Feet on the ground

One of the first things I did after arriv­ing in this house was an explo­ration of the book­shelves. Out­door life is very beau­ti­ful, but not com­plete with­out a book. To my sat­is­fac­tion I found a decent col­lec­tion of books in Eng­lish. My favorite so far is The com­plete book of self-suf­fi­cien­cy by John Seymour.

This book from 1976 describes how you can grow your own food on a small plot of land. The author starts by explain­ing the nat­ur­al food cycle. It starts in the soil, with bac­te­ria that are able to fix nitro­gen from the atmos­phere. Via plants and ani­mals, the nutri­ents come back into the soil. Sey­mour calls this the ‘Benign Cir­cle’ with the soil as the basis of all life on earth.

Shovelling horse dung

Shov­el­ling horse dung

Here at the farm we shov­el horse dung from the mead­ows and col­lect it into large piles. The pine cones and daisies end up at the same place. Grad­u­al­ly, the soil under these piles trans­forms into beau­ti­ful black humus-rich soil. Last week we brought a wheel­bar­row full of this soil, and I plant­ed the new cilantro in it.

Every time I’m weed­ing in the gar­den, I am amazed by the amount of life that the soil pro­duces. No won­der that since time immemo­r­i­al peo­ple have been using the metaphor of a moth­er. In ancient Greek mythol­o­gy, the moth­er god­dess was called Gaia. Jules Cash­ford1 explains that the word “gaia” was the com­mon Greek word for earth or soil. For the ancient Greeks, the two con­cepts were insep­a­ra­ble. This hymn from 500 BC. tells how Moth­er Earth nour­ish­es all life:

Gaia, moth­er of all,
the old­est one, the foundation,
I shall sing to Earth.

She feeds every­one in the world.

Who­ev­er you are,
whether you walk upon her sacred ground
or move through the paths of the sea
you who fly,
it is she who nour­ish­es you
from her treasure-store.

Queen of Earth, through you
beau­ti­ful children,
beau­ti­ful harvests,

The harsh real­i­ty is that at the moment we are quick­ly deplet­ing and poi­son­ing the soil. Accord­ing to the WWF2, half of the fer­tile top­soil has been lost to ero­sion in the last 150 years. The inge­nious bal­ance between soil, water and all life forms is no match for the cur­rent defor­esta­tion, mono­cul­ture and the exten­sive use of chem­i­cals. The earth is not an exter­nal resource that can be replaced, but lit­er­al­ly the ground under our feet. With­out a moth­er to feed us, we are nowhere. The way for­ward is clear: get­ting out of the vicious cir­cle of destruc­tion and restor­ing the ‘Benign Cir­cle’. Who is in?

1 Jules Cash­ford, Gaia & the Ani­ma Mun­di, In: Llewellyn Vaugh­an-Lee (edi­tor), 2016. Spir­i­tu­al Ecol­o­gy: The Cry of the Earth
2 WWF, Soil ero­sion and degradation


  1. Wow, your knowl­edge of Eng­lish is awe­some, We’re think­ing of you so far away on the oth­er side of the world. Take care.

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