Dirty Little Secrets of Dirt
© Copyright 2009
Fast Forward back to the 50’s
Besides The Interstate Highway System, Fast Food, and microwave ovens, what else happened in the 50’s?
The spraying of pesticides and herbicides!
Growing world populations, a more mobile and more leisure-free society in the US placed greater demand on the farmers for food. To meet the demand, the simple solution is to increase the supply. Starting at the soil depletion of the dirty-thirties and lack of proper crop rotation, fertilizers were used in abundance and they were chiefly: nitrogen (which the soil could receive after an electrical storm by the way), potassium and phosphorous. The practice had not changed since it was implemented in 1935 and is still used today.
To get more yields per acre, crops were planted closer and closer together. Root systems were not thought of as all that important and besides, just add more fertilizer, right?
From planting until harvest and even on the way to market, crops were plagued with all manner of pests. This adversely affected the yield, the farmer’s profits and the produce. The farmers desperately needed answers. It came in the form of…
…pesticides and herbicides
Although there were and are many of these, the features of these were basically the same:
1. It was toxic to wide range of insect pests (“broad spectrum”), yet appeared to have low toxicity to mammals. A clock appears to be harmless too, until the timer goes off and the bomb explodes.
2. It was persistent (didn’t break down rapidly in the environment), so that it didn’t have to be reapplied often.
3. It was not water soluble (insoluble), so didn’t get washed off by rains
4. It was inexpensive (at first anyway), and easy to apply
These were so effective at killing pests and thus boosting crop yields and were so inexpensive to make that its use quickly spread over the globe.
Let’s just look at two of the most popular and most recognized, starting with DDT.
DDT (from its trivial name, Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane), is one of the best known synthetic pesticides. It is a chemical with a long, unique, and controversial history.
The Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller of Geigy Pharmaceutical was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods. After the war, DDT was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed. It was used for many non-agricultural applications as well. For example, it was used to delouse soldiers in WWII, and until the 60’s, to control mosquitoes in residential areas of the US. I can remember as a child the “mosquito truck” driving up and down the streets at dusk, producing a gentle mist behind it….We would often go out and chase behind it, reveling in the fog!
In the second half of World War II, it was used with great effect among both military and civilian populations to control mosquitoes spreading malaria and lice transmitting typhus, resulting in dramatic reductions in the incidence of both diseases.
In 1962, Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book catalogued the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health
The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. Its publication was one of the signature events in the birth of the environmental movement.
Silent Spring resulted in a large public outcry that eventually led to most uses of DDT being banned in the US in 1972. DDT was subsequently banned for agricultural use worldwide under the Stockholm Convention, but its limited use in disease vector control continues to this day in certain parts of the world and remains controversial.
DDT was affecting many animals other then mosquitoes. Such as: Bats, Fireflies, Sperrys, Brown pelicans, and the peregrine falcon. The birds ate the insects, small birds and fish that contained DDT. Calcium Carbonate is an essential chemical in egg shells. When mother birds ate the animals exposed to DDT, it concentrated or accumulated in her body and caused the egg shell to be formed with a very thin shell. Also, since their shells where too thin the eggs got over heated when incubated or the egg shells would crack before the chicks were fully developed.
Fireflies, a childhood enjoyment almost disappeared overnight.
Nocturnal (day sleeper), bats were greatly affected. They would live their caves at night and feed on rotting fruits and vegetables, but primarily the insects, the insecticides were supposed to kill.
Later, another well known herbicide was developed in the 70’s and still used today is ‘Roundup®.’ Roundup is the brand name of a systemic, broad-spectrum herbicide produced by the US company Monsanto. Monsanto? Monsanto the St. Louis, MO based chemical company? I thought they along with companies like Dupont were just chemical companies and made a lot of nylon and other fibers to make the carpet we had to vacuum and clean of the dirt? Yep, that’s the one! So chemical companies entered the agriculture industry. It would not be long until they would control agriculture. Remember the name Monsanto, we will see them again as this series continues.
David Thomas – a geologist turned chiropractor (who also happens to sell mineral supplements) – analysed data from McCance and Widdowson’s epic work that used data between 1940 to 1991. Part of this study was due to the preservation of soil samples kept since 1935. Analysis took into account samples of various crops, maintained from seed crops, comparing crops from year to year.
Since the beginning of farming in history, part of a farmer’s job was to plant a portion of their crops for the express purpose of having seed to plant the following year. ‘Seed crops’ were given the best care as the farmer’s future livelihood depended on what many now call heirloom seed. Seeds were passed on from father to son or daughter and it was not uncommon to actually inherit these heirloom seeds at ‘the reading of the last will and testament’ of someone deceased. My point in this is, to show that it became clear there was a relationship between the soil and the plants which grow from it.
