Staying Grounded with The Year of Soils

By Lisa Biehle Files

Whether it’s black loam or brown humus, you can dig into the soil this spring to celebrate the International Year of Soils. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is implementing, “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life” to raise awareness about sustainable soil management in order to support food security and diverse ecosystems worldwide. Not only is the quantity of viable soil diminishing, but its quality is in decline as well. Deforestation, overgrazing, urbanization, climate change, and raw materials extraction all reduce the amount of productive soil. To make things worse, erosion, salinization, compaction, sealing, over-fertilization and improper crop rotation contribute to soil degradation. All of this combines to create an alarming statistic: 33 percent of soils are facing severe degradation globally.

Healthy soils are filled with one quarter of the world’s biodiversity such as bacteria, fungi, protozoans, insects, mites and worms. FAO UN recommends taking the following steps to protect and support healthy soil.

  • Practice sustainable soil management

  • Prevent soil pollution

  • Avoid sealing the soil (see Grass vs. Turf )

  • Combat climate change

  • Shrink your carbon footprint

  • Preserve and increase vegetation coverage

  • Stop food waste (compost)

  • Spread the word about the importance of soils

There are several ways to support this mission in Oak Park and River Forest.

Attend the West Cook Wild Ones Living Landscapes: A Native Garden Conference and Native Plant Sale from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 17, at Dominican University, 7900 W. Division St., in River Forest. Learn about beneficial insects, rain gardens, native host plants for butterflies, and more.

Join the West Cook Wild Ones Wildlife Corridor by planting native shrubs, trees, plants, and/or grasses in your home garden to increase native biodiversity.

Pledge not to use lawn chemicals that can be harmful to children, pets, wildlife and waterways. Both River Forest and Oak Park have begun movements asking homeowners to promise not to use pesticides and display a sign announcing their commitment. The River Forest Sustainability Committee is coordinating  this initiative in River Forest, and GoGreen OPRF and the Oak Park Environment and Energy Commission are collaborating on the initiative in Oak Park.

Enjoy our newly designated Oak Park Arboretum. The Learning Gardens of Oak Park is developing new ways to learn about and appreciate the 130 different species of trees from among Oak Park’s 21,000 trees.

Compost your food scraps to replenish the soil. In Oak Park, contact or call 708-358-5800 to obtain an organics bin to hold your food and yard waste. The cost is about $14 to $18 per month, depending on the size of the bin, which can be shared with neighbors. River Forest will launch curbside composting soon, as well. In River Forest and Oak Park, residents are also encouraged to compost in their own backyards to reduce landfill and enrich the soil.