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Go "Play in the Dirt"

By Colette Wolf, UTTC Land Grant Agroecology Extension Educator
14 February 2013

What is dirt? You wash dirt off your car, wipe it from your shoes, rub it out of your eyes and wash it from your hands. Dirt seems to compel us to clean. But, is dirt something more than a mess to wash away or remove?

You might be surprised that dirt is your relative. You and I and dirt share the five basic life-building atoms: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur. Consider them the “dream team,” combining their qualities to make life possible on Mother Earth. Together, all living organisms breakdown, rebuild and recycle materials made from these five tiny atoms.

One handful of dirt contains enough diversity to begin reorganizing itself into life. Take a handful of dirt; place it in a jar; add water from a natural source; seal it up and set it near light. Immediately, you begin to see organization, as heavier particles sink and lighter ones rise. In six weeks, you’re amazed at the life that emerges from dirt.

Fascinating in its properties, all across Mother Earth humans revere dirt. In El Potrero, New Mexico dirt is considered holy at the church El Santuario de Chimayo. People world-wide are inspired to partake in the annual pilgrimage there, to receive tiny bags of Holy Dirt, believed to have restorative powers.

You should know, however, there’s a dust-up over dirt.

In western science dirt is referred to as soil, from the Latin word solium, meaning seat or throne. In many Turtle Island cultures, dirt is the skin of Mother Earth, metaphorically communicating that we are related and nurtured by the life giving properties of that thin, covering layer. Whatever your approach is to understanding it, and no matter the magnitude of awe its transformations inspire in you, it deserves our respect and understanding.

The next time your child is covered in dirt, take a moment to reflect: clinging to hands and knees is a community of relatives with potential for life. Even consider how mud on your car floor, if combined with sun and water, can germinate a seed, become a tree and feed the people.

And if you’re inclined to spend more time 'playing in the dirt,' gardening can bless you with soil's fondness for life.

Whatever you call it, dirt or soil, it’s all family; providing food, medicine, exercise, solace, laughter and a place in the universe to call home.

Grow food, eat well, empower your community. Aho!

Dirt in the jar experiment

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