When you buy organic food, you’re supporting the health of your family, animals, plants, our earth and maybe most importantly, the soil. Soil has been referred to as the skin of the earth, and without healthy soil, no crops would grow. It is a living system within itself, and much like the microbiome, soil has thriving bacteria, fungus, and microorganisms, all of which it needs to stay healthy.
Organic agriculture builds up this ecosystem living within the soil by using compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, which harm the life in the soil. By using compost, a natural input, organic farming prevents contamination and diseases spreading to the plants. Use of chemical inputs like pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides interrupt the natural, symbiotic relationship between the plants and these microorganisms. In one study, peach and apple orchards were grown separately using both organic and conventional farming practices. “Organic fruit production practices harbored both greater microbial activity and higher concentrations of plant and soil nutrients,” meaning you will be eating nutritionally superior food, as well as reducing the harm synthetics do to our planet.
Additionally, organic systems use crop rotation, which nourishes the soil, increases the water holding capabilities of the soil and prevents erosion.
Erosion and conventional farming practices with heavy chemical inputs have caused the earth to lose 1/3 of its farmable land within the past hundred years.
Fortunately, recent studies have found that the longer land is farmed organically, the healthier the soil becomes and more topsoil can be created using organic compost. Another study in Applied Soil Ecology showed that Organic soils were higher in soil organic matter and water, likely related since increasing soil organic matter is one of the primary ways by which to increase soil’s ability to retain moisture. Organic soils also contained higher functional diversity of beneficial, fast-growing bacteria.
Finally, what may be the most exciting benefit of organic soil is its ability to trap carbon. A study at the University of Nebraska found that organic farming methods lead to higher levels of soil organic carbon than carbon levels in conventional farming. “Researchers collected soil data from long-term crop rotation experiments that had been ongoing for over 20 years. Comparisons included conventionally farmed plots, conventionally farmed plots that rotated different crops from season to season, an organic rotation that utilized alfalfa for fertility, and an organic rotation fertilized with cow manure. All of the organic plots showed higher levels of soil organic carbon than conventional plots, with the biggest difference observed in the organic plot fertilized with cow manure (19% more carbon than the conventional plot)”.