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Dirt: The Skin of the Earth

By Sarah Cooke / Photography By Dana Matthews | March 20, 2017
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Mud and soil outside the farm

Earth’s Most Telling Organ

What is dirt anyway? This most humble of substances is a complex world unto itself, essential to life as a place for plant growth, a water storage and purification system. It’s a modifier of Earth’s atmosphere and habitat for untold organisms.

Our soil is composed of solids, liquids and gases, and the billions of seen and unseen creatures that reside there. Eco-theologian Michael Dowd writes that “Earth is not a planet with life on it; rather it is a living planet. The physical structure of the planet—its core, mantle and mountain ranges—acts as the skeleton or frame of its existence. The soil that covers its grasslands and forests is like a mammoth digestive system. In it all things are broken down, absorbed and recycled into new growth.”

Evan Thaler-Null, who has run the Abode Farm since 2012 in New Lebanon with his partner, Sarah Steadman, describes dirt like a book. “The contextualized history of a farm can be read in the soil. Were there pines, animals, grasslands, mono-crops, rotation? Was the land fed and nourished, allowed to rest and rejuvenate? Was it filled with pesticides or contaminated waters? Looking at cross sections of soil can show us when famines occurred and when certain civilizations declined.”

Thaler-Null and Steadman treat the soil of Abode Farm accordingly, relying heavily on cover crops of rye, oats and clover to help build organic matter and nourish the soil’s biology. They have seen the character of the farm’s soil transform over the five years of care. There are more beneficial creatures who find a home there, says Thaler-Null, and the healthy, well-nourished soil is better able to sustain vibrant growth.

In spring, Earth’s great “skin” softens and becomes its most receptive. It clings to the soles of our feet and the windshields of cars. After a long sleep, the darkness craves nourishment to support new life.

To sign up for the Abode Farm Summer CSA visit their site.

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