“The soil is a living organism. Like all other living organisms, she breathes, feeds, grows, develops, and moves. Nature gave her external and internal spiritual beauty. This must be understood by first seeing, then feeling, understanding, and above all, falling in love with her.”
— Irna Kim, Biointensive Practitioner and teacher in Uzbekistan
All of life on Earth depends on six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains! The soil is a living organism that must be fed and nurtured to keep it feeding us. Down through millennia farmers, like those at Agripool, have known this and have renewed the soil with organic matter and other nutrients.
However, this basic understanding has been lost by the current conventional agriculture. Soil has been viewed as simply another commodity, an inert medium for growing, and has been inundated with chemicals to provide high yields and kill insects and plant diseases. In the process, once-fertile soils have become severely depleted of organic matter, nutrients, and micro-organisms—the army of invisible, beneficial workers in the soil. Depleted soils are in danger of being blown away by wind or washed away by rain.
Thirty percent of the world’s cropland has been abandoned in the last 40 years due to severe erosion.
- For each pound of food eaten in the United States, approximately 6 pounds of soil are lost to wind and water erosion, resulting from conventional agricultural practices.
- Twelve pounds of farmable soil are similarly lost in developing countries, with 18 pounds of farmable soil lost in China for every pound of food eaten.
- Approximately 213,000 people are added to the planet daily, requiring about 34,000 more farmable acres each day to feed them—acreage which does not exist.
- Due to all of these factors, by 2014 only about 64% of the world’s population were likely to have an adequate diet.
Even though many farms in Ghana and Africa are not yet on this path, Agripool wants to lead the charge by promoting organic farming. Our aim is to nurture and create a fruitful soil using our own organic matter, such as compost and manure. And according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Africa will account for almost three-quarters (72%) of world crop production by 2030.
On June 15, 2004, the United Nations observed that the world’s land is turning to desert at an alarming speed—at twice the rate that was occurring in 1970.
This prompted a group called Ecology Action to begin its research on a system called GROW BIOINTENSIVE (GB) in 1972. GB is mainly used for sustainable mini-farming, but it is also an excellent large-scale method of food-growing that helps revitalize our planet by building soil, using a smaller area to produce higher yields than conventional methods, minimizing water, organic fertilizer, and biological pesticide use. It attends to the long-term sustainability of farmland, so that food can be produced generation after generation.
Their first research garden took place on Syntex Corporation land at the Standford University Industrial Park. ‘A’ and ‘B’ horizons soil had been removed and the garden was created on ‘C’ horizon subsoil. However, in 1980 it was necessary to give up this site because Syntex needed the land.
Before the garden was moved, Doug Maher, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the soil in one of the growing beds. He listed the results in his Soil Science Master’s thesis, finding that the humified carbon level in the upper 1 to 1.5 inches of the soil had been built up in only eight years to a level that would have taken nature alone 500 years to accomplish. The thesis extrapolated that GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques, properly used, have the potential to build soil up to 60 times faster than it can be developed in nature.
Agripool, therefore, intends on utilizing the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system, where soil fertility is maintained by allotting 60% of what is grown to compost crops. A focus on the production, through these crops, of calories for the gardener and carbon for the soil can ensure that both the gardener and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable. GB consists of eight principles:
- Deep Soil Preparation
- Intensive Planting
- Companion Planting
- Carbon Farming
- Calorie Farming
- Open-pollinated Seeds
- Whole System Method
Because this biologically intensive method requires much less area to produce the same yield of crops as conventional agriculture, if it were used globally at least one-half of the world’s acreage could be left in the wild for the preservation of the all-important plant and animal diversity.
This brings us to composting, which will be featured in the next article of our Organic Series.