The Big Soil Problem and Why Whole Foods May Not Be Enough


Sustainable farming, local produce, and building small farming relationships has been one of the greatest trends in the last decade. Choosing locally-grown produce is an excellent way to empower each of us to focus on the quality of food we put into our bodies. It also stimulates the local economy, puts healthier foods on our plates, and provides beneficial nutrients that our body rightfully needs.

But there is a dirty side to the farming industry across the nation. One that impacts all.

The Big Soil Problem

At the most fundamental level, the Earth’s soil is the basis of all life. From plant life, to animal feed, and as nutrition for our own food sources - the health of our soil is essential to the health of the entire planet. Soil helps filter and retain moisture, provides a home to beneficial microorganisms, and contains many of the essential nutrients for plant life.

But even among organic and sustainable farmers, nutrient fertilizers and supplements are a fact of life. These days, you would be hard-pressed to find any farmer who isn’t spending their hard-earned money supplementing nutrients into their dirt to support vegetative growth. But why is this the case? Doesn’t dirt have nutrients already? What’s changed?

Unfortunately, due to the way we’ve treated our soil for the last hundred years, we’ve essentially stripped a significant portion of enriched soil in most areas. Not to mention, global pollution has made it even more difficult for ecosystems to recover, as our soil has been increasingly subjected to toxins and pollutants and has become more acidic.

The consequences of these practices translate to the direct and perpetual need of soil additives, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium - all to promote the healthy growth of plant life. Originally, these nutrients occurred in soil as a consequence of the circle of life. As living organisms grow and die, their degradation and decomposition would return nutrients back into the soil. For eons, this has been enough to sustain and perpetuate healthy growth around the world. But the need for plant life has increased, especially as early humans turned to agriculture - or, the management of farming plants and livestock - to support the needs of their own growing families and communities.

With the rise of industrial agriculture, large-scale farms have required significant imports of nutrients to further maintain their high yields. This also includes the need to reuse the same acreage over and over again, rather than support soil ‘rest’ periods or crop rotations that naturally reintroduce nutrients into the ground. This exhaustion of the soil has led to a level of nutrient depletion that has made it incredibly difficult to produce mature, healthy, and nutrient-dense plants without supplementation.

Even with the addition of these nutrients (from both commercial fertilizers and organic sources), the produce we consume today just doesn’t contain the same level of nutrients our ancestors enjoyed.

Are Whole Foods Enough?

If the foods we eat today don’t contain the same level of nutrients as our forefathers - even in the most optimal conditions - then what does that mean to our biology? Our body still needs the same level of nutrients that humans have always needed, and in many cases - more. Environmental assaults, pollution, changes to our lifestyles, and disease all influence the type and amounts of various nutrients we need.

Many of the micronutrients found in our food are essential to life, and help our body’s ability to regenerate. Yet, with reduced access to these essential compounds, our bodies face an uphill battle to grow, heal, and age in a healthy and resilient way. It can also cause unwanted side effects, such as reducing our immune system’s efficiency, lowering our metabolism, and increasing oxidative stress. This is why vitamin and mineral supplementation has become so paramount to human health, especially in the last several decades.

Just like soil today, our bodies also can benefit from nutrient supplementation to help fill our own gaps. But just as farmers look to various tests to determine what nutrients they need to replenish their soil, it’s important to consider what you specifically need for yourself.

Precision is Priceless

Whole foods are essential to leading a healthy life, but these days we require a little more protection against modern conditions. But like all things, It’s important to be precise - in science and in life! Being precise with the supplements you choose offers a better opportunity to identify and revitalize your biology in a more meaningful way. The key to amplifying your body’s functionality and capability is a truly holistic approach: one that combines what we can gather from mother nature and supplements it with scientific precision based on our own individual needs.

The first step is to assess what those needs are. Using advanced methods in metatranscriptomics, scientists are now able to see how a person’s body is functioning to determine where certain vitamins, minerals and beneficial nutrients may be needed. Metatranscriptomics analyzes gene expression - rather than looking at DNA alone - to see how our genes are actually being used. Although DNA is the genetic blueprint of our body, we only ‘translate’ certain pieces of information in real-time to help create elements that cells need at that specific moment. This ‘expression’ of our genes tells us a lot more about how a cell is doing, and not just what it is designed to do. Using metatranscriptomics, scientists can assess which genes are being activated that may show signs of health and signs of stress.

For cells with genes activated in times of stress, this can shed light on the kind of nutrients our body might need for balance. This gives precision insight allowing us to make remarkably more educated choices about what dietary ingredients we consume - and which ones we shouldn’t. After all, each person is vastly different from the next. Even the most ‘beneficial’ ingredients might not be right for you!

Precision supplements are the future for our own biological health that can also utilize incredible data about the human microbiome. The microorganisms that thrive on and inside us also help contribute and supplement many essential nutrients to our bodies. And this isn’t exclusive to humans! In fact, many bacteria, fungi, and prokaryotes do the same to Earth’s soil. Scientists believe they might also hold the answer to finding new ways to help revitalize farms and convert old dirt back to more life-sustaining, nutrient-rich soil!

A New Way Forward with Regenerative Agriculture

As you may imagine, innovative scientific research can do the world a whole lot of good, including advancing new agriculture practices to get us back to the days of nutrient-rich foods. Many look to breakthroughs in a new field of farming called Regenerative Agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a new method of conservation and rehabilitation of Earth’s soil by focusing on practices that improve topsoil, increase biodiversity, and strengthen the vitality of different ecosystems.

Regenerative Agriculture uses a plethora of techniques to help rehabilitate soil, even down to the most microcellular level. For example, some agricultural scientists are finding answers in soil probiotics. By helping to stimulate microorganisms in dirt, farmers are reaping great benefits. Many microbes are known to help replenish many of the nutrients our soil needs, such as nitrogen.2

Studies in these areas show so much promise in using the Earth’s own natural microbiome to stabilize and support damages created by industrial agriculture. Just like our own human microbiome, optimal health is a complex system that requires cooperation among all living parts. Just as we humans need a little help for our bacterial and fungi friends, much of life on Earth is the same. The interconnectedness of all living things requires the support and balance of all, down to the smallest organism!


1 Silver, W. L., Perez, T., Mayer, A., & Jones, A. R. (2021). The role of soil in the contribution of food and feed. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 376(1834), 20200181.
2 Ladha, J. K., Peoples, M. B., Reddy, P. M., Biswas, J. C., Bennett, A., Jat, M. L., & Krupnik, T. J. (2022). Biological nitrogen fixation and prospects for ecological intensification in cereal-based cropping systems. Field crops research, 283, 108541.