RESPECTING THE SOIL AT THE DPS HUB FARM
Recently, The Herald-Sun published a story praising the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in Durham Public Schools.As a former outdoor educator with an interest in sustainable agriculture and soil conservation, I think DPS is to be praised for their CTE programming - especially for their recently opened hub farm next to Durham's Eno Valley Elementary.I grew up in a suburb of a southern Virginia college town. There were times when I thought that my most precious resource was the television, but, luckily, family friends who lived out on a farm who taught me otherwise. Visits to that farm shaped who I am today and I now realize that it was the catalyst for my education about our Earths' most precious resource: the soil.We owe our lives to the soil. Plants need the sun to photosynthesize, but without soil from which to pull carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients, we would not be here at all. We owe our soil the utmost respect. It is an incredibly diverse and complex ecosystem that demands more of our attention and care. Unfortunately, our current industrial food production system is not in line with these values.Our agricultural system is in something of a crisis. The world population is on the rise (an estimated 9 billion by 2050), yet the natural resources that we need for our intensely managed agricultural systems are dwindling. In order to feed our growing population, we push our soils far beyond their capacity to support life, burn up soil organic matter, erode topsoil and then compensate for these deficits with synthetic additives and plowing. These management practices just continue a cycle of soil degradation and loss. This is the paradox of industrial agriculture. It is also the case that the average age of U.S. farmers is almost 60-years-old and rising. Fewer people in younger generations are farming, potentially leaving us with a lack of trained farmers in the coming years. The U.S. needs a new generation of farmers and it is imperative that their training and knowledge is predicated on ecologically based management practices that are commensurate with soil conservation.It is for this reason that I am impressed with and grateful for the initiative that DPS has taken with creating the hub farm. This is a place where students can learn to appreciate nature, farming and, perhaps most importantly, soil. It is particularly wonderful because not all students in the Durham area have access to safe, well-managed outdoor space. Outdoor experiential learning instructed by positive and enthusiastic role models has been shown to create more environmentally conscious citizens. Combining these educational elements with technical information about sustainable agricultural management practices can help to create a generation that will find solutions to the difficulties in our current agricultural system and save our precious soils.