Summit Unearths Secrets of Soil

by Dona Wessells

APLD-CA BAY AREA DISTRICT

In my wildest dreams I never imagined I’d be nibbling organic hors d’oeuvres and quaffing biodynamic wines in Beverly Hills with dozens of soil and plant nerds. But there we were—at the leafy headquarters of TreePeople on Mulholland Drive—for the “inoculation party” kicking off the two-day 2017 Urban Soil Summit. Subtitled “TERROIR,” the event attracted 20 speakers who dug deep into the many layers of how soil affects us and the world around us . . . and how we affect the soil.

During two information-packed days in early August, nearly two dozen APLD-CA members joined a crowd of 150 on the UCLA campus to participate in the Summit, presented by G3 Green Gardens Group* and sponsored by APLD-CA.

  APLD-CA members at the Urban Soil Summit. Front row from left: Johanna Woollcott; Laura Kukulski; Tina Roushall; Robin Salsburg; Francesca Corra, APLD; Maureen Decombe; Dona Wessells; Amelia B. Lima, APLD; Linda Middleton, APLD; Tina Henricksen; Julie Molinari. Back row from left: Shawn Maestretti; Marcus Teply; Stephanie Bartron, APLD; Jacky Surber; Tom Stout; Laura Morton, APLD; Regina de Freitas, Tom Rau; Cheryl Buckwalter; Lori Palmquist; Lisa Bellora. Credit: Danielle Lynch

APLD-CA members at the Urban Soil Summit. Front row from left: Johanna Woollcott; Laura Kukulski; Tina Roushall; Robin Salsburg; Francesca Corra, APLD; Maureen Decombe; Dona Wessells; Amelia B. Lima, APLD; Linda Middleton, APLD; Tina Henricksen; Julie Molinari. Back row from left: Shawn Maestretti; Marcus Teply; Stephanie Bartron, APLD; Jacky Surber; Tom Stout; Laura Morton, APLD; Regina de Freitas, Tom Rau; Cheryl Buckwalter; Lori Palmquist; Lisa Bellora. Credit: Danielle Lynch

The first day of the Summit attendees broke into three tracks:

SACRED SOIL: a deep communication between humans and the soil—civilizations thrive when soil thrives. Speakers explored topics as diverse as honoring the memory stored in the soils collected from lynching sites across the American South to the history of civilizations facing starvation as a result of depleted and overused soil. Speakers also advanced the awareness of viewing soil as a strategic resource and how soil desertification contributes both to drought and violent storms.

CHOOSING TERROIR: soil’s influence on the characteristics of everything from food and water to fiber and medicine. Winemakers have talked about terroir for generations, and now we understand how microbes in the soil affect everything that grows from it.

REGENERATIVE SOCIETY: regenerating our soil and encouraging soil-centric prosperity. We can help slow climate change by rehabilitating and regenerating the soil, repurposing our mountains of waste products, and educating and aiding neglected peoples and communities to participate in these efforts.

On the second day, all 20 speakers shared their stories and perspectives for the entire crowd.

Though I had many aha! moments, my biggest takeaways came from John Wick, a carbon farmer** in Marin County. When John’s grazing cattle rip the pasture grass with their tongues, they increase the production of growth-stimulating hormone in the grasses, which catalyzes more plant growth. And he rotates his stock to cause the least disturbance to the land, maximizing its ability to sequester carbon.

John pointed out that soil tilling and exposure (leaving it fallow) cause carbon dioxide to escape into the atmosphere. So, if you must amend or augment soil, only disturb it once!

In a nutshell, when soil is undisturbed and not “desertified” (devoid of water and cover) it will build structure—a giant living sponge—with the help of microbes, bacteria, fungi and nematodes. The sponge will hold oxygen+water+life (OWL, in G3 lingo), giving plants optimal growing conditions and allowing the soil to do its job sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

The Urban Soil Summit was a powerful, fascinating, nonstop event loaded with information, camaraderie and connection. Everyone came away empowered and motivated to take action on the behalf of our soil and our planet. I’ll never forget the difference between soil and dirt: life!

For information about the speakers and programs at the summit: http://greengardensgroup.com/urban-soil-summit-terroir/

*G3 is an APLD-CA Gold Sponsor
**Carbon farming is simply farming in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions or captures and holds carbon in vegetation and soils. Wikipedia