Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health

Healthy soils contribute to a range of ecosystem functions in the environment, such as sustaining plant and animal productivity and biodiversity, maintaining or enhancing air and water quality, and supporting human health and habitation.

Overview

In 2019, The Soil Health Institute (SHI) released the Conference on Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health report, which includes recommendations for better understanding soil health – human health relationships. The conference was designed to bring the soil health and human health communities together, establish the current state of collective knowledge, identify gaps and associated priorities, and scope a collaborative path forward. Held October 16 – 17, 2018, in Silver Spring, MD, the conference included more than 180 attendees from more than 120 organizations.

Healthy soils filter and break down contaminants, reduce nutrient losses to our waterways, and help us both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate change.

“We often consider how soil health supports human health in the context of feeding a growing world population. This is certainly a very noble goal by itself, but the potential does not end there,” said Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO of SHI. “Healthy soils filter and break down contaminants, reduce nutrient losses to our waterways, and help us both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. Interestingly, however, we learned that the medical community largely thinks of soil decontamination rather than soil as a source of nutrients. We learned that the medical profession is so concerned about climate change that medical societies representing over half of the doctors in the U.S. have created a consortium to inform the public and policymakers about the harmful health effects of climate change. These are issues we can address by improving soil health!


Recommendations to Advance Science and Policy Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health

Infrastructure

  • Understand soil health and regenerative systems around the world and their impacts on the environment and the global food system. Validate methods for soil health measurement across soils and regions. Involve farmers in research efforts. Use existing programs in Agricultural Extension and Farm Bill programs to assist in implementation, motivation, and education.
  • Understand the fundamental microbiome structures and functions related to land management, soil health, and human health. Connect existing research on the human microbiome to the soil microbiome.
  • Determine how the known suite of soil health practices can impact human wellness, economy, and the environment. Determine the mechanism linking soil management with nutrition (density) and content of the food produced.
  • Characterize human-soil interactions for exposure analyses, health impacts, and avenues for intervention. Communicate results with scientific, grower, and technical stakeholders at various scales and locations.
  • Identify specific partners to increase and optimize bioavailability in soil health agricultural management systems to decrease contamination and promote community well-being.

Strategy

  • Integrate vast existing data in a summary review of soil health-human health, including gaps, knowns, unknowns, and immediate actions. Integrate stakeholders. Form a working group to integrate the transdisciplinary knowledge. Isolate strategies and references to communicate effectively to many diverse stakeholders, including students and academicians, as well as Agricultural Extension personnel.
  • Communicate the soil health-human health relationship to all stakeholders. Determine how to actively engage and enlist actions from agricultural producers to deliver healthier soil and make it a driver in the bigger nutrition and health picture.

Priorities

  • Understand soil health and regenerative systems around the world and their impacts on the environment and the global food system. Validate methods for soil health measurement across soils and regions. Involve farmers in research efforts. Use existing programs in Agricultural Extension and Farm Bill programs to assist in implementation, motivation, and education.
  • Understand the fundamental microbiome structures and functions related to land management, soil health, and human health. Connect existing research on the human microbiome to the soil microbiome.
  • Determine how the known suite of soil health practices can impact human wellness, economy, and the environment. Determine the mechanism linking soil management with nutrition (density) and content of the food produced.
  • Characterize human-soil interactions for exposure analyses, health impacts, and avenues for intervention. Communicate results with scientific, grower, and technical stakeholders at various scales and locations. ✔ Identify specific partners to increase and optimize bioavailability in soil health agricultural management systems to decrease contamination and promote community well-being.

Resources

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