Thursday, October 23, 2008

Finding God in the Compost Pile

Thursday, October 23, 2008 by: Dr. Phil Domenico

(NaturalNews) Philosophers throughout history have sought out grand theories to define Nature, as if there were a unifying feature. The ancient Greeks were particularly curious in this regard, though they had very little evidence to work with. In the early 6th century BC, Thales postulated that the primary substance of Nature is water. Anaximenes defined it as air. Heraclitus concluded that it was fire. By the mid-5th century BC in Sicily, Empedocles identified four basic elements¬ – earth, water, air, and fire – that comprised all of Nature. Such musings say a lot more about human limitation than they do about Nature. To be sure, Nature is too vast and varied to fit conveniently into a box. It will retain its mystery, despite our lame efforts to name it, or tame it.

Nevertheless, scientists have unraveled many of the mysteries of Nature since ancient times. So, rather than rely on old stories or religious texts to explain what it's all about, many now look to the collective information from thousands of lifetimes of scientific inquiry. In one sense, no one can know the nature of things as intimately as a scientist. However, a single scientist does not typically look at the whole picture, but rather focuses on one single aspect of it. The sharper the focus, the more knowledge gained. Each scientist is just a dot on the mosaic of understanding. It takes the efforts of thousands of scientists to make sense out of the whole. Today's evidence-based view of Nature may not be as enchanting, holistic or succinct as those in religion or myth, but it is as close as we can get to reliable truth.

With the wealth of new information, we have much more to go on in explaining how the world turns. Certainly, there is nothing simple about the workings of Nature. To explain Nature fully, one must account for the many unique elements and their myriad associations that contribute to its majesty. From simple atoms vibrating in solution to multicellular life, an endless array of structures defines the Earth and its movement. Living and non-living matter are constantly in flux, and overlapping in ordered patterns. Earth's secrets lie in the interplay of its multifaceted, opportunistic elements.

It is the grandest of experiments. Life springs forth powerfully, dynamically, abundantly, with ever more clay. Over billions of years, creatures still unimaginable have inhabited this planet, filling every conceivable niche. Cataclysmic disaster created new habitats and destroyed others, and life adapted. Countless, nameless species learned to thrive at extremes, in freezing or boiling, oxidative or anaerobic, high or low-pressure conditions. Relentlessly, life's manifestations arise from clay like mushrooms, defy death momentarily, and are recycled anew.

There are about 72 elements detectable in seawater, from whence life originated. Each element is endowed with a special utility that defines its role in the big picture. Life has exploited a few dozen of these elements, and the special features inherent in them. A prime example is the attraction of sulfur for minerals. Iron and zinc combine with sulfur in hundreds of different enzymes in our cells. Enzymes containing iron-sulfur clusters are key players in energy production. Other enzymes contain protruding "zinc fingers" that walk along our DNA and fix damaged genes. Delicate zinc-sulfur sensors can detect slight chemical changes in blood and trigger major inflammatory responses. Metal-sulfur interactions drive chemical reactions, regulate enzyme activity, participate in energy transfer and cell signaling, and form durable structures like skin, cartilage and bone. Life has exploited mineral-sulfur interactions to the max. Yet, that's only one of the many interactions occurring between organic and inorganic substances.

This interplay between organic and inorganic gets to the heart of Nature's essence. Life owes its plasticity to these interactions. Minerals (i.e., dirt, rock) represent the inorganic phase and carbon-based molecules (protein, carbohydrates, fats) define the organic phase. Each essential mineral -- calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, cobalt, chromium, selenium, molybdenum, etc -- plays a unique role in the process. Magnesium drives activity in over 300 enzymes involved in an assortment of functions. Zinc may affect even more processes. The hormone insulin functions poorly in the absence of chromium. When selenium is low, the body's antioxidant system cannot protect us from toxic metals, viruses and cancer. In their organic forms, minerals are linked to proteins (e.g., metallo-enzymes), carbohydrates (e.g., fiber), nucleic acids (e.g., DNA, RNA), or fats (e.g., membrane lipids) in coordinated fashion. Organic-mineral complexes dominate nature. Energy from the sun drives the assembly of these many and varied interactions. However, in death (or in the compost pile), these interactions are again broken down to their component parts. The cycle goes from complex to simple and back again.

Soil quality depends greatly on its mineral content. It starts with slime on rocks, wherein bacteria eat away at its surface. Every bout of rain promotes this microbial process to help release the rock's minerals into the soil. Thus, rain provides more than water; it also helps generate new minerals for plant growth. Rain also sparks activity in the compost pile, where minerals are recycled from crop refuse and manure. Rich and full-spectrum mineral content in the refuse makes for high-quality compost. Alternatively, a handful or two of pristine sea salt (not the white, refined stuff) or rock dust can activate the pile. Decomposition over several months converts minerals to their elemental form. Plants and microbes prefer these inorganic minerals, and convert them back to complex structures like enzymes, chemical signals, antioxidants, pigments and structural integument. The minerals are now in organic form, which animals prefer. What comes out the other end is thrown back into the compost pile, and converts to dirt all over again.

