Jan. 10 2024 01:44 PM

I had the pleasure of knowing a soil scientist with USDA whose last project was completing the soil survey for Darke County, Ohio, where I live. He retired here, and we became good friends, sharing our appreciation of the importance of soil in our respective careers. Sam referred to us as “men of the upper crust.”

Although some in the hydroponic business might challenge me saying this, we are wholly dependent upon the soil to feed us and to absorb the residuals of food production and its consumption. From the highest perspective, the soil is key to a wondrous recycling project we call planet Earth, that tiny blue and green dot in a small solar system, itself a minor portion of a small galaxy amongst countless others.

Tom Menke

Are we one of many planets with life? Or are we unique in the cosmos? I’ll never know in this lifetime, but what I do know is that without soil and water, life would not be as we know it, if at all.

If you are reading this article, you are probably one of few who understands our dependency on the soil. The profession of being part of the food production cycle is seldom noticed, much less appreciated. We often end up dealing with things that most would term repulsive, yet we find of value.

Our job does not create news unless we do it poorly. We are not “headline people” and quietly go about doing the job of feeding billions around the world without thanks. My mind is too small to grasp the fact that 63,000-plus grocery stores in the U.S. alone stock their shelves daily with a variety of foods that not even kings could dream of a century ago. Add to that some 750,000 restaurants feeding us on a daily basis. What a miracle of a system that fulfills our wants and needs around the clock!

As this is my last article for this publication, I want to say how proud I am to be in a profession associated with agriculture along with all of you who contribute in your own unique way. “None of us is smarter than all of us,” and I encourage you to keep up the good fight, collaborate together, sustain a healthy agriculture, and don’t give in to those whose ideas are not grounded in practicality.

Food is entertainment for many. Niche markets have emerged for those who can afford what I call designer foods as a luxury. Overconsumption creates health issues associated with an obesity epidemic. And yet, over 20% of children around the world under age 5 have stunted growth due to malnutrition. We face many challenges unrelated to producing food. Progress is slow compared to our ability to raise wholesome and nutritious food in abundance.

I hope my contributions to the Journal of Nutrient Management have provided some insights that you could use in your business. You are the people who manage that critical link between the production of food and the soil that makes it all happen in this grand recycling project we lump under the term “agricultural production.” Take care of the soil, and it will take care of you. You are my “people of the upper crust,” and I wish you success in all that you do.

Search my name on YouTube sometime if you’d like to get some information of where my perspectives come from. I would like to thank this publication and its editor for the opportunity to express my views and share my stories, forcing me to be a better communicator. Thank you.

This article appeared in the November 2023 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 24. Not a subscriber? Click to get the print magazine.