One of the biggest misconceptions of our time is that plowing and tilling the soil is a good thing. Plowing destroys the mycorrhizal network in the soil that is not only valuable in its own right but that’s also one of the biggest absorbers of atmospheric carbon that exists. Plowing is a leftover from farming in ancient Egypt where the seasonal flooding by the Nile river brought nutrients into the soil but which also required a technique that allowed the soil to dry faster. Plowing was invented. The problem is that outside the very special circumstances in ancient Egypt or the land between the two rivers, plowing is about as beneficial as a toe on the elbow. We have been used to it for thousands of years, so it’s hard to let go. We need carbon in our soils to upgrade them, we don’t want the carbon in the air. Mycorrhizal fungi are super efficient in removing carbon from the air and sequestering it in the soil. What are we waiting for?
It was a bright afternoon in March of 2011 when I met Pedro (a pseudonym) on his organic farm in the mountains of Costa Rica, north of San José. I was there to do research on changing agricultural practices in the country. As we walked around his land, he showed me his greenhouses where lettuce, potatoes, and peppers grew. The warm air smelled earthy and sweet.