Sustainable America Blog


There are many aspects of the Earth that have made this planet a special place where humans can survive. We all know very well the importance of oxygen to breath and water to drink. We also know that humans need food to eat. But did you ever stop to realize that Earth is the only planet we’ve found, so far, that has a thin layer of dirt covering its surface?

This thin layer, known as top soil, is what allows plants to grow. These are the plants that feed us and feed the animals that we eat. Without dirt we wouldn’t be here.

Dirt! the movie aims to shed light on this oft overlooked and under appreciated resource. Based on William Bryant Logan’s book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, the documentary looks at why dirt is so precious and what passionate people around the world are doing to preserve and enrich the Earth’s soil.

But what is dirt anyway? It’s sometimes brown, sometimes black, sometimes a little red… what is it made of? It turns out that dirt is made of millions of microorganisms and minerals that form a complex ecosystem known as soil. The adjectives we typically associate with dirt, like dirty, do nothing to celebrate the miracle of symbiotic relationships that come together to create soil. Dirt is alive and it is because of dirt that we are able to live.

What many people also don’t realize is the fact that the thin layer of top soil on planet Earth is in trouble. Modern industrial agriculture is polluting the soil with herbicides and pesticides, and mono-crop agriculture is turning once biologically rich soil into a wasteland devoid of microorganisms and nutrients.

Then there is the additional problem of desertification, which is commonly defined as “the process of fertile land transforming into desert typically as a result of deforestation, drought or improper/inappropriate agriculture.”

In China, the government estimates that some 150 million eco-refugees will have to be relocated to new homes as a result of desertification. It turns out dirt may be more important than we ever realized.

What can you do to help preserve and replenish the soil? Well, you can start today by reducing your food waste through composting. You can use worms to compost in or outside your home, put a Bokashi bin under the sink in your apartment or create a compost bin in your backyard. If you don’t have a yard, you can give the compost you create to a local community garden or even offer it to a neighbor.

In the meantime, get a copy of Dirt! The Movie and learn more about “the story of Earth’s most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility–from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation.”

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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