Some good dirt… on soil from Hilary’s Eat Well

“Reverence for the land is a key to a healthy culture for it is a sign that we love and value things other than ourselves”. This from Jim Leek, our friend, farmer and a local grower of vegetables at Pat and Rachel’s Gardens, a supplier of vegetables for our burgers. Join with Hilary’s Eat Well as we realize the beauty and vitality of the land by celebrating with friends around the world in the 2015 International Year of Soils.

Soil scientists all around the world are joining forces to educate the public about the importance of healthy soils. Their efforts have culminated in 2015 being named the International Year of Soils by the United Nations (UN). The International Year of Soils will be spearheaded by the Global Soils Partnership of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which will be partnering with groups like The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and others around the world to raise awareness and promote the sustainability of our limited soil resources

As our founder Hilary Brown talks about frequently, where there is health there is diversity. Whether it be friends, human culture, gut bacteria, economies, diets or soil, those that are the most vital and vibrant have many different pieces, parts and varieties. But let’s focus on soil.

According to Mary Stromberger, a soil microbiologist at Colorado State University, soils are indeed living, diverse, and complex. “I mean when you talk about a handful of soil containing more species of bacteria than there are plant species in the entire world, there can be anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 different species in a single gram (about 1 teaspoon) of soil, amounting to 100 million to 3 billion individual microorganisms.”

Daily we are gaining more awareness of the value of beneficial bacteria in food and in our own guts and now we are remembering the benefits of all the microorganisms in soil. Stromberg goes on to say, “There are so many discoveries to be made in terms of networks of roots, bacteria, and fungi that I tell my classes to compare soil to the movie Avatar because everything is really connected.”

We know that eating simply prepared organically grown foods benefits the diversity of microbes in our human system and we know that organic agricultural practices do what is needed to sustain the health and diversity of the soil that our food comes from. Adding compost and other earthbound inputs we feed the soil with rich material in order to grow plants with rich material and so that our bodies and lives can be rich material in this world.

One writer, a physician that encourages that her patients eat organically grown foods because of the richness and diversity of the soil and the vitality that brings, says “Does the farmer live on the farm? Farmers who live on their land and feed their family from it tend to care for their soil as if it were another family member. Going to farmers markets and joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture) are reliable ways to get this type of produce, and supermarkets are also beginning to support local farmers. Remember, the more we demand it, the more they will carry it.”

Jim, of Pat & Rachel’s Gardens does live on his farm and brings poetics to our relationship to soil. When asked how he thinks about the soil on his farm he shared this:

Hilary’s Eat Well working in the Just Food Garden

Only fear not to soak with generous dung

The thirsty ground, fear not to scatter wide

The grimy cinder o’er the exhausted fields.

A change of crop will also rest the land.


“Reverence for the land is a key to a healthy culture for it is a sign that we love and value things other than ourselves. The soil is the basis for all economy for without it neither manufacturing nor service industries could exist. When Augustus Caesar saw the Roman culture disintegrating, he hired the poet Virgil to renew culture with poetry. Virgil chose to write his great epic, The Aeneid, but he also wrote a poem about farming, The Georgics, quoted above. In this excerpt (Book I, lines 94-97) he set out well-known principals of reverencing the soil. He recommends using dung and ashes on hungry and worn-out fields, and knowing that the land needs rest as well, he advised crop rotation. Virgil knew that to keep it renewed, it must not be mistreated. It must be reverenced.”

This week several members of the Hilary’s Eat Well team moved 3 truckloads of rich soil that was developed at a city lot from composted yard waste into 10 raised beds at our local food pantry, Just Food. There we enjoyed great conversations about soil, dirt, compost, worms, microbes, food and caring for each other.

Let’s continue to reverence the soil- by growing and purchasing organically grown foods- which is in essence reverencing all things. For more information, continue reading here.