Way back in 2006, I was a chemistry student heading into my final year of studies. My summer job was working for the Environmental Futures Program, a program within the PEI Department of Environment. I was a crew supervisor and we were tasked with tree planting, stream enhancement and trying to enhance the environment in general. One day, when clearing brush & trash from the edge of a stream we smelled ammonium. I had no idea why but looking at the surroundings I noticed a potato field just up the bank. I reported this to my supervisor because I thought it was odd. I was told there had been a fish kill in that very location the previous year. The farmer hadn’t obeyed buffer zone requirements and pesticides had leached into the stream, with the residue remaining a year later. As a chemistry student I was really bothered by this. I loved chemistry but chemicals had senselessly harmed the environment and damaged the home of the innocent fish.
After completing my BSc in Chemistry and trying to find my way in the world I kept being drawn back to the environment and particularly soil. I even recall a period of complete lack of understanding of soil structure, biology, formation and how chemicals impacted all of this. After extensive learning including an MSC, an Organic Master Gardener certificate, the Soil Food Web Foundation Courses (and more) I have a significantly better understanding of how soil works. From its formation and biology to how chemicals affect the biology and toxic chemicals remain. I’ve also found answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. Most importantly, I have developed a greater appreciation of the vital role soil plays in sustaining us.
Decades of tilling, monocropping, lawns perfected by pesticides, and trying to grow the wrong plant in the wrong place have all impacted soil health and the quality of plants growing in it. But a better understanding of what’s going on “down there” can help us turn things around, improving soil health, food production, carbon emissions and more.