Soil Restoration Ecologist
Not so long ago I heard a UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimate that we have about 60 years until what is left of the world’s topsoil is gone.. mainly because of impacts of modern agriculture and deforestation.
Just one more of the many dismal statistics we hear nowadays. But this one got me good. 95% of our food comes from the soil! And as topsoil blows away the carbon it normally holds goes up into the atmosphere.. leading to climate disruption.
I grew up knowing the world needed saving. Famine, pollution, and species extinction were already on society’s collective mind by the 1980s. As a teenager I had a glimmer of inspiration when I learned about permaculture, a revolutionary approach to designing sustainable human society based on the intelligence that can be seen in natural ecosystems.
For the next two decades I earnestly sought ways to join the movement for this new paradigm that permaculture pointed to. I went into chemistry after college, where I’d been inspired by a professor who was a pioneer of the green chemistry movement. Then, following an earlier passion for natural history, I spent a few years at UMass Amherst as a grad student in ecology and later at Cornell studying one of those many insects mistakenly carried to new lands to become an infamous “invasive species.”
Still aiming to work for a more fundamental shift to a regenerative society, in those years I also worked with an agroforestry permaculturist experimenting with raising ducks in shiitake mushroom yards, wrote a proposal for a big agroforestry research and education project, and spent some months in the research group of a Cornell soil scientist who had written extensively on biochar production and its relevance to agriculture and climate.
But the pivotal moment came on a summer evening in 2019.
At another crossroads moment in my career, I got myself out to a soil workshop at Cornell co-hosted by Finian Makepeace, one of the founders of Kiss the Ground. They’re a non-profit advocacy organization doing awesome work educating about the vital importance, and rapid disappearance, of the world’s soils. Have you seen their 2020 documentary?
There I heard that ominous FAO statistic. And learned what regenerative agriculture is. I also heard the name of soil biologist Dr. Elaine Ingham for the first time.
I jumped into a two-month soil course with Kiss the Ground.
Then, in a “now what?” moment, I googled Dr. Ingham and found her Soil Food Web School. I immediately saw the great importance of what was offered there. Within a few months I had started training in Dr. Ingham’s amazing soil restoration program.
The School’s approach to the regeneration of the soil food web ecosystem is based on Dr. Ingham’s pioneering research to understand the eons-old relationship between plants and their microbial symbionts.
Her work has been central in the emerging paradigm of regenerative agriculture. It has also birthed a practical method of training in soil restoration that fascinated me, then drew me into a growing community of passionate soil restorers of which I’m grateful to be a part.
I now run a soil food web biology assessment lab, and am on the path to becoming a full Soil Food Web consultant.
I’ve become convinced that the restoration of the world’s degraded and disappearing soils is crucial to the solving of some of the really big challenges we face on planet Earth right now– the rapidly declining state of human health and the climate emergency both being near the top of that list.
As I write this toward the end of 2021, an estimated 10 million acres have already been transitioned to this new paradigm of land stewardship.
And I am now among hundreds of dedicated and passionate soil restoration ecologists training to continue this great movement to heal the world’s soils.
I live near Ithaca, NY with my wife and two young boys, where I do this work on land that is the traditional ancestral land of the Gayogohó:no’ (Cayuga Nation) and the other nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy).