When we look to science to “discover” how things work, we must also accept the inherent bias of the scientific approach. Like with a fabric, woven of a multitude of individual threads, the way the loom is set up and the angles of the fibers one to another create a distinct personality to each weave. Anyone who has cut fabric knows that when you cut across the fabric in certain ways, it can affect the shape or lay of the whole garment. Working at cross purposes to the lay of the fabric leads to nothing but trouble and for this reason many clothing patterns indicate the direction of the bias, so that the best results can be obtained. The bias of science tells us that those who practice it have cohesive answers to all of life’s questions, that the discipline will provide us unquestionable insight into virtually any field if inquiry and that without their intervention we would all be worse off. Most facts that we have learned, after all, are the result of scientific investigation and logical approaches to data collection. Oddly enough, the “truth” that often results from our study of nature is incomplete at best and I hope to delineate a new way of seeing the needs of humanity, especially those of us who are looking for ways to harmonize our actions with Mother Earth.
Starting from the back end of the NPK dogma, I propose that we consider Kingdoms in our consideration of soil and whether or not it is healthy. The six kingdoms of life need to be present to indicate soil health. Singling out one or another of the kingdoms simply for expediency or pursuit of any monoculture makes for a dangerous situation in which life out of balance will surely topple. Cultivation of relationships amongst the variety of life forms that indicate soil health are the antithesis of “modern” agricultural approaches. As long as agricultural “experts” ignore the basic principles of ecology, nothing good can happen in the soils that they manage.
Allow me to jump to the other end of the equation, the N. Nutrition. As we have so painfully begun to recognize, setting our sights on specific single bullet theories about health and the well-being of organisms is wrong headed and works to obscure rather than enlighten us about the true nature of life. No one thing, not even the three macro-nutrients that NPK thinking limits us to, can be said to be the end all and be all of health in the environment. In fact, they once again obscure more than they reveal about soil health and the resulting ecosystems that are able to express themselves from the ground up. Just as each and every kingdom needs to be well represented, so too the dozens of discreet elements that support life need to be available for healthy life to develop.
This brings me to the third concept, not an “element” exactly, but a trinity of ideas that help us to conceive of the true nature that surrounds us. This tri-fold motivation needs to be at the heart of any management strategy that seeks to be sustainable. Like the proverbial three-legged stool, remaining in balance requires sturdy support from every angle. The planet must first be considered and cared for. So too, her people and perhaps here would be a good time to deviate from the standard conception of what is meant by this term. Those who have spent some time in nature recognize wildlife, microbes and every other organism as co-creators of the web of life. I personally extend my idea people to include “all god’s critters”. Finally, profit is what allows us to continue our efforts. Without consideration of this important fact, we would spend ourselves out of business. Outflow without replenishment leads to desolation and bankruptcy.
Without a more full accounting of these important factors, reliance on simplistic theories of plant nutrition can only lead to sick soils, sick plants, a sick environment and ultimately sick people. We are what we eat has never been as meaningful to me as it is since I have begun to reconsider what science has taught us for nearly one hundred years. It is time to evolve past a primitive understanding of our responsibility to manage the planet. Hopefully, these concepts will grow in stature and importance amongst those we entrust with providing us food and as a consequence of that, our planet’s ecological health as well.