Gardening In Depth

Unsoil Your Dirty Mind: the Story of Soil

dirt in hands - Tyrant Farms
Tyrant Farms is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Part 1 if the Unsoil Your Dirty Mind Soil Story Blog Series

Strange as it may be, “dirt” has a bad name, as does its twin sister “soil.” To most people, dirt is synonymous with filth; something that should immediately be scrubbed off of our bodies (those clean, sanitary vessels) less we be permanently “soiled” by it. Given this degree of one-sided loathing, it’s no wonder that there is so little collective concern about the abuse that modern agricultural systems heap on our soil each year.

At Tyrant Farms (our small little piece of the earth), we LOVE our dirt. We talk about it (and to it) frequently. We love getting our hands in it and coming up with ideas to help it make itself healthier each year. More than anything, we love entrusting it with our seeds. Give healthy dirt a single seed (something the size of a freckle) and it will turn that seed into a lush plant that produces dozens of pounds of delicious, healthy food in return—not to mention thousands of new seeds). Great food is dirt’s way of saying “thank you for being a good steward of me.

The dirt at Tyrant Farms telling us "thank you."

The dirt at Tyrant Farms telling us “thank you.”

When you start growing food, you enter into a profound relationship with dirt, becoming acutely aware of the fact that if you don’t nurture it, it cannot nurture you. Yes, we’re referring to dirt as if it were a living being, because dirt isn’t just the foundation of all life on our planet, it IS quite literally alive. Did you know that a single teaspoon of healthy, living dirt contains as much as 1 billion lifeforms including fungi, bacteria, nematodes, anthropods, and protozoa? By comparison, “unhealthy” dirt (like the kind resulting from modern chemical monoculture), may only contain 100 million lifeforms, rendering it’s ecosystem unhealthy and incapable of supporting plant life without humans inputting fossil fuel fertilizers, pesticides, and piped in water. Basically, modern agriculture kills our dirt, robs it of its nutrition, then hauls in millions of pounds of diminishing finite chemicals from thousands of miles away to replace the nutrients we unnecessarily depleted in the first place.

Our civilization is currently placing more value on increasing financial returns for a few corporate execs & shareholders who run the chemical monopolies at the tip of this pyramid scheme than we are on maintaining or improving the health of all life on the planet, including human beings (the irony is that practicing earth stewardship would actually have a much higher collective financial ROI that could also continue to benefit future generations).

The lifeforms in dirt aren’t there to drink cocktails and share celebrity gossip, they are each there to serve specific functions to keep the dirt “alive”: breaking down organic matter, maintaining nutrient density, absorbing and holding water, symbiotically working with plant roots to increase mineral absorption, etc—all of which make dirt a medium capable of nurturing all the stuff you see growing above its surface (aka “life”). The complexity of this system is mind-boggling, and we’re awe-stricken by its beauty each and every time we are fortunate enough to put our hands in the dirt at Tyrant Farms.

Humans are biological organisms that are a part of these processes. As such, we can not be sterile third-party observers of this system and expect to maintain optimal health, individually or collectively. We’re starting to understand that healthy soil doesn’t just feed our plants, it helps directly feed the billions of beneficial microorganisms that exist inside our bodies—such as our “gut floras.” It’s also being hypothesized that our modern physical separation from nature is taking a toll on our mental health as well. When these seemingly abstract notions are put to the test with real people, the results are stunning. For example, the Insight Garden Program, which teaches prisoners how to garden, has found that recidivism rates (percentage of people who end up back in prison after being released) dropped from 70% to under 10%.

So, why should you care about any of this? Because you’re alive. If you’re not alive, you should also care, because you’re in the process of being converted back into dirt (nature doesn’t do “waste”). Whether we like it or not, we’re all part of this incomprehensibly amazing living ecosystem that allows you (and everyone and everything else) to continue to stay alive from one generation to the next. Despite their lower level cognition, earthworms seem to grasp this seemingly obvious relationship and are constantly working to improve our dirt. Ironically, humans—a “force of nature” with superior cognitive abilities and advanced technical capabilities relative to earthworms—seem to have difficulty grasping this concept.

Old logs aren't waste - they're a great base for a hugelkultur bed, a permaculture method for making incredibly rich, long-lasting soil teeming with life.

Old logs aren’t “waste” – they’re a great base for a hugelkultur bed, a permaculture method for making incredibly rich, long-lasting soil teeming with life.

What will you do with your dirt?

We each have three options when it comes to our dirt:

  1. Degrade It, leaving it worse off for our children;
  2. Sustain It, leaving it as we found it (which isn’t a bad option if it was handed to us in great working order);
  3. Improve It, creating conditions in which the system is able to improve itself under our stewardship.

Hmm, dunno… might we suggest pursuing Option #3?

Regardless of what option other people might choose, #3 is the path we’re trying to take with the piece of dirt under our stewardship (Tyrant Farms), and we’re not alone. Far from it. There’s a huge groundswell of other people around the country and world who are doing the same. If you’ll make the choice to start caring about the dirt in your yard, garden or farm, we might just be able to put out the fire together.

Now go get dirty!


stay in touch

Please be sure to subscribe to Tyrant Farms to see what's in-season out in nature, have fresh seasonal recipes delivered to your inbox and get helpful organic/permaculture gardening & duck keeping tips.