Quality mineral nutrition comes primarily from plants grown in good organic soil. But, since most soils are depleted, we are wise to take mineral supplements. Unfortunately, most of the minerals in drugstore supplements are in the elemental form found in dirt, and do not contribute much to health. That's probably why they're dirt-cheap, so to speak. Organic (or chelated) mineral supplements cost more and are more bulky, but are much more likely to confer health benefits than are inorganic forms. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in clinical trials. Almost every mineral that ends in chloride, oxide, or sulfate does not get absorbed well by the human gut. The question is, why then do most multivitamins contain magnesium oxide and chromium chloride? Answer: Follow the money. As always, you get what you pay for.

The compost pile is a paragon of death and renewal. Mixing organic waste and manure in a mound large enough to retain heat promotes decomposition and disinfection. The pile is turned early and often for uniformity and to avoid malodorous fermentation. In aerated piles, good organisms dominate and the smelly ones die. The heated pile also becomes inhospitable for Salmonella, E. coli and other manure pathogens. The recent infestations of spinach, onions, peanut butter and hamburger do not arise from organic farms where good compost is used, but rather from factory farms with filthy runoff problems that use sewer sludge or synthetic chemicals as fertilizer. Good compost promotes food quality. In a well-made compost pile, good bacteria defeat the bad ones, just like it should be. An abundance of friendly microbes defines the quality of finished compost, and the power of those microbes depends on their mineral content.

Compost is not just the key to sustainable agriculture, but also God's will. It is the renewal of things, and the only tangible form of reincarnation. It is life's resolve and death's acceptance. What transpires in a compost pile is as awesome as in any religion, and its miracles are accessible. The God in the compost pile is worth dirtying one's fingernails for. The fruit of its faith is in the fertility of the land, the salubrity and appeal of its produce, and ultimately in the balance of things. Eating fresh, hardy, local organic produce is spiritually gratifying, like returning to Eden. Understanding the wisdom of nature and respecting its mystery, through compost, brings us closer to the Oneness: Nature's unifying principle.

Organic and mineral elements are driven to assemble and dissolve, each particle carrying a quantum of soul with it. Like the atom that carries it, this soul cannot be destroyed; disassembled, yes, but not destroyed. Soul is compounded in ever more complex life forms. Humans, the greatest assembly of soul, are Nature's crowned jewels and God in its highest order. This comforts me, and brings me closer to the task ahead; to live in harmony with my world.



Why We Need Action on Soil Depletion

Thursday, October 23, 2008 by: Lynn Berry Soil scientists have known for many years about the decline in soil fertility. To address the problem, farmers, agricultural companies and governments have advocated a number of solutions which, however, have not ensured that our food is more nutritious.

Farming is big business and the aim to is give people cheaper food and make profits. This has meant that crops are genetically modified to ensure resistance against disease and to grow faster; that pesticides and herbicides are used to control pests; that ammonium-based fertilizers are applied to try to improve the soil.

This business has created an entirely unnatural ecosystem, where the soil has become barren and devoid of micro-organisms that are needed to create organic mineral complexes. The trace minerals have been used up and there is no immediate way to restore the micro-organisms.

The minerals from the soil contribute to producing nutrient rich food (including minerals). These nutrients are absorbed by us when we consume food. Like it or not we are connected to the soil. If it's depleted, then so are we. Unhealthy, barren soil does not produce food that is abundant in nutrients. For example, between 1951 and 1999 Vitamin A was completely lost in onions and potatoes.(1)

Soil that is depleted is unable to help nutrient deficient plants overcome attacks from pests and fungus. This means more pesticides are used. Synthetic (inorganic) fertilizers have little benefit since they create insoluble mineral complexes which are difficult for plants to absorb. Dr Richard Drucker (of Drucker Labs) reports that healthy nutrient-rich crops need 70 trace minerals, but that farming is only replacing 3-5 of these.(2)

Government authorities have been aware of the problem for 70 years. In 1936 it admitted that almost all soils in the US were depleted of minerals, and this was reiterated again in 1992 at the Earth Summit.(3) What does that have to say about progress?

