Organic Food – Healthy Soil is Good for the Environment

Buying organic food is good for the soil and good for the soul.

Why should you shell out extra money to buy organic food? One reason is that healthy soil is important to your wellbeing, possibly in more ways than you think.

The soil is like different neighborhoods connected to each other by invisible underground roadways. Neighborhoods have their own vibe that depends on their location, climate, and building materials. Community residents vary widely, are mostly microscopic, and live in high-density housing. All inhabitants have jobs they perform on a regular basis for no financial gain or personal glory.

These communities form the surface of the Earth and support the plants that provide our food. The soil is essential for life. Yet, humans have paved over, poisoned, and even disappeared countless soil communities, endangering ourselves in the process.

Imagine watching your way of making a living, your way of life, literally blowing away in a cloud of dust. That is what happened during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s when severe drought, poor soil conditions, and high winds blew away the topsoil of over 100,000,000 acres of farmland. Tens of thousands of farmers lost their homes and their farms and millions of poverty-stricken people migrated away from the Great Plains in search of work. United States agriculture was decimated and the Great Depression worsened.

1930s Dust Bowl - Baca County, CO - Photo Credit D.L. Kernodle, U.S. Library of Congress
1930s Dust Bowl – Baca County, CO – Photo Credit D.L. Kernodle, U.S. Library of Congress

Belatedly, the federal government took action by forming the Soil Conservation Service to help farmers and land managers learn about the soil and how to keep it healthy and in place. They also oversaw projects across the country aimed at reforesting the land and preventing erosion.

“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

It seemed as if soil communities were finally earning some attention and respect.

But then in the aftermath of World War II, chemical manufacturers needing new lines of business began producing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and leaning on the government to convince farmers to apply these products to their farmland. Crop yields increased and so did air and water pollution. Pesticides killed crop pests and everything else from soil organisms to birds. This was the beginning of industrialized agriculture and a new assault on the soil.

Fortunately, there were other people and farmers taking a different path. Over several decades, they learned about the soil and experimented with holistic practices for keeping soil healthy without heavy doses of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This led to the modern organic food movement that gained support during the 1970s when Americans were fed up with air, water, and land pollution and were taking to the streets demanding action.

It took a couple of decades, but eventually, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act leading to the USDA’s National Organic Program that standardized what substances can and cannot be used to grow organic crops, raise organic livestock, and make processed organic foods. It defines farming practices for keeping the soil healthy, reducing pests and weeds, and raising livestock animals without preemptive antibiotics.

Now that you have some background let’s talk about the soil. Then you can decide whether buying organic food (at least sometimes) is worth it to you.

What Constitutes Healthy Soil?

“Soil is a mixture of organic matter [remains of plants and animals and their wastes], minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. The Earth’s body of soil is the pedosphere, which has four important functions: it is a medium for plant growth; it is a means of water storage, supply, and purification; it is a modifier of Earth’s atmosphere; it is a habitat for organisms; all of which, in turn, modify the soil.” —Wikipedia

Healthy soil is alive with activity. Bacteria produce antibiotics, fix nitrogen (convert it for plants to use to form chlorophyll), and decompose materials to be recycled as plant nutrients. Fungi spread miles of filaments that transport nutrients and information among plants and trees. Larger organisms like ants and earthworms aerate the soil and mix things up as they move about.

These soil communities feed plants, absorb, hold and release water, maintain low levels of pests, pathogens, and salinity, and resist degradation and erosion.

If you grab a handful of healthy soil, it will hold together unlike dirt that will fall through your fingers.

Why is Healthy Soil Important for Growing Food?

At its most basic level, healthy soil provides a physical support system for plants. It holds together but is not tightly compacted allowing roots to grow and spread anchoring the plants above.

Healthy soil contains a wondrous network of microscopic organisms that deliver minerals and nutrients to plants so they can grow and thrive. Rainwater and irrigation water percolates through the spaces in the soil created by the aerators and then gets absorbed and released to the roots of the plants. Plants also receive assistance in fighting off pests and diseases.

How Do Organic Farmers Help Keep Soil Healthy?

Farmers who market their food with the USDA organic seal are required to adhere to the USDA organic program standards and be certified by a third party organization. Good stewardship of the land is at the core of organic farming.

Like people, healthy soil needs year-round care.

