At Serenity Kids, we believe that foods grown in a way that improves the health of the soil also improve our own health. We also believe that the inverse is true. Foods that are created in a way that harms the soil (we’re looking at you, factory farming) also harm our own health.
But what we’re digging into in this article takes it even a step further. Foods created in a way that improves the microbiome of the soil also improve our own gut microbiomes. Cool concept, we know. Let’s get into it.
Soil Microbiome Explained
If you're wondering whether the soil has a gut right now, you're not alone. Microbiomes are complex things, so before we dive in deep, let's take a step back for a moment.
What is a microbiome?
You probably hear the term “microbiome” thrown around quite a bit. But you might be surprised at how broad its definition is. A microbiome is much more than your gut. A microbiome is a microbial community that inhabit human bodies, plants, the oceans, the atmosphere, and soils. Yes, you read that right. A microbiome isn’t just the bugs in your gut. It can be SO much more. We have microbial communities throughout our bodies - from our mouths and skin to our guts.
And our Earth is full of microbial interactions and microbial communities too. Just like the health of our own microbiomes influence our overall health, the health of the Earth's microbiomes influence the health of the planet as a whole.
What is a Soil Microbiome?
A soil microbiome is a community of soil microorganisms associated with plants and soil. These soil microbial communities include a constantly changing composition of bacteria, archaea, and fungi. The health of the soil microbiome is key to plant growth and is influenced by the environment in which it lives, the physical properties of soil, the availability of nutrients, and the diversity of the plant species that inhabit it.
Understanding Soil Microbiology
Soil microbiology is the study of soil microbial community responses, their functions, and how they affect soil properties. We know that soil itself is a rich ecosystem that contains a number of bacterial and fungal soil microbes, and soil microbiology studies how soil composition and soil microbial diversity can influence plant health, plant growth, plant nutrition, plant productivity, and more.
Does the Earth have a microbiome? Why is the Soil Microbiome critical for our planet conservation?
So does the Earth have its own microbiomes? YES!
The Earth has its own soil microbiomes, which are small microbial communities of organisms, including soil bacteria, fungi, and archaea that influence health of the soil. Microbiomes make soils more quickly recover from the impacts of human activity (like agriculture), and they boost soil resilience.
Soil microbiomes are diverse and complex. Each element of the soil microbial community composition communicates with one another to affect humans, animals, and plant growth and health.
Soils are one of the most precious non-renewable resources on our planet, but unfortunately, due to climate change, the health of soil microbiomes has been weakened. Climate change and damaging practices like unsustainable cattle feedlots and aggressive agrochemicals, deteriorate soils’ health, impacting animal and human health.
Microbiome, health of soil, and climate change
So what do the Earth's microbiome and health of soil have to do with climate change? Actually, quite a bit. It comes down to soil carbon.
Why does carbon dioxide matter?
Carbon dioxide is Earth’s most important greenhouse gas. A greenhouse gas is a type of gas that absorbs and radiates heat. Unlike oxygen or nitrogen, which make up most of our atmosphere, greenhouse gases absorb heat radiating from the Earth’s surface and re-release it back toward Earth’s surface. These greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the Earth's natural greenhouse effect, causing global temperature to rise.
Interconnections between soil microbiome and climate change
Healthy soil and a healthy soil microbiome have the ability to sequester (or store) soil carbon. This keeps excessive carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which helps manage greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately helps to slow climate change.
How do cattle feedlots and agrochemicals affect soil microbiome?
We know that heavy antibiotic use and eating poor-quality processed foods damage human gut microbiomes and health. The same is true for soil microbiota and microbiomes.
Unfortunately, modern farming techniques like the use of agrochemicals, are throwing off the important balance of soil bacterial communities and fungal communities that help soils to thrive.
Cattle feedlots are similarly detrimental. Feedlots are mass production operations in which animals are brought in to fatten up as quickly as possible. This is accomplished by feeding them an unnatural diet of corn and other grains. Because cows' digestive systems are not intended to digest the foods they are fed, and because cows are not intended to live in such awful conditions, they end up sick and are typically administered antibiotics to prevent widespread disease. And when crowded and sick cows start pooping on soil, the soil microbial community structure is compromised.
Understanding communication between soil microbiome, gut microbiome, and mental health
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that lives in the intestinal tract.
The food we eat influences the health of the gut microbiome. The gut loves whole probiotic foods (foods that contain beneficial bacteria) and prebiotic foods (fiber-filled foods that feed the good bacteria.
Examples of probiotic foods include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Examples of prebiotic foods include many fiber-filled plant-based foods, especially garlic, onions, asparagus, dandelion greens, and apples.
Foods that damage the gut microbiome include processed and inflammatory foods like refined sugar and grains.
The microbiota-gut-axis and mental health
We know that healthy gut function is associated with digestive and immune health, but research has also linked healthy gut function to healthy central nervous system function. Hormones, neurotransmitters, and immunological factors released from the gut send signals to the brain, and the brain sends signals.
The bidirectional communication between the central nervous system and gut microbiota is known as the gut-brain axis. A wide body of research has associated gut microbiota with both gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal diseases. Imbalance and inflammation of the gut have been linked to several mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression.
How are the Earth’s microbiome and your gut microbiome related?
Ready for the connection? If the health of the soil impacts the nutrient value of the food that grows in it. And the nutrient value of the food that you eat impacts the health of your own gut microbiome. Then the health of the Earth’s microbiome impacts the health of your own gut microbiome!
Therefore, simply eating foods that are good for the gut isn’t enough. For optimal gut (and overall) health, it is critical that we support good food production processes.
And regenerative agriculture supports just that!
In fact, recent research has shown that relative to conventional farming, regenerative practices based on Conservation Agriculture produced crops with higher levels of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Most notably, health of soil appears to influence phytochemical levels in crops, indicating that regenerative farming systems can enhance dietary levels of compounds known to reduce the risk of various chronic diseases. The study notes “health of soil is an under-appreciated influence on nutrient density, particularly for phytochemicals not conventionally considered nutrients but nonetheless relevant to chronic disease prevention.”
While ties to gut health are still being studied, we know that in general, a better nutrient profile translates to a better, more balanced, and more diverse gut microbiome! As a company committed to the health of our families, this is why we support regenerative and sustainable agriculture.
What type of food is good for the planet and good for our health?
So what can we eat to optimize the health of the soil, the planet, and our bodies? It turns out, that food that was raised or prepared in the way that nature intended is the food that is best for the health of our planet and the animals and people that inhabit it. This includes grass-fed and pasture-raised animals and regeneratively grown or raised food. We are proud to include these foods in our products and to support the farmers and ranchers that raise them.
How factory farm meat hurts soil health, gut health, and mental health
By now, you can probably see how strong this link is. Factory-farmed meat is bad for animal health, which influences health of soil. When soil is unhealthy, the food that grows in it is depleted, and void of the important nutrients and bacterial communities that help to seed our own microbiomes.
Feed the Soil, Seed the Gut
We support regenerative agriculture, which works to improve soil health, animal health, and human health, by sourcing the ingredients for our products through carefully vetted and verified regenerative farms. By doing this, we’re not only nourishing the bellies and microbiomes of our babies, but we’re also saving our soils - and the planet - one baby and one cow at a time!
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