Another reason why soils are depleted is acid rain. The University of Maine published a study in the December 2003 issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal which confirms that acid rain depletes nutrients from the soil. Authorities have long ignored scientists' reports that acid rain depletes the soil of nutrients needed for growing trees.(4)

Can we then get minerals from other sources? Drucker believes that the best inorganic trace minerals from coral, colloidal or ionic have very large and insoluble molecules that are difficult to absorb at cellular level. Further, once they are absorbed, they accumulate in the body and are stored in fatty tissues. Over time, these substances become toxic leading to possible disease. Given this problem, we can assume that it will be difficult to get minerals from other sources. He does suggest that we need high quality supplements until a solution is found.(2)

Organic minerals have very small molecules which are easily absorbed through the cells. The minerals work as activators in the body as they are required to set off chemical reactions. For example, magnesium is an activator for over 300 enzymes and is important for the energy system of the body.

Dr Linus Pauling is famous for saying that every disease, sickness and ailment is related to mineral deficiency. The reason is that minerals are required for every cell in our body to function.

If minerals are lacking in our food, vitamins are of no use because vitamins (and enzymes) need minerals for them to work in our bodies. This means that vitamin supplements would be of no use unless we also have adequate minerals.

Our focus on progress in the name of money is having significant impacts on our health. Money was the very reason why authorities did not over the 70 years insist on sustainable farming practices, and why producers of pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers held sway. So some people have benefited financially, but what use is money if it cannot buy us food that will sustain us and keep us healthy in the long term?




Stardust on the Corn

In his essay, The Work of Local Culture, poet and rustic sage Wendell Berry famously wrote of a steel bucket that used to hang from a fencepost on his Kentucky farm:

"I never go by it without stopping to look inside," Berry wrote. "For what is going on in that bucket is the most momentous thing I know, the greatest miracle that I have ever heard of: it is making earth. The old bucket has hung there through many autumns, and the leaves have fallen around it and some have fallen into it. Rain and snow have fallen into it, and the fallen leaves have held the moisture and so have rotted. Nuts have fallen into it, or been carried into it by squirrels; mice and squirrels have eaten the meat of the nuts and left the shells; they and other animals have left their droppings; insects have flown into the bucket and died and decayed; birds have scratched in it and left their droppings or perhaps a feather or two. This slow work of growth and death, gravity and decay, which is the chief work of the world, has by now produced in the bottom of the bucket several inches of black humus. I look into that bucket with fascination because I am a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts, and I recognize there an artistry and a farming far superior to mine, or to that of any human. I have seen the same process at work on the tops of boulders in a forest, and it has been at work immemorially over most of the land-surface of the world. All creatures die into it, and they live by it."

Berry's recognition of "an artistry and a farming far superior . . . to that of any human" at work inside his bucket is, of course, homely recognition of the fact that the universe doesn't need people. The universe got along fine before humans appeared. The universe will get along fine when humans disappear.

Prehistoric Meteorites

Scientists today know that Earth and her ecosystem were shaped in part by a series of meteor strikes. Geological evidence shows, for example, that 65 million years ago a meteor some 10 kilometers in diameter roared down from the heavens and struck Earth near what is now the town of Puerto Chicxulub, on the Yucatan Peninsula. The giant rock exploded upon impact, leaving a crater roughly 180 kilometers in diameter. The explosion filled the atmosphere with clouds of gas and debris that blocked the sun’s light for years. The long darkness caused immediate and catastrophic global climate changes, of which one result was the extinction of the dinosaurs.

About 74 million years ago, some 10 million years before the Yucatan apocalypse, a similar disaster occurred near what is now the town of Manson, in northwest Iowa. The impact and explosion of the Manson Meteorite, as it is called, left a crater 35 kilometers wide. The Manson Crater is 23rd largest of the 172 meteoric craters known to exist on Earth. Basing their calculations on evidence such as the size and depth of the crater and damage to the surrounding terrain, scientists believe that the Manson Meteorite was about 2.5 kilometers in diameter and was traveling at about 56,000 mph when it hit the ground.

Though human history is filled with wars and floods and plagues and famines and volcanos and earthquakes, neither our written records nor our folklore recall cosmic calamities like those at Manson and Chicxulub. The heavens thus far have refused to rain annihilation upon man. Of ancient craters like those at Chicxulub and Manson, no part is now visible. Scientists know those craters exist and can map their extent thanks to evidence from drill cores, from seismic instruments, and from other scientific and technological resources.

Meteorites in Iowa History

Though hundreds of small meteors enter our atmosphere daily, most all of them burn up before they reach the ground. Evidence of their burning, particles of ash sometimes called cosmic dust, perpetually drifts down from the sky.

Some of that dust surely falls into places such as Wendell Berry’s bucket and contributes in some way to the process at work there, though neither Berry nor anyone else could actually see it. The 'stardust' that rains upon us is invisible to the naked eye and can only be detected using special tools and techniques.

