For the Love of Soil: A Chat with Sustainability Partner, Ellie
by Laura Barns
With Earth Day just around the corner, at allplants we’ve been chatting with some of our key planet heroes to talk about all things plants for the planet, in our bid to stand up for what we stand on.
Today Sustainability Partner Ellie has FINALLY been given the chance to chat her favourite topic – soil. Nope, not even joking. Ellie has been working at allplants for nearly five years, across our order fulfilment, food operations and supply chain before settling into her sustainability role, and at every opportunity, she shouts about how great the earth is. Literally.
Her focus at the moment is rolling out our dress sustainability strategy to amplify and accelerate change in our food system. And to her, it all starts with one thing. Yep, you guessed it. Soil.
So, why soil serious?
I hear you LOVE soil. Tell me more.
I really do, soil has my heart. It’s this major climate solution - among so many other things - that has been under our feet this whole time.
What does soil mean for the food we grow and eat?
We grow food in soil, so if that soil is depleted and void of nutrients, then chances are our food will be too, especially compared to those grown without as many synthetic inputs and heavy machinery.
The intensity of our modern farming practices means nutrients in the soil are being depleted every year. So with fewer nutrients available in the soil, there are fewer nutrients being found in our vegetables and grains too.
When did you first start understanding the importance of soil, and how?
It kept popping up in research, articles and books I was reading but I really wasn’t paying it much attention, just skipping through to the parts explicitly talking about food and its role in the climate crisis. But I think in the back of my mind the pieces were starting to come together and I literally woke one day to the realisation that without soil we literally can’t. grow. food. I have the wildest dreams. I began frantically reading up on it and haven’t stopped for a year (help), because there is so much to it, so much worth protecting and so much potential in nurturing healthy soils. In top-tier terms, the benefits for me are:
- Soil is a major carbon sink, drawing down 25% of the world’s fossil fuel emissions every year. And so it needs to be protected, something we’re unfortunately doing a pretty bad job of right now
- It is alive! Every teaspoon of soil is home to billions of microorganisms that form the critical foundations of our major ecosystems, so if it’s not healthy, the ecosystem isn’t healthy and biodiversity suffers in a big way
- Healthy food needs healthy soil. Grains like wheat grown in depleted, overworked soils are far less nutritious than ‘ancient grains’ like amaranth, for example, which is produced less intensively
You talk a lot internally at allplants about future-forward-farming. What does this mean?
We’re fast approaching the end of the road with our current approach to farming; a highly intensive model of gaining efficiencies through chemical use and mechanisation that served us well post-war, but which comes with major environmental trade-offs .
So it really just means a more sustainable way of farming that allows us to carry on growing food into the future, feeding enough people, protecting ecosystems and distributing value equally. Others call this regenerative agriculture, but I think future-forward-farming makes more intuitive sense.
Talk to us a little bit about allplants’ recent relationship with Soil Heroes. Why is it so important to us?
We wanted to move quickly from a theoretical to a practical understanding of soil on the farm level, so we’ve partnered with Showsely farm in the UK to test out some farming methods known to improve soil health.
We’ll be growing biodiversity lanes and wildflower perimeters, introducing local beehives, eliminating ploughing so as not to disturb the soil, planting cover crops to ensure the fields are never exposed and several other practices. All of which will lead to improvements in carbon stored in the soil, biodiversity and water retention which we’ll be closely monitoring and reporting on.
Soil Heroes are the glue in all of this, they intro’d us to Showsley, provide the on-farm training and host a platform for us to track environmental improvements. They are literally setting an agricultural transition in motion and it is a joy to be working with them.
Soil acts as a pantry for plants. What’s your favourite ‘gift’ it gives us, and why?
This is easily the hardest question here. I’ve got to go with the humble onion because onion soup, and also every other onion recipe ever.
Nerd us out. Give us a fun soil fact you’ve been dying to tell us.
It takes more than 100 years to build up just 5mm of soil (fun fact part)... which feeds us, filters our water and regulates Earth’s temperature, yet is so readily destroyed through chemical use, urbanisation, erosion and more (mini protest part). Did I get away with that?
How can we spread the love of soil in our homes?
[Googles ‘soil health home growing’] This is the part where I expose myself as a fraud. I have 1 plant I manage to keep alive and have never even attempted to grow a vegetable. The general vibe is low-intervention, low chemical use and welcoming all the cute little bugs that come with it. Here’s a book and an article with some legitimate, practical advice!
Have a soil-shaped question for Ellie? Ask away in the comments!
by Laura Barns
Laura is our Copywriter, who is obsessed with the Hearty Roots Stew (and has been known to eat a double serve for lunch on more than one occasion). On her day off you’ll find her walking her puppy Ralph, stopping off at bookshops and cocktail bars along the way.