Cultivate Kansas City's Newsletter

Stop treating your soil like dirt
By Lydia Gibson, Missouri Organic Recycling

When Cultivate Kansas City asked me to write a short article about the soil food web, to be honest my first reaction was, “Ok, so what about it?” Then the answer came to me: if we want to increase the organic matter in our soil, it’s time for us to stop treating our soil like dirt.

When we think about soil health, we’re often caught up in the problems and look to the potions industry for solutions. But my understanding of the food soil web and why it matters took a big jump last summer, thanks to workshop featuring Dr. Elaine Ingham sponsored by Elaine and Greg Judy of Green Pastures Farm. Dr. Ingham is an American soil biology researcher and founder of Soil Foodweb Inc. She is a leader in soil microbiology and research of the soil food web and author of the USDA's Soil Biology Primer.

Dr. Ingham emphasizes that soil is a living and breathing organism beneath our feet, whereas dirt is the dry dusty stuff you knock off your boots before coming inside. Every type of soil on this planet has all of the ingredients to support life locked in its sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. The key principle of the soil food web centers on that last component – the organic matter. Organic matter is the starting point of any healthy, functioning soil ecosystem. Decaying roots and shoots feed through a buffet of carbons and sugars like cakes and cookies that bring bacteria and fungi to the table. Once the predators of these organisms catch a whiff of the feast and eat the bacteria and fungi, the nutrients cycle through their bodies into plant available forms.  


Understanding these players and their role in growing healthy plants and people is crucial. Their interactions in the soil food web describe the basis for life on this planet. No plants, animals or humans could exist without healthy functioning soil food webs.

All of the critters, big and microscopic, when present and in balance provide all of the nutrients and minerals your plants need. It’s the revolutionary idea that your soil doesn’t need pounds of synthetic or organic fertilizers. What it needs is organic matter to feed the trillions of organisms ready and waiting to do the hard work for you and your plants. You can increase the organic matter in your lawn, your garden, or on your farm by using compost, cover crops, green manures, and mulch. Any of these additions to your soil feed the soil food web. The bottom line is: cover your soil and stop treating it like dirt.

Learn more about the soil food web:


Cultivate Kansas City
300 E. 39th Street
Kansas City, MO 64111
Phone (913) 831-2444 Copyright © 2019