The nightly display of 'shooting stars' is all most folks ever see of rocks from outer space. For a meteor to actually strike the ground (only meteors that hit the ground are called meteorites) is an extremely rare occurrence. Some of those lucky enough to witness such an event may be superstitious and attach ominous import to what they have seen. Others may not know what they’re seeing and mistake it for something else entirely.

So it was when, at about 2:50 p.m. on February 25, 1847, a meteor streaked fire and smoke across the sky and exploded over Linn County, Iowa. Pieces of the thing showered down on a strip of wooded land near the Cedar River, from Hooshier Grove (now the town of Ely) to a spot two or three miles south of the village of Bertram.

Published accounts agree that “The attention of people in that region was arrested by a rumbling noise as of distant thunder; then three reports were heard one after another in quick succession, like the blasting of rocks or the firing of a heavy cannon. . . . These were succeeded by several fainter reports, like the firing of small arms in platoons. Then there was a whizzing sound heard in different directions, as of bullets passing through the air.” (a)

The explosions were so loud that they caused alarm in Iowa City, 22 miles away. (b) Judge James Cavanagh and two of his sons were cutting wood along the Cedar River some way south of the impact area. When they heard the heavy explosions and saw puffs of dark smoke in the northwestern sky, the Cavanaghs and other witnesses thought the town of Marion had been blown off the map. (c)

Perhaps because Marion was then the Linn County seat and the largest town in the area, or perhaps because early reports told of a single strike in Linn County about nine miles south of Marion, meteoric stones recovered by Linn County residents in the days and weeks after the 1847 strike are known to science and to history as fragments of the Marion Meteorite. It is estimated that between 46 and 75 pounds of the Marion Meteorite were recovered in all, and it is likely that more of it remains to be found. Of that which was recovered, Amherst College got two pieces weighing roughly 20 pounds each. A museum in Tubingen, Germany, got a fragment weighing about a pound, and Chicago’s Field Museum houses two smaller pieces. In 1977 Amherst College lent one of its two fragments back to the State University of Iowa, where it remains on display. (d)

The Marion Meteorite was the first meteor strike in the recorded history of Iowa. It was also the first of several that awed and sometimes terrified Iowans in the latter half of the 19th Century: At 10:20 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1875, residents of Iowa County saw an enormous fireball come screeching out of the southeast and blast itself to bits in the sky just west of Homestead. People saw the flash and heard the detonation at a distance of 150 miles. It scattered pieces of rock over some 20 square miles. Another big rock smashed to earth near Estherville (Emmet County) at 5:15 p.m. on May 10, 1879, and still another struck near Forest City (Winnebago County) on May 2, 1890. (e)

The Estherville strike was the biggest of the four. (f) One recovered boulder reportedly weighed 431 pounds. Several others near that size were found, along with hundreds of smaller fragments. The rock’s spectacular explosion caused a dust cloud several cubic miles in volume, according to watchers’ estimates. (g)

In the 20th Century, too, Iowans experienced several meteorites: On a bitter cold night in November 1916, watchers saw a meteor explode in the sky near the town of Mapleton (Monona County). (h) Another 'detonating meteor' (sic) was seen in the sky west of Alta (Buena Vista County), at 9:55 p.m., on May 31, 1917. A 108-pound meteorite believed to have come from one of those two explosions was recovered in 1939 from a cornfield east of Mapleton. (i)

The continuous rain of meteorites globally should remind us all that Wendel Berry is right: planet Earth is a sort of bucket hanging on a fence post in the cosmos. The soil, the land, the plants and animals, the people that shelter in the bucket, the moon, the stars, the universe itself are parts of a living process that goes on apace, within and all about us. When any person claims to 'own' a piece of that process, he or she is deluded. To believe we can control it is the utmost folly.

Control issues aside, some Iowans believe they can taste stardust in cornbread. Details at eleven.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

a) Rev. Reuben Gaylord in a letter to Prof. Charles Upham Shepard of Amherst College, qtd. in Ben Hur Wilson, “The Marion Meteor,” The Palimpsest 39, n. 4, April 1958, 186.

b) C.W. Irish, qtd. in Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 188.

c) Judge James Cavanagh to C.W. Irish, qtd. in Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 187.

d) Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 185.

e) “Looked Like the Face of Moon Had Fallen Off,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, 16 July 1967, 5-B.

f) Ibid.

g) Otto Knauth, “Recall Days When Sky Rained Stones on Iowa,” The Des Moines Register, 24 April 1967, 3.

h) Ben Hur Wilson, “The Mapleton Meteor,” The Palimpsest 39, n. 4, April 1958, 197-206. For whatever reason, the incident caused so little stir at the time that witnesses were later unsure of the exact date of its occurrence.

i) Ibid. 197.


  1. Somewhat related and definitely a good read:

    Jimmy Montague: Stardust On The Corn

  2. Thanks Winter,
    That was very good.
    It is definitely related and now added here.