The Soil Ecologist
Molly Haviland is a “Soil Ecologist.” Her wake-up call came when she made the move from the beautiful outdoor playground that was Great Sand Dunes National Park to the man-manipulated monocropped fields of Iowa.
As the child of a park ranger in Colorado, Molly was able to enjoy a range of outdoor activities in pristine parklands. As an adult, she moved to Iowa to study urban agriculture. Though Iowa is part of America’s “Bread Basket,” Molly quickly discovered that this “Bread Basket” was actually more of a food desert. This was the result of the damage done to the soil by large agricultural companies.
Vast fields of “food” surrounded her and most of it was not fit for direct human consumption.
Molly understood how important soil was to the quality of not only our food supply, but to our air and water as well.
Under her mentor, Dr. Elaine Ingham, Molly began to evangelize on the importance of building “living soil.” Her mission goes beyond sustainability and focuses on regeneration. There is a triad that we must follow that takes into account soil biology, minerals, and organic matter.
Part of her challenge is getting farmers and consumers to not look at soil health in isolation. As Molly puts it, “In this world, 1+1 does not equal 2.” For plants to thrive, they have to have “whole foods.” These consist of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. This combination has to be supported with adequate oxygen and water. This allows for a constant process of decay, digestion, and regeneration.
Plants know what they need and if they don’t get it, they won’t continue to produce. If we continue to allow beneficial aerobic organisms in the soil to die, disease-causing organisms will take their place.
The cost of not doing something now about soil regeneration will result in things like soil erosion, foods with even lower nutrient value, and a more rapid advance of climate change.
She points out that there are things that we can do to turn things around in as little as three years. A big opportunity exists with composting. It’s important for us to take responsibility for our food waste and composting provides the most direct opportunity to do that.
What We Can Do?
Urban apartment dwellers can do it on a small scale with a small countertop container. People with yards or acres of property can scale those efforts up. They can experiment with outdoor DIY composting bins and vermicomposting with worms.
When we develop compost that has a clean smell and the color of chocolate, we’ll know we have nutrients that can begin to regenerate our mineral deficient soil. You can learn more about composting here.
Encouraging responsible farming practices provides another opportunity. When we pay farmers through programs like the Fair Carbon Exchange to sequester carbon, we are helping to combat the damage being done by Big Ag.
You can learn more about Molly’s work at A Microherder’s Manifesto.