Soils and Global Soil Week. Hear from SBN members who make thriving soil their business and learn about saving our soils.

Healthy soils may not be the sexiest of dinner table conversations, but they underpin our entire agricultural sector. And they’re in pretty bad shape. One third of our planet’s agricultural land is considered degraded (by erosion, acidification, pollution, salinisation or compaction) and we’re losing soil at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replaced. As soils worsen, fertiliser use increases – which can lead to other issues like pollution of waterways and loss of biodiversity.

We’re also wasting a third of all food produced globally, which means that our soils are misused for no reason. Add to that the issues of expanding populations, competition for land and water, the impact of climate change (including droughts and increases in temperatures) and the need to increase food production, and it’s easy to see why our soils are under so much stress. Soils also play an important role in storing carbon, being the second largest carbon storage pool after our oceans.

We chatted to several businesses that are helping maintain the health of our soils, and asked them what they are doing and we can all do, to save our soils.

Marion Wood, Managing Director and Co-founder of Commonsense Organics

Commonsense Organics first set up in 1991 in Wellington’s Wakefield Street, and opened its sixth organic food store, and first in Auckland, last month.

What are the most important issues around soil that we are currently facing?

The perception that soil is not important. We have a huge responsibility to look after it, we have a responsibility to look after our planet and soil is a key part of our planet. We can’t treat our soil as if it’s some kind of commodity to be used when we choose. We can’t deplete our soils and then expect to grow good food. Looking after the soils means that you build up resilience.

Why is good quality soil important to you or your business?

Looking after the soil is a fundamental of organic agriculture.

What is your organisation trying to do to help soil issues in New Zealand?

By supporting organic practices, we are helping farmers work in a way which promotes soil health. Practically everything we sell is organic, and around 99 per cent of our produce is organic. We’re trying to grow the organics market in New Zealand.

We also run Common Property [an organic market garden established on land owned by Marion and her partner Jim]. The way it is structured is, Jim looks after the certification of the land; then there are three businesses operating from the land – vegetables, strawberries, and salad mix all year round and a seedling business that operates off the land. They operate as independent businesses, but they are all BioGro certified

What kinds of practices can consumers support to ensure healthy soils?

Not only starting off with good quality soil, but looking after the soil.

Mulch! Mulch and build carbon back into the soil – which is basically the brown, dying material. Don’t throw those away, put those back into the soil. Break it up, compost it, but don’t waste anything. Always return things to the soil.

What's one unusual or interesting fact about soil that interests or intrigues you?   

One of the major things about soil is the whole related issue of climate change. Globally organic farming sequesters 20 per cent more carbon into the soil than industrial farming. There are some who maintain that if all the world was farmed organically, we wouldn’t have a greenhouse gas problem.

 

Neville Burt, Director of Bokashi NZ Ltd

Originally an organic farmer from the South Island, Neville went on to develop the ZingBokashi system, which turns organic waste into productive garden compost in a matter of weeks.

What are the most important issues around soil that we are currently facing?

One of the biggest issues we face is that of declining organic matter and associated soil life.

Why is good quality soil important to you or your business?

Healthy soils means healthy people and animals.

What is your organisation trying to do to help soil issues in New Zealand?

Promoting the build up of soils via the application of biological inocculants.

What kinds of practices can consumers support to ensure healthy soils?

Reducing the inputs of soil herbicides and pesticides and applying more biological husbandry to soils.

What's one unusual or interesting fact about soil that interests or intrigues you?

A soil with good good organic matter levels and active soil biology is likely to be more resilient to pest, disease and enviromental factors such as water holding capacity and compaction.

 

Clare Jackson, landscape designer at Green Footprint

Green Footprint is an expert in landscape design, restoration and creating organic vegetable gardens. It is based in the Waikato.

What are the most important issues around soil that we are currently facing?

Soil loss through erosion and degradation of soil biodiversity.

