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I Bet You Don't Know Jack about Dirt!

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By guest blogger Annie Spiegelman, a.k.a. the Dirt Diva.

Throughout history we've seen civilizations rise and fall based on how they treated their land. Dirt! The Movie, by filmmakers Gene Rosow and Bill Benenson, is a film based on the book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, by William Bryant Logan. Both the book and film propose we renew our faith in soil as a living, breathing, matrix for all life. And as a source of our spiritual regeneration, as well as our physical survival as a species. This is hard to wrap your head around, especially if you're from New York City, like yours truly, but that's why you must see this film! In it, more than 25 renowned global visionaries come together to share their wisdom on repairing this precious natural resource. Proving once again, that brown is the new green.

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Ten Facts You Should Know about Dirt:

1. Only one planet that we know of in all the galaxies of the universe has a living, breathing skin called dirt. For 2 million years, humans have used dirt to grow their food for survival. If we don't take care of the soil, our future is condemned. We can't survive on Twinkies alone. (But it sure would be fun...for an hour or so.)

2. A handful of soil contains tens of billions of creepy-crawly microorganisms. These organisms keep plants, animals, and the planet alive.

3. Industrial farming is eroding the soil and disrupting its structure. We've lost a third of our topsoil in the last 100 years.

4. When there are miles and miles of only one species and one variety growing on our farms, as there is in modern-day industrial agriculture, this creates a vulnerable system. Monocultures are dangerous to our future. Diversifying crops on our farms, especially in drought, can keep the system from collapsing.

5. When we grow just one species on our farms, it's an all-you-can-eat restaurant for pests. Once a pest learns to unlock the key to that plant, you have a pest infestation, and then you add pesticides. Exposure to pesticides, especially in children, has been linked to higher birth defect rates, cancer, learning disabilities, and abnormal hormonal changes.

6. Insects and plants are so like us physiologically, cell to cell, protein to protein, gene to gene, that if a pesticide is going to kill plants and insects, it's going to kill humans, too. Ta-da!

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7. Chemicals (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) deplete the life of the soil. They take away the structure and the moisture of the soil. They take away the very organisms that make the soil fertile. When you add a layer of compost to your dirt, instead of a nasty chemical fertilizer, you're adding life to your dirt, and can then call it "soil."

Repeat after me: Compost, compost, compost.

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8. When the land is dead and we add synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to feed the crops, only about 20 percent goes to the plant roots. In the Midwest, the rest of the wasted fertilizer flows into the rivers and streams, and then into the Gulf of Mexico. This excess fertilizer feeds algae that grow and suffocate nearly all of the marine life, creating "dead zones" where only jellyfish survive. This mobile nitrogen combines with oxygen, which forms nitrous oxide and rises into the atmosphere accelerating climate change. Twenty-five percent of greenhouse-gas emissions come from agriculture.

9. In India, farmers have been pushed to buy more genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and tractors. Now a farming activity that was zero cost is increasingly expensive. In India, over the last decade an estimated 200,000 farmers have killed themselves, many by drinking the pesticide they can no longer afford.

As farmers around the world go broke and lose their farms, their land is taken over by international agribusinesses that grow genetically modified single crops for a globalized economy.

10. Each year 100 million trees are turned into 20 million mail-order catalogues.

(To order the film or host a screening, go to DirtTheMovie.org.)

Come talk dirt and nerd it up with Annie at www.dirtdiva.com.

Related Links:

Bronx Green-Up Wants New Yorkers to Make Friends with Worms - Maria's Farm Country Kitchen
For the Healthiest, Safest Foods, do a Dirt Test - Rodale.com
Dirt The Movie

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.

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