Modern agriculture has brought more food to more people than thought possible back in the day of Malthus. He predicted either mass starvation or other calamity because of too many humans on earth.
The original “green revolution” was actually about increasing food production through replacing farm beasts of burdens with internal combustion machines. And as horses were replaced with tractors it was discovered that unused bombs and certain munitions were able to be converted to chemical fertilizers.
When these were spread on the fields to replace the no longer as available manures the crops grew even more prolific than before. Thus was the greening of the farm fields and the human population explosion as a result of more food.
More people means bigger markets and in industrialized nations there are so few people left on the farm that feeling connected to food production has faded from the culture.
Thus opens the door for the modern “food factory.” The upside is that nearly everyone has as much, or close to as much, food as they want. The downside is that this type of farming is not sustainable.
Chemical fertilizers ultimately become the equivalent of running your car on starting fluid instead of the less volatile refined gasoline. Fine to get your car started on an especially cold morning but to keep your engine from burning up it has to switch back to running on regular gas.
The same concept applies to farms. We are now learning from global experts that chemical farming takes more out of the soil than it puts in.
Just as starting fluid is not sustainable for your car, this type of chemical factory farming is not sustainable for the earth. The results are coming in and the new descriptive term is ‘food security.’
We go bankrupt if we perpetually spend more than we have in the bank.
The same is true of the world soil bank. Humans are taking more out of the soil than we put back. And we are finding that petrochemicals do not count for very much in the deposit column.
We in Alaska are blessed to be learning from nationally recognized experts, who reside in Anchorage, about the important intricacies of the soil food web. Wayne Lewis, and his partner, Jeff Lowenfels have written the acclaimed book “Teaming With Microbes.” Read it soon.
So, what is the answer? It just might be as simple as charcoal.
Two thousand years ago the Indian peoples of the South American Amazon River region somehow figured out the solution to their own situation. It is a solution which might solve most problems of the current world situation.
Alaska is now on the front lines of testing out this theory, and you are invited to join the experiment.
Amazon people created Terra Preta dos Indios. It is a soil with unique qualities. If replicated elsewhere, including Alaska, it will do away with chemical fertilizer forever.
Terra Preta promises to dramatically improve the fertility of the created soil. The fertility lasts seemingly forever.
Some of this magic soil is thought to be two thousand years old and is still incredibly rich with nutrients. Later we will discuss theories as to why this may be, but for now let’s explore the Legend of the Lost Cities of Gold.
As we saw in the link in this blog’s last posting, Spanish explorers floated the Amazon River several hundred years ago.
The sole survivor reported back to Europe that as many as three million sophisticated people lived in rich cities along the river.
Food was incredibly abundant and of high quality. This gave rise to more complex cultures with great buildings and learned peoples.
And perhaps to excite the bankers there was exaggeration of the streets being paved with gold.
It was several generations before explorers returned and the huge populations of complex people were nowhere to be found. Some hunter-gathers were living a largely subsistence lifestyle. And there were no streets paved with gold.
The conclusion was that a grand con game had been attempted and thus the prefix ‘Legend’ was attached to the stories.
But now from soil scientists and archeologists we know that the ‘legends’ were factually true except the gold was black and not gold colored.
The true gold was Terra Preta which means Black Earth. It supported the rich civilizations through food security.
Where Dos Indios lived and farmed the soil was black and rich. Everything planted in it prospered.
A few yards away the native yellow soil was, and still is, nearly lifeless. Mainly weeds grow compared to abundant crops on the created terra preta.
The sole difference between the still fertile and nearly sterile soil is the addition of finely ground charcoal created in a special process.
The Indios, or Indians, largely died off almost certainly from disease, perhaps introduced by the Spaniards. What survived is their terra preta. It just may be the answer to food security, climate change, peak oil, and some attempt at social justice. Stay tuned.