Molly Haviland is a Soil Ecologist
With three years of experience in soil revitalization and development, pining for lush Midwestern soils of yesteryear.
Given the opportunity I will consult, instruct, and dreamstorm about the purpose, creation, and application of a soil treatment so rejuvenating that plants can’t help but grow.
The Road to Microherding
At least twice a year, the Iowa air is saturated with pesticides and fungicides. Additionally, multiple times a year the crop lands are saturated with synthetic nutrients. While the goal may be disease and pest control for crops, the effects have been a slow and steady process of chipping away at the macro and microorganisms that make up the soil food web. Ultimately this affects anything that depends on soil to survive, that would be…everything. Pesticides cannot be specific to one bug, they damage all bugs and organisms. In the same fashion, a fungicide is not specific to one fungus, it affects all fungi.
After decades of applying fungicides and pesticides to crop lands, the beneficial soil organism population is dwindling. Without these organisms the soil food web is broken and an onslaught of issues arise. The soil’s ability to retain water is reduced, thirsty plants become susceptible to disease, plant growth slows down, nutrient cycling comes to a halt, and the nutrients wash and blow away. In this way, the three feet of topsoil that existed in Iowa just 150 years ago, has eroded to a 6-8 inches of top soil. Currently Iowa loses soil at the rate of 10-15 tons per acre per year. To put this into perspective, there are about 30.7 million farm acres in Iowa, the amount of soil lost is equal to the weight of 2,049,837 elephants. Remember please, this is annually.
Soil erosion is a big deal. All parts of the ecosystem are subject to an onslaught of difficulties when it happens. The Dead Zone ( 6-7,000 sq. mile hypoxic zone in the ocean void of marine life) in the Gulf of Mexico is a direct result of the erosion and nitrogen run-off caused by current animal husbandry practices and farming practices that over use synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides to their crops. Remember the Dust Bowl of the 1930′s in America? Three million people were displaced because of it. Why did it happen? Farming practices that consumed soil instead of enriching and building soil. The fact is, poor farming has resulted in devastation throughout the world. China now has what they call “the fifth season”, in which they hunker down and seal their houses in preparation for the annual dust bowl to take place. Why are there literally tons of dust in the air? Erosion. Erosion makes it difficult to farm, graze animals, feed people, house people, have clean drinking water, have pristine rivers and oceans, the list goes on and on. So if you don’t get it by now, I became a Micro-herder because of all of this, and living in the breadbasket of America opened my eyes to it.
My Grandfather-in-Law once said, “One thing they’re not making more of is land”. While this is true, what we can make more of is soil. Via thermal composting, making soil is what I do; I am a Microherder. A Microherder is a steward to microorganisms. Beneficial organisms are not different from people in that they need oxygen, water, food, and of course, a dwelling. Essentially, Microherders create an environment for the organisms of their choice in which to flourish. Sourdough bakers, beer brewers, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt makers, gardeners and composters are examples of those who microherd.
I enjoy cultivating the beneficial organisms that keep soil from becoming dirt. In the last five years I have gained much knowledge of thermal composting, what works, what doesn’t work. I am also learning that the more I learn, the less I know. Yet, with each compost pile I build I learn so much more. Eventually this blog will become a website, so far, this is where we are at.
Let’s build some soil!