While it may seem that there is no difference between soil and dirt, those who want to promote the growing of food or vibrant garden beds know that soil is something special. In fact, healthy soil is “a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.” (USDA)  Whereas dirt, is considered to be dead soil that lost the characteristics needed to support life.

Title: Soil Health: Healthy Soil for Life
Organization: Natural Resources Conservation Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Description: Explains how soil is a living ecosystem and outlines the important role it plays in regulating water systems, sustaining plant and animal life, filtering and buffering potential pollutants, cycling nutrients, and providing physical stability and support for both plant and human structures. Includes links to many more-in-depth USDA and other resources on soil health.

Title: Soil Biodiversity: The Hidden World Beneath Our Feet 
Organization: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Description: Colorful poster describing and depicting the components of a soil community, from megafauna (toads, badgers, and others) to microfauna and microorganisms (bacteria, protozoans, fungi, and nematodes).

What Makes Soil Healthy?
Why is Healthy Soil Important?
What Makes Soil Healthy?

A healthy soil is a complex mix of dead organic matter and living organisms. Nature continually creates healthy soil, as is easily seen on forest floors. Too often, however, modern garden and agriculture practices do the opposite. Synthetic pesticides and other harsh methods strip soil of its most important elements.

Title: Is It Dirt or Soil?
Organization: North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Description: This resource clarifies the difference between soil and dirt, which it defines as “dead soil [that has] lost the characteristics to support life.” It describes the living organisms within healthy soil that promote plant growth and protect plants from disease and delineates the important role soil plays in an ecosystem.

Title: What Is Soil Health?
Organization: Ecological Landscape Alliance
Description: A short article defining soil health and soil quality, listing soil’s important functions, and describing nine characteristics of a healthy soil, including tilth (its physical character), depth, water storage and drainage abilities, nutrients, role of pathogens and pests, and range of beneficial organisms.

Title: Soil Fertility Principles
Organization: Bionutrient Food Association
Description: From the website of an organization devoted to increasing the nutrients in our food through soil enhancement, this page explains how “all plants in nature and in healthy environments have well established multi-speciated symbiotic relationships with soil and leaf life” and describes, among other things, the symbiosis between plants and the bacteria and fungi found in the soil.

Title: Basic Protocols
Organization: Bionutrient Food Association
Description: Among many informative pages on the website of this organization devoted to increasing the quality of our foods, this page details how minerals, soil life, carbon, air and water are essential components in a healthful growing environment.

Title: Gabe Brown: Keys to Building a Healthy Soil  
Organization: Kiss the Ground Transcend Productions. Filmed at the Idaho Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Description: Hour-long video of regenerative agriculture guru Gabe Brown, author of "Dirt to Soil, One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture," presenting his five principles for building a healthy soil, from caring for your soil to promoting biodiversity. The goal is to support plants and all the living things that share that soil by adding life to your soil.
Watch the movie trailer to "Kiss the Ground."

Why Is Healthy Soil Important?

healthy soil

Soil is an essential player in life on our planet.  Healthy soil is critical to the sustainable growth of health plants, and invertebrates, which are the foundation of our eco system.  At a time when Earth continues to heat up, we need not only to put less carbon into the atmosphere but also to take out and sequester what is already there.


Soil is a major resource for carbon sequestration, and the healthier the soil, the more it can help our planet. Among its other beneficial characteristics, a healthy soil:

  • promotes water retention
  • helps support a balance between beneficial microorganisms and potential pests, diseases and weeds, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides
  • may mitigate the effect of some heavy metals
  • promotes healthy plants = healthier food

Title: The Soil Story
Organization: Kiss the Ground
Description: Four-minute video that explains how building healthy soil and other regenerative agriculture practices are among Earth’s best hopes for reducing carbon in the atmosphere by storing it in the ground.

Title: The Importance of Soil: Environmental Soil Essentials
Organization: Hot Mess, a PBS video series on climate change
Description: A 12-minute engaging video about the composition of soil, including details about its mineral and organic components and the nitrogen cycle.

Title: Bionutrient Rich Food & Health – Westchester chapter
Organization:Bionutrient Food Association
Description: Among many informative pages on the website of this organization devoted to increasing the quality of our foods, this page stresses an "underlying nutrient deficiency in our food supply", and includes information on local workshops and events.   For more information on soil and nutrition, visit their national chapter.