Soil isn’t dead

Flower power?

Flower power?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Auntie Ruth’s column two weeks back had the chipper headline “Eco despair.” Such smiley-face moments are an occupational hazard endemic to the climate-change beat. So often the future is bleak.

But, hey.

In a world where Sir Paul McCartney wants meatless school lunches and Justin Timberlake’s golf course reportedly has amazing green features and Sam Simon (The Simpson’s co-creator) is buying the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society a new ship and Def Leppard’s Phil Collen is a vegan. Why—in a world where MTV has a machine that recycles credit cards into guitar picks—why so glum?

Let’s perk up out there. Behind every polluted sky there’s a beautiful sunset.

And under every driveway, there’s a beautiful garden. Maybe.

Auntie Ruth wonders what happens to all the exceptional farmland submerged beneath a housing subdivision. It’s a pertinent question, here in a valley that is internationally known for some of the finest farm land in the world—covered with acres and acres of malls and housing. Is that farmland, once developed, gone forever, or is it just in hiding, waiting for the right moment to come back to life?

According to Garrison Sposito, a professor of soil science at UC Berkeley, the soil that lies beneath concrete could return to productivity. As detailed on Grist (, the farmland under asphalt is less renewable—asphalt evidently comes awash in carcinogens—but that found under concrete, a less-toxic brethern, can come back over time. Granted, much of the good stuff of good soil—like worms—doesn’t linger much once the McMansions start going up. But the soil can come back over the years, returning to something quite farmable.

Yer Auntie just likes that idea. Soil isn’t dead, just because we plopped a slab of concrete and a house on top of it.

And, with residential-land values falling nearly 70 percent since a peak in 2006, and the value of U.S. cropland increasing near 20 percent between 2007 and 2011 (The Wall Street Journal), perhaps the line to despair isn’t as straight as it sometimes look.

Courage, comrades. Courage.