Why is good quality soil important to you or your business?

Green Footprint is a certified organic horticulture business. Conserving and promoting a fertile, living, stable soil is central to everything we do, from designing gardens and restoring native areas, to building gully steps and tracks.

What is your organisation trying to do to help soil issues in New Zealand?

Green Footprint follows the BioGro standard for soil management. With all our clients we use and promote sustainable soil management methods to build soil stability, organic matter, fertility and soil biodiversity. We also work with a large multi-ethnic community garden in Hamilton, teaching the members how to conserve the soil through ‘gardening lightly’ techniques.

What kinds of practices can consumers support to ensure healthy soils?

Consumers can support their soil by using soil building practices, for example:

  • Designing paths and garden plots to reduce erosion
  • Keeping the soil covered with cover crops, mulch or plants
  • Using non herbicide weed controls
  • Planting ecosourced native plants to encourage soil biodiversity
  • Avoiding garden poisons such as snail baits
  • Adding organic matter with compost, green manure and mulch and
  • Being waterwise

What's one unusual or interesting fact about soil that interests or intrigues you?   

Our New Zealand soils are not as resilient and fertile as we might think. Only around 5 per cent of  New Zealand's land area is classified as ‘high class' soils (source: University of Waikato).

 

Ben Bell, founder of Low Impact Design Ltd and creater of the Hungry Bin.

Hungry Bins creates an ideal living environment for compost worms, turning household waste into rich compost. It can process up to 2 kilos of waste a day.

What are the most important issues around soil that we are currently facing?

The depletion of high quality soil is the biggest issue I feel. Not only are we not looking after the good quality soil we do have left, but because of poor farming practice the structure and health of the soil is constantly being challenged. We also do a poor job of protecting high quality soils in or near the city, and making sure that productive land doesn’t become suburbs.

Why is good quality soil important to you or your business?

Food is everything, and you cannot grow good food without good soil. We think our customers understand this, and are looking for easier and simpler ways to improve soil quality (and their veggie gardens).

What is your organisation trying to do to help soil issues in New Zealand?

We are trying to promote on-site composting as a way of reducing environmental impact of food waste, but also as a method of connecting food waste composting and food production. 

What kinds of practices can consumers support to ensure healthy soils?

Consumers can do a lot to promote good soil, firstly by selecting produce that is grown in ways that ensure the soil is preserved (organic, for example) or by composting themselves and using the outputs to improve the health of the soil around them

What's one unusual or interesting fact about soil that interests or intrigues you?   

I think it’s amazing that soil is a living organism, and the more organisms that are present, the healthier it is. 

 

Jill Bradley, AgriSea director and co-founder

AgriSea have developed a range of nutrient rich, natural liquid soil additives, which can be used to improve soil health in the agriculture, horticulture and viticulture sectors

What are the most important issues around soil that we are currently facing? 

The lack of recognition of soil as a living ecosystem.

Why is good quality soil important to you or your business?

Once we knew about the connection between healthy soil and healthy people, we were committed to making a difference.

What is your organisation trying to do to help soil issues in New Zealand?

Educate farmers and growers about supporting soil biology. We also manufacture certified organic farm inputs from a New Zealand seaweed species (Ecklonia radiata). It is not enough to criticise the corporate means of food production as farmers need viable input options that support sustainable biological growing systems.

What kinds of practices can consumers support to ensure healthy soils?

Consumers need to insist on chemical-free food grown in a biologically healthy soil. 

What's one unusual or interesting fact about soil that interests or intrigues you?

When soil is treated as a living entity, when it is covered with plants and no chemicals are added, it is amazing how quickly it remediates.   

A key part of restoring our ecosystem is understanding the connection between healthy soils, healthy waterways and healthy people. SBN is proud to have members who are working hard to restore our soil and are making improvements to soil health their priority and their business model.  This is a key part to restoring our food system and waterways. To find out more about SBN’s Restorative work, see here.

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