One of my friends who’s an environmental engineer used to always make the distinction when we went hiking. Whenever one of us dusted up the trail or trekked through a muddy puddle, she would make the same nerdy joke: “it’s not dirty, it’s soiled!” or vice versa. Quiz time: do you know the difference between dirt and soil? Today on World Soil Day, we’re celebrating the good stuff: dirt is dead, but soil is alive.
Dirt is the dry, dusty stuff that accumulates on your bookshelves when you haven’t cleaned. Soil is the rich, brownie-crumble material that the tree outside your house is growing out of.
Soil is so important. Since becoming a budding “plant mom” to some indoor houseplants like a ZZ plant and prickly pear cactus, I’ve seen firsthand how the right soil can make a plant thrive. Growing environment is everything: the porosity of the sand, silt, or clay will absolutely contribute to the health of a plant. (Okay, I’m no expert, but you can ask Chrissy or The Plant Doctor).
In non-temperate zones like the hard places where Food for the Hungry works in the developing world, soil conditions can be extremely tough. Here, soil becomes about much more than an indoor houseplant.
Because the majority are farmers are practicing subsistence farming, meaning they’re just getting by to feed their families without a surplus to sell at the market, soil changes everything.
Places like Ethiopia experience regular drought. In the highlands of Bolivia, crops grow extremely differently, and the World Bank estimates soil erosion has impacted nearly 41 percent of Bolivia’s land. Soil is also different everywhere you go: red-baked clay roads of Kenya (called laterite) differ greatly from the dusty desert grounds of coastal Peru. As you can imagine, planting a seed in either would yield completely different results.
By honoring the soil through teaching farmers restorative agriculture that replenishes nutrients to the land, reforesting mountain slopes with trees, and contributing to human and creation flourishing, your partnership with FH is making a difference. Through the gift catalog, Food for the Hungry also makes sure to locally-purchase vegetable seeds, coffee seedlings, and other kinds of agricultural tools that are context-specific.
Women in Rwanda making compost as part of their health and nutrition training through Cascade Groups.
Keyhole gardens do a lot, with little
On a smaller scale, FH also teaches groups of mothers how to build keyhole gardens for healthy vegetables. It can be difficult to secure land rights, especially if you’re a refugee. Because they only measure six feet in diameter, keyhole gardens are perfect for a small yard space. Keyhole gardens help families produce food for a balanced diet, minimize shortages, and reduce food insecurity. In the middle of the keyhole garden, is an area just for composting: the secret ingredient to adding rich, organic material back into the soil from food scraps. Even in the States, if you’re trying to lead a zero-waste or less-waste lifestyle, composting at home is a great hobby that reduces food waste and greenhouse gases like methane. (For starters, check out the US Environmental Protection Agency’s easy guide–or “twin” a keyhole garden in your own backyard.)
“Twin” a keyhole garden with someone in the developing world! Download your free guide to build your own keyhole garden.
Soil has a rich potential to grow food and contribute to a green, thriving earth. Yet according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one third of our global soils are already degraded. Today on World Soil Day, stand alongside FH as we #StopSoilPollution with the UN. The soil you grow in can determine everything. Whether you’re a plant mom or an environmentalist, today’s the day to act now.