Healthy Soils Workshop at the Well Fed Garden

This past Saturday we learned about SOIL – the ‘living skin of the earth’.

At the “Healthy Soils’ workshop at the Well Fed Community Garden, Mike Ortosky astonished us with the truth about soil: an alive, integral part of our existence – the basis for all food that supports us. Without soil we could not survive.

Soil is the earth’s fragile skin that anchors all life – the thin outermost layer of the Earth’s crust. Like our skin, we can not survive without soil. Most of our food comes directly or indirectly from plants that are anchored and nourished by soil. The oxygen we breathe is produced by plants living in the soil, as the water we drink is filtered by soil.

Mike described to us how soil is created over time and how theses varieties of soils covering the earth have developed in different areas. Soils’ components – minerals, water, air, organic matter and organisms – are dynamic. Five factors control how soil forms: climate, organisms, the ‘lay of the land’, parent material and time. Soils are like individuals – unique – and plants, animals and humans have specific relationships with each type of soil.

Spectacularly, soil is teaming with countless millions of a life forms – very small microbes, fungi, bacteria… that can only be seen with a microscope. They create a dynamic and complex ecosystem and are among the most precious resources to humans. As soil is the ultimate source of the nutrients our bodies need and only these microscopic soil organisms are able to convert nutrients such as potassium, calcium and nitrogen into compounds that plants’ roots can absorb. This is why maintaining healthy soils – with organic matter – is vital to our health.

Soils need to be protected. Soil loss is caused by its improper use, usually for agricultural, postural, industrial or urban purposes, and is exacerbated by climate change. Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years. The effects of soil erosion go beyond the loss of fertile land. It has led to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers, clogging these waterways and causing declines in fish and other species. And degraded lands are also often less able to hold onto water, which can worsen flooding.

The health of soil is a primary concern to farmers and the community whose livelihoods depend on well managed agriculture that starts with the dirt beneath our feet. The participants in the “Healthy Soils” workshop have a new and awesome appreciation of soil and its value.

Mike Ortosky cofounded and managed Soil & Environmental Consultants, PA, ( an environmental consulting and design firm as well as The Earthwise Company (, a community and agricultural development effort. Mike now works with Orange County, NC as Agriculture Economic Developer where he is working on an Agriculture Economic Development Plan for the County. He also owns a small vegetable farm in Saxapahaw, North Carolina.

In addition to Mike Ortosky’s presentation, the following resources have been referenced for this blog:

  • Soil! The Inside Scoop by David L Lindbo
  • Farm Foundation – at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation
  • World Wildlife Fund