Often times, through our daily routines, many of the activities, practices, and actions that we take — like cutting across the grass as we walk to and from class — seem harmless and therefore go unnoticed; what we don’t realize, however, is that many of these actions actually affect our lives on a larger scale, specifically in terms of the environment.
One of the many important environmental concerns happening today is the process of soil erosion. To put it in simple terms, soil erosion is the removal of soil by natural forces such as wind and water, and also by humans.
The problem is that soil is being removed at a much faster rate that it can replenish itself, and as Urban Agriculture Professor Justin Valone stated, “Topsoil is crucially important for agriculture and life systems around the world. The loss of topsoil is one of the leading environmental and social problems that we see and also, that we’re not talking much about.”
The process of soil erosion gradually wears away at the topsoil that is essential for preserving our natural environment and also for growing our crops, but humans bring another element into this process.
“That topsoil erosion being caused mostly by human activities and human exacerbated environmental problems is degrading the quality of agricultural land and similarly is degrading the quality of water and the quality of air,” Valone said.
“In general, the more that the soil moves from where it is and the more that those organisms that used to hold the soil in place, the less the soil is able to sustain the ecosystem.”
Human activities, such as cutting pathways and bad agricultural practices, lead to soil degradation.
Man-made pathways don’t just exist for us to get from Point A to Point B, but are there for the purpose to protect the natural landscape around us.
“One of the biggest problems that we have with our built environment is the fact that its mostly built by people who don’t use that natural environment, and sometimes the pathways that are established go from nowhere to nowhere,” said Valone, continuing, “then what happens is people, just like all animals, move where they want to. In general, I think that architects and landscape architects should take a lesson from that and look at the natural human patterns of movements, and make pathways accordingly.”
There are many noticeable areas on campus where students tend to cut pathways, mostly areas on Lone Mountain, where there are cemented pathways both in the front and back, but students cut across these pathways and make their own trails as a short cut.
Another example of human activities that cause soil erosion is monocropping, an agricultural practice in which the same crop is grown on the same area of land year after year which depletes the soil from many of its nutrients.
Rainfall, too, causes erosion since soil can only absorb so much water until it turns into runoff that affects the quality of our clean water sources.
Valone believes that we should look at our effects on soil erosion on three levels: personal, consumer, and political.
He says that on a personal level, for example, when one is backpacking, they should not cross cut the trail and cause that trail to slide down the hill.
On a consumption level, we should consume food products that are grown in a way that preserves the integrity of the soil, such as local, organic, and sustainable food products that can be bought at farmer’s markets and markets that focus on creating relationships between farmers and consumers, many of which can be found right here in San Francisco.
He also believes that on a political level, we should be supporting agricultural policy that encourages the maintenance of our good soil and to get individuals to take care of their soil, as well.
Out of all three, he believes that policy is the most important in protecting our soil, since policy is what ultimately will be what protects our natural habitats.
“People think that soil erosion is not a big deal but it takes a really long time to build it back up. The damage might seem more insignifcant than you think it is,” said undeclared freshmen Kirstin Thordarson.
Madeleine Forbes is a senior environmental studies major and Foghorn environmental staff writer.