FOOD MATTERS: Topsoil a finite resource to protect

On Tuesday Al and I planned to stop en route to the retired teachers Christmas lunch to pick up some non-perishable food for the annual donations to the food bank.

The high winds of the previous night had scattered bits of evergreen along Lantzville Road. The traffic lights were out at Oliver and Turner roads and parking lots were empty. The few people standing at the doors of closed supermarkets was eerily reminiscent of futuristic disaster movies. Food security is not to be found behind the doors of supermarkets, though, because the overwhelmingly over-processed products that pass for food there only move through these buildings.

What we urgently need are local, provincial, national and global plans to look after our soils. More than 400 participants representing 65 countries met in Berlin to consider urgent action to reverse all forms of soil and land degradation during the first Global Soils Week, Nov. 18-22.

Maybe it was because of the mind-numbing language of abstractions and acronyms in papers and statements that this event did not create much of a stir. But it should have.

Each year, we lose more than 20 billion tons of soil on croplands because of erosion.

This is more than three tons per Earth inhabitant per year. Soils mitigate climate change, storing 4,000 billion tons of carbon, several times more than the world’s forests. Soils are essential for food security and are severely threatened, suffering a continuous decline in quality and loss due to urban sprawl.

Our pro-urban agriculture group in Lantzville recently wrote a submission to our district council in response to a proposed soils bylaw.

The first thing we noticed about this bylaw was that in the more than 20 pages of new regulations we could find no hint of responsibility for mindful stewardship of this precious resource.

The implication was that soil is a dead and inert nuisance. This is typical of such bylaws.

Marianne Sarrantonio, professor of sustainable agriculture at the University of Maine, has said, “This amazingly thin, fragile layer of material coating less than half the Earth is the key to human existence. Doesn’t it make sense to take care of it?”

And Michael Welbank, past president of Britain’s Royal Town Planning Institute, asserts, “How can we possibly take any new land for development and claim we have discharged our responsibilities to future generations? It is a finite resource and however little each generation uses, in time it will all be used … We need a greater effort to ensure the reuse of previously developed land as a continuous process until we reach the stage where new land is never taken.”

And we need to stop behaving like finicky aristocrats who want never to be “soiled” or “dirty.” Dirt is good for us in an earthy way that is priceless.


Marjorie Stewart is chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandal


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