Organic Farm Cover Crop Plots at University of Minnesota
Organic Farm Cover Crop Plots at University of Minnesota – Photo Credit Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

For instance, if the soil is left bare and exposed after crops are harvested it is subject to being relocated without its consent. Rain can cause the soil to run off fields and wind can pick up the unprotected soil and fly away with it. Organic farmers protect their soil by planting cover crops, an apt name for crops grown to cover the land between rotations of income-producing crops.

Cover crops can also provide food for the soil. Leguminous plants like peas, beans, lentils, clover, and vetch are especially good at returning nitrogen to the soil. This so-called green manure acts as a natural fertilizer for plants. Other plants and animal wastes are composted and used on fields to feed the soil.

Maintaining biodiversity is important for soil and plant health. Organic farmers rotate crops and plant a variety of crops together making life more difficult for pests who can devastate a monocrop field. They also incorporate buffer areas of native plants that attract and provide habitat for pollinators, birds, animals, and predator insects that eat crop pests.

These are just a few of the ways that organic farmers contribute to keeping the soil healthy.

Why is Healthy Soil Important to You and Your Family?

Well, of course, there is the food. However, there are other benefits that might not readily come to mind when you think about healthy soil and organic farming.

In addition to providing water for plants and preventing erosion, healthy soil acts as a sort of time-release water purification and refilling system. As water seeps through the soil, it filters out impurities and pollutants. Depleted soil cannot perform this function. The water continues its downward journey through rock layers and refills groundwater basins in its path. You could be one of the many people whose drinking water comes from a groundwater basin.

Organic Farm Buffer Zone with Pheasants Forever Sign
Organic Farm Buffer Zone with Pheasants Forever Sign – Photo Credit Oregon Tilth

Healthy soil eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers, which are applied heavily on industrial agriculture fields. Besides nourishing the dead soil so that it can grow plants, these fertilizers run off into streams, lakes, and oceans creating dead zones where nothing can live. People rely on riverbanks and wetlands to prevent flooding. If these areas are dead, there is no protection.

When the soil is healthy, it eliminates the need for industrial strength pesticides. Spraying these poisons causes air pollution and runoff from fields causes water pollution. Widespread and heavy use of pesticides has had other unintended consequences. Pests have evolved quickly resulting in “super pests” requiring evermore powerful poisons. I am unconvinced that there is any safe level of exposure to pesticides for anyone and I do not believe farm workers should be required to wear masks and hazmat suits to work.

You may not realize that along with retaining moisture healthy soil grabs and holds onto carbon helping to keep it sequestered in the ground and out of the atmosphere.

Certainly, certified organic farmers are not the only farmers living in harmony with the land and contributing to maintaining healthy soil communities, but they have gone the extra mile to certify (prove) that they do.

Buying Organic Food Supports Healthy Soil

While reading this post, I hope you learned something about how important healthy soil is and how organic farming helps soil communities stay healthy.

You can promote healthy soil by choosing to buy organic food, at least some of the time.

Organic Tomatoes in a Paper Bag with Fresh Produce in the Background
Organic Tomatoes in a Paper Bag with Fresh Produce in the Background – Photo Credit iStock/mrPliskin

The purchase price of organic food is often higher than its taxpayer-subsidized industrial counterparts and prices may vary widely depending on the type of food and where you buy it. Be a savvy shopper and check prices at farmers markets, co-ops, farm stands, grocery markets, and even big box stores.

I realize that paying more for organic food may not fit easily into everyone’s budget so here are a few ideas on how you can support organic food in various ways.

  • Select one fruit or vegetable and start buying the organic version all the time or at least once a month.
  • Buy all organic fresh produce once a month or as often as you can.
  • Switch to organic milk, butter, cheese or the dairy product of your choice.
  • Try buying organically raised chicken, pork, or beef. It is expensive so you may find yourself eating less meat and more plants, which is good for you and the environment.
  • Support healthy land and people in your own community or region by purchasing organic food grown or raised locally.

I look forward to the day when all food is grown organically and everyone can afford it. I hope you will join me in buying at least one organic food item if you can, so we can inform the agricultural community at large that we want to eat food that is healthy for us and the planet.

Featured Image at Top: Close-up of Onions Growing in Soil – Photo Credit iStock/YuriyS

Related Posts


Make Your Voice Heard on

Give the government a piece of your mind (politely).

