The Soil Microbiome

I mostly talk about the human microbiome here, but all of nature has a microbiome. Every species of plant and animal, as well as the soil from which plants grow, which are eaten themselves by animals. The more diverse and appropriate a soil microbiome is for a given crop in a given region is a major factor in the nutritional benefits of the food. I will be back to flesh this out later.

From https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/blog/microbes-post.shtml:

…microbes actually help create the fertile soil necessary to grow healthy food which, of course, has enormous implications for our survival as a species. One of the most important features of Regenerative Agriculture is working with soil microbiology to reclaim soil fertility where it has been degraded.

Not only are the microbes in the soil important to the plants themselves, but research seems to indicate that they are also beneficial to the humans who stomp around in the dirt that they live in.

Research into the effect of the environment on the diversity of gut bacteria is scanty so far, but we do know that children who grow up in rural communities(opens in new window) and on traditional farms worldwide are less likely to develop these diseases than those who grow up in cities. We also know that due to the use of conventional farming techniques like tillage, herbicide and pesticide use that the microbial diversity of our soils in modern conventional Western-style farming has become quite depleted. More research needs to be done but concern is being raised about whether the loss of microbial diversity in the soil may actually be a public health threat.

It also appears that microbes play a critical role in sequestering carbon:

Plants and trees pull the global warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and put it into the ground where—if the process is not disrupted— the soil biology breaks it down and stores it in the soil. 

The magnitude of benefit is quite significant:

When the soil was tested, they found that Johnson’s fields were capturing and storing approximately 38,000 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere per acre per year. That’s climate change-fighting carbon sequestration 20-50 times the soil carbon increase in the 40 equivalent no-till soils tested.