Reconstruction by Way of the Soil

by G.T. Wrench

Chapter 7

Contrasting Pictures

In order to get a clear idea of the modern valuation of the soil and its effects, it is well to begin with the opposite of the unavoidable sketchiness of a trans-continental survey, such as that of the last chapter, and to concentrate upon self-contained examples on a small scale. Small islands offer themselves at once as the opposite to great continents. By nature they are self-contained. Their inhabitants get food from the sea, a source with which they are unable to interfere as they can with the soil. Sea-food, therefore, has the natural quality of wholeness. Health, therefore, should be found in such islands.

It is never vain to ask health from nature, and small islands still preserve to a large extent this gift, or certainly did until trade intervened. The health of the few inhabitants of that most isolated island, Tristan da Cunha, was described by a medical visitor in the British Medical Journal, March 1938, as 'vastly superior to that of the civilized world'. Similar health distinguished the inhabitants of the once isolated Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The health of uninterfered-with South Sea islanders affords further examples.

This whole health is shared by all forms of life and is preserved whilst the island is a self-contained life-cycle and the rule of return is followed automatically. But, when trade enters and breaks the rule of return, then a deterioration of life sets in. This has happened in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. There are many islands, but only two of any size. They run parallel to each other and are some 100 miles long. These islands came into the hands of the British over a century ago. Bleak and almost treeless, they nevertheless possessed vegetation upon which sheep and cattle could feed. So these animals were imported and bred for the British market. The venture was a success, but in course of time there came evidence that the way in which the trade was conducted was inimical to the life-creating soil of the islands. Sir John Orr, in Minerals in Pasture, described what this was: 'Munro reports that in the Falkland Islands sheep have been reared and exported for forty years without any return to the soil to replace the minerals removed. During the last twenty years it has become increasingly difficult to rear lambs. The other animals are also deteriorating.'

The sequence or story is a very simple one.. There are these two islands, which have their own life-cycle. They became British and Britons imported sheep and other domestic animals to the islands. These animals were not predatory. They belonged to the grazing animals, which all over the world feed on grass and other herbage and do the soil no harm. Presumably, then, they could have been added to and supported in the Falkland life-cycle without doing it any harm, if, as just part of that cycle, they grazed and at the same time returned to the soil again what they took from it in life and finally after death. The story does not, however, run this good and happy way; it, like so many primitive stories of life, has its demon. In this case the demon quite probably lives in Liverpool, and he shows his demoniac quality in buying the Falkland sheep, having them shipped to Britain for the Britons to eat their flesh and spin their wool. He is not a demon of commission but of omission. This is what he and his like effect in the words of Sir John Orr: 'The process of depletion and the resulting deterioration which shows itself in decreased rate of growth and production, and in extreme cases by the appearance of disease, is proceeding on all pastures from which the milk, carcasses and other animal products are taken off without a corresponding replacement being made.' In Britain itself domestic animals are reared and then sent off to industrial areas without replacement. 'In our own country this process of depletion has been going on for many years, especially in hill pastures, and it is probable that the recognized decrease in the value of hill pastures in certain areas, owing to the increase in the diseases and mortality of sheep, is associated with the gradual process of the impoverishment of the pasture and its soil.'

The sheep want to get their full share in the life-cycle, but they cannot. The minerals are not there, for they left the life-cycle when the sheep's ancestors were deported to industrial areas. Precisely the same has happened in the Falkland Islands in the distant South Atlantic; and in both places it happens for the same reason, that the men, who own both, put money before life.

This is known with the half-conviction and half-knowledge, which are part of the famous facility for compromise of the trading race which owns them. In certain grazing areas, a form of return is given, which again forms a trade. The pastoralists or their employers buy the chief minerals, which the soil loses, from other men who mine and excavate them, and these imported minerals are put into the depleted soil. It is something to the gain of the soil for the time being and maybe this is being done to the Falklands. I have no information on the subject, but it is possible that phosphates from the South Sea island of Nauru eventually reach the soil of the Falklands.