One way to be an engaged citizen is to comment on pending U.S. government regulations related to issues that are important to you. It may be easier than you think.

The idea for this post came to me while I was watching a Presidents’ Day mattress sale commercial sandwiched between television segments of the Winter Olympic Games. I thought, “Geez, nowadays, we commemorate the birthday of our founding father with discounts on mattresses.” “Surely, we can honor George Washington in a more suitable way.”

George Washington dedicated most of his life fighting for, establishing, and protecting many of the freedoms Americans enjoy today. He embodied government for the people and by the people. When I think of George Washington, the Bill of Rights First Amendment immediately comes to mind.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” —United States Constitution Bill of Rights First Amendment

There are many ways that you can exercise your right to freedom of speech and share your thoughts and opinions with your elected officials and with government agencies including calling, writing, and emailing, attending town hall meetings and events, voting, participating in public demonstrations, and being active on social media.

Another important but perhaps not well-known avenue of communication is This website makes it easy for you to obtain information about pending regulations (also called rules) and then comment on them before they are finalized.

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of so I decided to celebrate George Washington’s birthday this year by spreading the word.

E-Government Act of 2002

In 2002, Congress passed the E-Government Act to bring the federal government into the Internet age.

“To enhance the management and promotion of electronic Government services and processes by establishing a Federal Chief Information Officer within the Office of Management and Budget, and by establishing a broad framework of measures that require using Internet-based information technology to enhance citizen access to Government information and services, and for other purposes.” —Public Law 107-347, 107th Congress is the Internet interface for the eRulemaking Program, which is just one of many E-Government initiatives, set in motion by the passage of the law.

Rulemaking Process

Rulemaking is the process used by almost 300 federal agencies to issue regulations for laws enacted by Congress. Congress decides what needs to be accomplished and the affected agencies determine how to do it.

During the rulemaking process, the agency gathers information, prepares a draft rule and supporting documentation, and publishes it in the Federal Register and on

The public then has an opportunity to review the information and comment on it within a specific period, often ranging from 30 to 60 days. Sometimes the comment period is extended or re-opened. Comments and documentation submitted by the public are considered during the decision making process. The final rule is published in the Federal Register along with the date it will go into effect.

If you are interested in learning more about the Federal Register or the Rulemaking process, there are links in the resources section below.

On the website, you can browse pending rules to determine if there is something you want to comment on, but chances are you will become aware of an important issue from other sources like news reports, social media postings, people you know, newsletters, and heads up emails from organizations you trust. Keep your eyes and ears alert for terms like pending regulation, proposed rule, and rulemaking.

On your first visit to, I suggest you dink around a bit to familiarize yourself with the site. For instance, clicking the “Learn” tab will take you to a page that provides an overview of the regulatory process and you can click on a link to learn about the eRulemaking Initiative. The “Help” tab houses tips on how to use the site, FAQs, and a glossary section, which I think is helpful for understanding terms. For instance, every rule has a docket ID that is essentially the file name of the electronic folder for the rule.

To find a specific rule from the “Home” page, you can either type a docket ID, agency name, or keyword into the search window or click on the “Browse” tab.

When you land on the docket home page, you will find a summary, supporting documents, important dates, contact information, and a “Comment Now!” button. If you have not previously had the opportunity to read the specifics of the issue, this is a good place to do it.

Making a Comment

When you are ready to enter your comment, click on the “Comment Now!” button. Type your comment into the window, include your name if you want, and attach documents that support your comment (if you have any). You will have an opportunity to review and edit your comment before submitting it.

Every comment is assigned a unique number and you can request to have it emailed to you. Depending on how many public comments are being submitted and processed, your comment may not immediately show up in the comments section on

The example below is my public comment regarding the federal government’s intent to expand offshore oil and gas exploration, which you have likely heard or read about in the past several weeks. Comment Example

If you would like to join me in opposing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, click on the following link Docket ID: BOEM-2017-0074, which will take you directly to the docket page. Then click the “Comment Now! button” to make your comment.

If your interest lies in another area such as education, agriculture, healthcare, transportation, or _____ that is okay. Select a different docket and submit a comment.

You have the right and the power to be an engaged citizen. Submitting public comments on is just one way to do it.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what George Washington would think about, but I hope he would approve.

Featured Image at Top: Colored Comment Bubbles on Blue Background – Photo Credit iStock/BrianAJackson

Related Posts