We are in the midst of the holiday season. I don’t know about you, but I find that I make quite a few extra trips to the grocery store in November and December, since celebrating with family and friends always involves food. We like to eat, we like to cook, we compare prices, and we read food labels. One thing we never thought about was “soil friendliness” when shopping.
My office mates are used to me marching to the beat of a different drummer, but this concept may even have them scratching their heads (so bear with me). This idea came courtesy of the Soil Science Society of America.
What is soil friendliness, you may ask? The food you buy has an impact on the entire food supply system, including soil. By eating different types of food, you create a demand for a wide variety of agricultural products. All of our food requires land, water, and nutrients to produce. Food diversity encourages farmers to grow multiple crops, in what we call crop rotation, rather than the same crop year after year.
Crop rotations improve soil health by protecting soil microorganisms and reducing soil erosion. Additionally, agricultural crop diversity provides an insurance policy against whole-scale crop failure, like the one that caused the Irish potato famine 150 years ago.
Whether you are a meat and potatoes kind of person or a vegetarian, your choices have an impact. For example, in Delaware County, most farmers grow corn and soybeans. Soybeans are part of a group of plants commonly referred to as pulses, which includes chickpeas, lentils, limas, and peas, just to name a few.
Pulses are able to pull nitrogen from the atmosphere, providing a natural fertilizer for the subsequent crop. Another benefit is that pulses, as part of a crop rotation, help disrupt cycles of pests, weeds and diseases. You may not enjoy munching on toasted soybeans or adding tofu to your pasta dish, but you may cook with soybean oil (which is a main ingredient in many salad dressings).
While Ohio ranks sixth in the nation in soybean production, much of it exported, soybean meal is still important locally as a component of livestock feed. You may not eat soybeans, but the chicken that laid your breakfast egg might.
It takes roughly 500 years to form an inch of topsoil. Since most of us are not farmers, our opportunity to impact our soil is through our stomachs and practicing soil friendly eating. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that half your plate contain fruits and vegetables. Luckily, doing so will likely brighten the day of your health care provider at your next visit.
Ohio agriculture is spread over more than 14 million acres, and our farmers raise and grow more than 200 products. For ideas on ways to support local agriculture, visit farmflavor.com/ohio-agriculture/, which also showcases a collection of outstanding recipes.
Ohioproud.org is another avenue for locating food and agricultural products made and grown in Ohio (and make great gifts for that hard-to-buy-for person). Who knows, you might find you like tofu! Remember, healthy soils = healthy people.
All of us at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District wish you happy holidays. Check us out at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us and find us on Facebook and Instagram.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.