“The soil is the pharmacy of the future and farmers are the doctors of the future.” This is a statement by Theo Mulder, owner of a forage trade in the Frisian village of Kollumerzwaag. For years, Theo has been an advocate for soil health: "We have neglected the soil due to the use of too much fertilizer, too many crop protection agents and too heavy machinery." Theo is an enthusiastic, but also a pragmatic man. In addition to animal feed, biological preparations and minerals, he sells fertilizer in a bag or in bulk as much as his costumers want. But in the meantime he tries to raise awareness among farmers and citizens about the benefits of a healthy soil. It’s important because the soil feeds the plants, therefore the farmer must feed the soil.
A healthy living, not-compacted soil with sufficient organic matter, minerals and trace elements provides healthy plants and therefore healthier food for humans and animals. Theo is a special man with a clear mission. He sells fodder and fertilizer, but he tells everyone who wants to hear it, that something has to change in the agricultural practice. Every reading he gives, he holds up an apple while saying: ‘ Imagine this is our earth.’ Then he cuts the apple in four pieces and holds up a quarter: ‘this is all the land’. Then he cuts the quarter a few more times until he only has a small part left exclaiming: “this is our fertile soil that is suitable for growing food. It does not cover more than 3% of the earth's surface and even this part is subject to erosion due to poor soil use. Every minute we lose a few football fields of fertile soil. “ It is an effective way to illustrate the problem in a few minutes. Therefore Theo is regularly asked to give a lecture about this subject at symposia, meetings and knowledge festivals. He is very authentic and doesn’t preach. He speaks from the heart and his emotional involvement with agriculture, with the soil and from a firm conviction that things have to be done differently and can be done differently.
Yet he is not an activist. He is firmly rooted in the agricultural world and supplies the farmers with what they need. He knows that you cannot change the system from one day to another and that there is no use condemning it. He wants to change the system from within with respect for the farmer and the existing practice. That is a fantastic mission and I think it is more sympathetic and more promising than to, devoid of real insight or knowledge, call out for removal of mega stables and green deserts! The term “Green deserts” is a popular label used by activist and concerned fellow human beings. By that they mean the vast green meadows with ryegrass, a monoculture in which there are few or no herbs left. The term desert is, of course, completely out of place, but not without effect. The fields are fertile and highly productive, but their quality could be much better, with more biodiversity, more herbs and therefore promoting more health. Farmers are open to that idea. Especially, if dairy factories are going to reward them with a slightly higher milk price. That is why nowadays you see big flocks of cows grazing in meadows everywhere. The factory pays more for pasture milk. In order to produce this, cows must be kept in the pasture for at least 120 days per year. More herb-rich grassland and soil management that leads to better soil quality and therefore better food can be stimulated in the same way.
In fact, there is nothing new under the sun, because roughly four hundred years before Christ the Greek physician Hippocrates said,: "Let food be your medicine and your medicine food." We just have to rediscover this wisdom and truly make an effort.
Sytze Keuning (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published in the journal Bodem.