Food Systems

Earth’s food system starts 93 million miles away with the solar rays leaving the gaseous surface of our combusting sun. Plants absorb the radiation and use it to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. These sugars in turn feed the fungal and bacterial organisms in soil, while feeding animals and insects above ground with plant matter. Nutrients, water, carbon, and gasses cycle through different uses and function over time to create the intricate natural balance in which humans evolved. It is the nature of humans to find food in the environment, whether animals, insects, fungus, plants, birds, or fish. Whether or not that food supports their health, and whether or not human’s food procurement is done is ways that protects the environment so it can continue to provide food, defines the resilience and sustainability of the food system. Whether or not there is hunger or malnutrition in any part of of the food system defines its integrity.

An inseparable part of a food system is human activity. Food systems only exist as part of an ecosystem of soil, water, sun, flora, fauna, and human activity. Research on the contents and function of the soil biome has only blossomed in the last 20 years. How plants, soil, and micro-organisms interact is still sometimes described as “magic” because the complexity and variability is overwhelming. While we can dig into each actor and function, describing the entire dynamic system remains a challenge.

The biome of human organization and activity depends on the soil biome and can seem equally complex. I coined the term “Rural Economic Biome” to help farmers and food activists use their soil science to understand and describe rural life and, specifically, what makes a community thrive or wither.

Here is a deck that captures the rural economic biome of Bird City, Kansas. I’ll post a longer explanation soon. Note that this town of 500 continues to retain and attract families — which is the single key indicator of rural vitality. What does it take to attract families? Schools, post office, internet, entertainment, banks, work spaces, food stores, car repair, elder care, day care, health care, transportation, etc. The elder leaders of Bird City have protected and encouraged these interrelated and codependent institutions. The crown jewel is the K-12 high school, home of the Cheylin Cougars.

Below is a good illustration of the soil biome. Starting to see my point? Here, the key indicators of health are water holding capacity, fungal network connections, and the active relationship between the plant that provides energy and the soil biome that provides nutrition and disease defense.