Black Gold Bankruptcy: 4 Things to Beware Of

April 27, 2009 at 5:22 am Leave a comment


Black gold (like terra preta) creates rich soil for green plants.

Wrecking Soil Foundations

Wrecking good soil is like wrecking the foundations of your house. It’s costly and it’s dangerous (not to mention the possibility of having the roof collapse on your head). The destruction of healthy, nutritious soil costs US agriculture $20 billion a year [1]. Topsoil (the stuff you get when you jab your hand into the first 6 inches of dirt) is vanishing faster than you can say, “Duh” in a third of the world’s food growing land.[1]

Unhealthy Soil is Like a Leaky Bucket

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) figures that about 50% of all chemical fertilizers used go to fixing the life lost through topsoil erosion. Its like trying to fill a bucket with holes in it to the top: you pour and pour and it’s always half full or worse.[1] People guess that at least 40% of all world food growing land is suffering some level of erosion, loss of fertility (i.e. mojo) or overgrazing.[2] They say it takes 100 years to create an inch of soil and only 10 years of chemical agriculture to destroy it.

Kill Your Soil, Kill Your Tribe

The death of good, healthy, nutritious soil has wiped out older, ancient civilizations. One example is the Mayan civilization (250-900 CE) whose food supply ran out thanks in part to deforestation and soil erosion.[3] When the food ran out you can bet the clubs came out instead. After they vanished, the jungle covered it all up. It’s estimated that 20 years of really bad soil erosion will destroy 20% of the world’s ability to grow crops naturally without fertilizer or irrigation water.[5]

Strip Mining the Land

Using gigantic amounts of pesticide poisons and fertilizer steroids in agriculture combined with the long distance shipping of food (over 4000 km on average [7,8]) robs one place of its soil life and sends it somewhere else. That somewhere else is usually the landfill at the very end. Think of it like someone taking blood out of you and giving it to someone else (who then spills a third of it in a hole).

At the recent Ontario’s Test Kitchen’s Conference, Susan Antler of the Composting Council of Canada stated that over 40% of our waste is organic. On average, 75-78% of anything and everything that you throw out ends up in landfill.[4] By not using food and organic waste for local composting, gardening and agriculture we’re depriving the earth at a time when it needs nutrition most.

So How Do You Fix This Problem?

Everything that’s being done is a band aid: it just covers the cuts without stopping the thing that’s doing the cutting. In Korea, they reforest mountainsides to stop flood and erosion. In the US, they switched to conservation tillage to do the same.[3] Both of those examples are only half the battle.

What are we doing to build more health, nutrition and life in the soil? It’s known that organic agriculture builds soil up and makes it healthy.[5,9] Research by over 30 organizations in Europe show how important organic agriculture is in managing soil health, phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N). Combine organic with urban and you’ve got yourself one hell of a combination.

Local composting and organic waste processing are absolutely key. Farmers and even big government waste factories can’t turn all the food waste that we have right now into rich soil. At the same time Ontario is in a silent yet serious waste crisis.[10] Its high time for us to stop spending all the savings in the soil and to return some life’s blood to the earth from which we and all other living things depend on for survival.

Time to create some black gold — not burn it.

Inspiration Source

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?: Scientific American: “Less Soil, More Hunger
The scope of the second worrisome trend—the loss of topsoil—is also startling. Topsoil is eroding faster than new soil forms on perhaps a third of the world’s cropland. This thin layer of essential plant nutrients, the very foundation of civilization, took long stretches of geologic time to build up, yet it is typically only about six inches deep. Its loss from wind and water erosion doomed earlier civilizations.”

(Via Scientific American.)


Pimentel D. 2006. Soil Erosion: A Food and Environmental Threat. Environment, Development and Sustainabiliy 8: 119-137. DOI: 10.1007/s10668-005-1262-8

Foley JA, DeFries R, Asner G, Barford C, Bonan G, Carpenter SR, Stuart Chapin F, Coe MT, Daily GC, Gibbs HK, Helkowski JH, Holloway T, Howard EA, Kucharik CJ, Monfreda C, Patz JA, Prentice C, Ramankutty N and PK Snyder. 2005. Review – Global Consequences of Land Use. Science 309: 570-574.

Brown LR. 2006. Plan B 2.0 Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.

Antler S. 2009. Composting From Table to Field: Reconnecting the nutrient cycle in our disjointed food system. Presentation. Ontario Test Kitchens Conference 2009. Toronto, Ontario.

Christianson R and ML Morgan. 2007. Grow Local Organic – Organic Food Strategy for Ontario: Value-added Processing. World Wildlife Fund. Campbellford, Ontario (Oct). 29 Jan 2008 <>

Bellows AC, Brown K and J Smit. 2005. Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture. Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture. 20 Jun 2007—UAHealthArticle.pdf <>

Lam S. 2006. Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports to the Kingston Region – Brief Summary of Findings and Comparison to Waterloo Region (Report). School of Environmental Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada (Jul 28).

Xuerub M. 2005. Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports to Waterloo Region. Region of Waterloo Public Health. <$file/FOOD_MILES_REPORT.pdf?openelement>

Liefert C. 2009. Quality Low Input Farming and Organic Agriculture. Presentation. Growing and Eating for Nourishment, Nourishing the Future. Toronto, ON.

Welsh M. 2009. Green bin waste trucked to N.Y. Toronto Star 01 Mar 2009. 04 Mar 2009 <>


Entry filed under: Agriculture, Compost, Environment & Sustainability, Food, Food Sovereignty, Organic Waste Management, Soil Management. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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