Soil and New Life

“All of creation has been groaning”…

There is a lot of talk about soil in the bible. If you open up the lectionary for this week, you will see a passage in Isaiah on the rain and snow that fall from the heavens to water the earth, making it fertile and providing bread for food. In Matthew 13, we read about the sower who casts seed on good soil and rocky or thorny areas alike. These readings remind us that the relationship of humans to the soil is a simple fact of life on earth. We depend on soil for human life to thrive.

But the type of soil that is present in a place is not simply a brute fact, a fortunate coincidence or a cruel fate to which people are subject. Turning to Haiti, we know that its once lush countryside has undergone a long process resulting in poor soil and even desertification, largely as a consequence of human action. Plantation monoculture over centuries, coupled with the use of trees to serve as fuel has led to the impoverishment of that nation’s soil, rapid erosion, and consequently very limited access to adequate local food.

In his encyclical Laudato Si [On Care for Our Common Home], Pope Francis describes a planet that “groans in travail” (Romans 8:2) because “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste” is “among the most abandoned and maltreated of the poor.” He finds the cause for this situation not in the random situation of human beings scattered around the planet but in humanity itself. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (LS 2).

If human activity is often a cause of unfavorable growing conditions, it can also present solutions. Again, we hear Francis reminding us of the way that human free will may be turned to responsible practices and positive results. “Agriculture in poorer regions can be improved through investment in rural infrastructures, a better organization of local or national markets, systems of irrigation, and the development of techniques of sustainable agriculture” (LS 180)

At the Quixote Center, we support peasant leadership in the Northwest region of Haiti as they develop innovative local solutions to bring new life to its depleted agricultural landscape. Haiti Reborn continues to support the planting of 100,000 trees per year as part of a reforestation initiative that will create richer soil for its people. The agronomists and workers with the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne and the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center are also breeding worms for compost, promoting greater individual planting of trees, and establishing a seed bank, all to make their own land more fruitful. In this way, we see our work as participating in what Pope Francis calls sustainable and integral development.