Understanding soil quality: Part 1

Being born into a farm family and now dating a farmer, I’ve heard a LOT of farm talk. Like a LOT. Sometimes I can’t get a word in otherwise unless my sentence contains the words corn, soybeans, commodity prices, cattle, hay, alfalfa, and soil.

I can’t tell you how many times the topic of soil health has come up. Hey, what else is a girl to talk about while spending hours upon hours in the combine? The soil is the basis of our profits and we consider ourselves blessed to have the opportunity to farm some of the most fertile ground in all of the United States.

But fertile soil can only produce so much. Dave Larson used to say the quality of fertile soil should be determined by the resulting crop’s spectrum of nutrient balance, nutrient density, storability (quality produce will dehydrate; not rot), and absence of toxic substances.

He also said quality can be measured by long term health of animal or person consuming the produce, the rate of gain or production of animals eating produce, length of the productive life of animal or person, and amount of produce that must be consumed daily to provide adequate nutrition.

With that said, Larson had researched several case studies to not only help us better understand soil quality and how that affects our food, but you too!

Healthy Soil

So today I present the ‘Hunza Story.’ It begins with a distinguished Scotch physician, Robert McCarrison, who was head of the Nutritional Research Agency for the Imperial Government of India.

“He did a comparative study of the dietary practices of people from various regions of India. Rats were fed diets of the various regions. Those that ate the diet of the Sikhs increased their body weight much faster and were healthier than those ingesting the diet of the neighboring Bengalis.

Even more extraordinary, when his rats were fed the same diet as that of the Hunzas, a diet limited to grain, vegetables, fruits, and unpasteurized goats’ milk and butter, the rodents appeared to McCarrison to be the healthiest ever raised in his laboratory. They grew rapidly, never seemed to be ill, and had healthy offspring. Autopsies showed nothing whatsoever wrong with their organs. Throughout their lifetimes these rats were gentle, affectionate, and playful.

Other rats contracted precisely the diseases of the people whose diets they were fed, and even seemed to adopt certain of the humans’ nastier behavioral characteristics. Illnesses revealed at autopsy filled a whole page. All parts of the rats’ bodies-skin, hair, blood, ovaries, and womb, and all their systems respiratory, urinary, digestive, nervous, and cardiovascular were afflicted. Many of the rats, snarling and vicious, had to be kept apart if they were not to tear each other to bits.

Hunza is located in a narrow valley surrounded by snowcapped Himalayan peaks in Pakistan. The valley is dotted with small stone farmhouses, filled with terraced fields, and split by glacial streams which water and fertilize the fields.

Visitors have written in great detail about the extraordinary health of the Hunzakuts. There is practically no plant or animal disease, and virtually none in humans: absolutely no cancer, no heart or intestinal trouble; and the people regularly live to be centenarians, singing and dancing. Visitors tell of seeing no cripples. Wounds are said to heal with remarkable speed, seldom becoming infected if rubbed with the local soil, rich in minerals. Hunza women are so healthy they need no assistance in delivering a child whom they breast feed for two to three years, deliberately spacing their children so as to wean them one at a time. Children are invariably reported as growing up healthy, with none of the normal childhood diseases such as mumps, measles, and chicken pox. The girls’ complexions are depicted as without acne or blemish, attributable in part to the application of oil of apricot seed. Nor is there any evidence of juvenile delinquency; visitors remark that one never hears a mother scold or bribe a child. Treated as integral members of society, trusted and given responsibility, the children are described as growing up healthy emotionally as well as physically.

The secret of the Hunza health is their soil. It is a combination of silt produced from the glaciers grinding mountain rock and organic compost. This combination provides plants, animals, and humans with every element they need for life.

Every possible milky grey stream from a glacier is channeled to a field. In the winter, the channels are cleaned and the silt is spread on the field to give a fresh layer of soil.

All vegetable parts and pieces that will not serve as food for man or animal are returned to the soil in the form of compost. Animal manure and seasoned human waste are also used in this compost.

The Hunzakuts also drink the pearly grey mineral rich glacial water. An American, John A. Tobe, who determined that the minerals were in the colloidal state, first scientifically analyzed water. These particles, approximately 1/100,000th to 1/10,000,000th of a centimeter across, carry an electric charge — usually negative. This enables the human body membranes to directly absorb essential mineral elements.”

Please note this is the first segment of a 5-part series talking about soil quality. Next week we will discuss Izaak Walton’s observations in soil quality and sheep.

Until next time, happy trails!

Categories: Soil Wednesday | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Understanding soil quality: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Understanding soil quality: Part 2 | AgriEnergy Resources

  2. Pingback: 2015: International Year of Soils | Daily Dirt

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