Brian Halweil is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute covering issues of food and agriculture. Worldwatch publishes annually, ‘State of the World.’ He joined Worldwatch in 1997 as the John Gardner Public Service Fellow from Stanford University, where he had established a student-run organic farm on campus. The farm was community-supported and sold produce to the university and local restaurants. In addition, Brian has set up community-supported farms and organic farms orchards throughout California and assisted farmers who were making the shift from chemical to organic agriculture.
As a food and agriculture expert, Brian has testified before the U.S. Senate on biotechnology, poverty, and hunger. In addition, he has spoken to non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and industry groups on a variety of issues, ranging from organic farming to vegetarianism and genetically engineered crops. Brian’s work has been featured in national newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, and New York Times, and on radio networks, such as National Public Radio and Voice of America.
Brian has traveled extensively in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa, learning indigenous farming techniques and promoting sustainable food production. He holds Bachelor’s of Science degrees in Earth Systems and Biology from Stanford University. He has also completed research, fieldwork, and coursework at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California at Davis. His work at Davis included participation in the”100 Year Sustainability Project” as well as the Student Experimental Farm for Alternative Agriculture.
Here are more findings Brian Halweil cited from David Thomas’ study: A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.
It has been concluded that the effects of spraying pesticides and herbicides have further decreased the nutrient content of soil and thus the plants which grow from it. Those ‘things’ the farmers knew was in the soil, but did not know what they were for, have been identified.
The way yield was increased in the 50’swas dramatically increased through pesticide spraying. The consequences are summarized by the following:
More yield, less everything else!!!
What should be found in the soil is 90 Essential Nutrients of which:
60 are Minerals
16 are Vitamins
12 are Amino Acids
2- 3 are Essential Fatty Acids (Omegas)
Ninety nutrients? That’s just a little bit more than nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus used primarily as fertilizers since the 50’s!
In the 50’s, the Interstate Highway system gobbled up top soil. Fast food restaurants gobbled up topsoil. People were gobbling up food which directly was grown out of the soil or from animals which ate the plants that grew from the soil. Farmers gobbled up pesticides. The pesticides gobbled up the topsoil.
In a square foot of topsoil there are millions and millions of microorganisms. Back in the 50’s farmers knew they were there, but they were not sure what they did. Pesticides were killing the eco system. The pesticides soaked down through the top soil and killed the microorganisms and bacteria which were turning inorganic materials (minerals primarily), into organic compounds. The plant through photosynthesis was not able to uptake these nutrients because pesticides destroyed them.
In 1997 UCLA conducted a study of the effects of iron. They had a sample of spinach grown back in 1953. Several women were reported as being anemic even though they were supposedly eating a lot of spinach salads. So they compared samples of spinach from 1997 with that grown in 1953. It was concluded that you would have to eat 43 bowls of spinach in 1997 to equal just 1 bowl in 1953! Not only was the spinach deficient in iron, but other minerals as well. As a consequence, when you do not have minerals sufficient, the body cannot use the vitamins.
The UCLA study showed:
“Spinach’s potassium content dropped by 53 percent, its phosphorus by 70 percent, its iron by 60 percent and its copper by 96 percent.”
Do you see something interesting in the line above? Despite the use of fertilizers, 2 out 3 things used in commercial fertilizer (phosphorus and potassium), the spinach still had a marked deficient!
Jim Rhoades, author (Road to Health-soon to be published); Life mission coach, educator, mentor, Instructor and presenter at George Wythe College, America’s leading statesmanship university; CEO and president of his own international nutritional products company for 7 years; close working association with many universities, testing facilities, biochemists, doctors of nutrition and master herbalists plus over twenty plus years of research in nutrition and disease prevention was a guest speaker at Harvard Medical School, addressing The ‘State of Food in 2004.’
Jim Rhoades, in his address to Harvard Medical School in 2004 presented astounding data in ‘State of Food in America.’ It is 90 Nutrients or building blocks our body needs for proper cell replication. Out of 90 the breakdown is: 60 minerals and the rest are made up of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids and key vitamins.
But that’s OK; we can turn to science to fix the soil right? After all, they came up with ‘professional dirt.’
What exactly is ‘professional dirt‘ anyway?
So much carbon – so much silicates and so on all made in a lab with a ratio of approximately 50% solid material, 25% air and 25% water and include soil particles of various sizes.- There is nothing in this stuff about life or it being living. It sure works good to test the life of carpets and in cleaning them so we can get rid of the dirt. J
What’s the dirt on dirt, just how long does it take soil to form?
What is the answer?
It takes anywhere from 100 to 500 years for 1 inch of topsoil to form, depending on climate and maybe even 1,000 years. True rich and fertile topsoil contains minerals, water, air, life both IN and ON the topsoil and even irregular disturbance systems. It is living stuff of 90 nutrients. The microorganisms are feeding on decayed matter and transforming inorganic matter into organic nutrients which the plant can absorb. It is meant to be a symbiotic relationship!
The ‘Dirty Little Secret‘ in all of this is land. Call it soil or just call it dirt!
WOW, this stuff is really getting dirty! We are not done. There is much more to come and more ‘Dirty Little Secrets‘ to share next time.