Such a return would occur, and does occur in a great number of places, not as a following out of the rule of return, but from an almost absolute necessity because the rule has not been followed. Were it followed, there would be no need of any reconstruction of the treatment of the Falkland Islands, nor to state how it would have to be carried out as a reconstruction based on the soil.

The herds kept by the British in the Falkland Islands constitute the biggest animal feeders upon the herbage. The herbage draws its minerals from the soil, and these minerals pass into the bodies of the cattle. When those bodies, either alive or as carcasses, are taken out of the islands, then so much of the minerals of the soil as they contain are taken out of the islands. They arrive in Britain and there these minerals enter into the bodies of the British, who eat the meat of the animals. The British are, in brief, eating up the soil of the Falkland Islands. To fulfil the rule of return, when ships take the animals to Liverpool or London, ships should take back their equivalent in food for the Falkland Islands to Port Stanley. This is no more impossible than it is for iron to float upon the water and form the ships in which the food travels. It is only a question of values. If the condition of the soil were the valuer, this would be done. If health were the valuer it would be done. If the economy of health and quality were the valuer, it would be done. It is not done, because under present values, a number of people actually profit from the ill health of a far greater number, their methods of business being inseparably involved in the breaking of life-cycles and consequent ill health and its social complications. The buyer buys the products of the small islands, but he gives back only something abstract, namely money; he has no duty to give back anything more than his money. Further, the owners of the Falkland products exchange them for money and they also have no duty to life in the form of the rule of return. They may be forced to buy some sort of manure for the land, but they do this under pressure of the land's depreciation. But as long as they can sell the minerals or stored fertility of the Falklands to Britain for money, they do so without any pricks of conscience as regards the effect of their deeds upon the quality of life. It is, in short, an astonishing anomaly that they who ship this life to Britain, in doing so, each time actually commit murder on a certain quality of life in the Falklands. They become ultimately as dangerous to the pastureland as the pastoralists of the last chapter, and, indeed, being more powerful in means than they, correspondingly more dangerous.

What could be ensured if the rule of return were followed? This can be answered by a consideration of a contrasting picture to the Falklands, a yet smaller microcosm than the islands, actually a dairy farm. The one I propose to review suits my purpose well because it was a deliberate reconstruction based largely on the rule of return.

The farm of 165 acres only is situated within a hundred miles of the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, in a land of heath and pinewoods and an unfavourable climate of heavy wind and low rainfall. Its story starts with failure. In spite of importing sound cattle and feeding stuffs from outside at considerable expense, the farm fell, where sick farms and industries do fall, namely, into the hands of a bank. But the bank failed to make it flourish and eventually it came into the hands of a farmer who believed that to get a sound and healthy farm it must be a self-contained unit within the countryside itself. The beasts had to get their health from the soil on which they lived and not from outside, and they had to give back what they took from it. He proposed, as it were, to put a circle round it and that circle was to be a magic circle. Its magic was to be the aboriginal strength of the soil. A self-contained world of plants, animals and insects was to be brought into being and the balance that nature produces allowed to give its wholeness or health. The faith of the farmer was that only when the cattle bind their whole nature with the soil that nourishes them can they and the soil unitedly reach their full strength.

Everything was planned as a whole, but for the purposes of description the parts will be taken separately. Firstly comes the soil, Its chief needs were water, protection against wind, and food. Water depended upon the annual rainfall and this was some thirteen to seventeen inches yearly. More rain could not be got, but shelter helped to prevent evaporation, as shown in the woods and heaths, which were the uninterfered-with vegetative cover of the land. So the growing of trees and hedges with their double use of protecting soil by their above-ground growth and connecting soil and subsoil by their below-ground growth. Trees also gave a homeland to birds, and hedges to flowers, hedgehogs, lizards, hens, hares and a varied world of insects, all of which were neither encouraged nor suppressed, but allowed by the knowledge that in free instinct each form of life seeks its sustenance from and gives its quota to the whole, which in natural balance is health.

Then came the cultivated plants and these were chosen for the food of the animals, a smaller part for the humans and a larger part for the domestic animals. The plants for the animals were so chosen that food from the soil was available all the year round. Where special protection for finer foodstuffs was necessary, a terraced garden was devised for their growth. When use had been made of the edible part of these plants, the rest was rotted into manure by a process of composting with the dung of the animals and so returned to the soil. Nothing went off the farm except the milk and the occasional sale of a young animal in later years, when their vigour became celebrated.

We can now form a picture of what this farm became. It became, in its having as far as possible a setting in the original nature of the land, an aboriginal farm. But added to this was the skill and knowledge of specially trained men. It was a farm which deliberately reintroduced the methods of nature in uncultivated lands so as to regain nature's health and strength. It was a declaration that it is never vain to ask nature to give health to the work of those who know what health is.

The results were termed miraculous. The healing brought about certainly makes one think that the miracle is not in nature being able to create health, but that so few westerners know it. Here are the conditions before and after the miracle. When the dairy farm was started on the new lines, the herd of cattle suffered from contagious abortion, and were strongly tuberculous. A number of the animals had to be destroyed owing to tuberculosis, and it was even debated whether it would not be better to destroy the whole herd to get rid of tuberculosis, contagious abortion and other diseases once and for all, and buy a new herd. But the faith that works miracles was present. Out of the sandy floor came a fount of animal health. The one-time sick herd acquired a new health. The new methods required understanding, hard and sacrificing work. But the result was that on this new shut-off and self-contained farm the soil revealed its surprising gifts.

The young plants took upon themselves a new being. They now were healthy and reproduced abundantly. The seeds that they bore were seeds which the sandy soil welcomed; they were just the right seeds being in the same cycle as the soil itself. The plants looked well and the fodder straw preserved its beautiful golden colour. The plants grown for human use yielded foods notably rich in taste. The animals in their qualities accompanied the plants. They became healthy and fertile instead of sick and infertile. The cows gave more abundant milk and the young cows born on the farm doubled the output of the past milkers. The milk itself was rich in taste and acquired a special market amongst invalids, who enjoyed its taste and experienced its nourishment. Particularly noticeable, because of the eternal charm that belongs to healthy youth, were the generation that were born into this life-cycle on the farm. At birth the calves at once sprang up and showed a lively temperament. They grew strong limbs and glossy coats. Rather surprisingly they contradicted the dictum that soils poor in chalk produce poor bones. These calves built notably strong bones upon their chalk-poor soil. That other weird fact, which in itself seems to partake of the miraculous, that rays from the sun upon the skin of beasts assist powerfully in the use of chalk, came into its full operation so that such chalk as the soil had was economically excellent chalk. Every particle of it fell into its right place in the cycle, and, as an outward and visible sign of it, owners of neighbouring farms came to inspect the calves, felt their strong limbs, admired their vivacity and delight in life and readily bought them when for sale to increase the strength of their own herds according to the accustomed manner, which the farm itself had been able to abandon.

So we have these two contrasting pictures, the picture of the Falkland Islands, where the cattle showed such marked deterioration and where they were difficult to rear, and that of the sick farm which became a fount of animal health. The similarity of health and wholeness of the farm is unmistakable. Health is a positive quality and I do not know how else it can be obtained or maintained except by wholeness in the cycle of life. Nutrition diets, vitamins, protective foods are not wholes. They are only selections of one factor of a cycle, the factor of human food. If they are given the claim to produce health, which is a whole, it is a claim which will lead men, or mislead men, to further disappointment. Health is now being particularly pursued by a nutritional avenue as well as by the anti-microbic sanitation avenue. But when the whole is the aim, the fragmentations which are sought by these avenues, the specific microbes, the antiseptics, the sera, the vaccines, the great chemical remedies which now compel the admiration of all, the vitamins, the minerals of food, the protective foods, the hormones -- all become unessentials, being absorbed by the positive whole, in which even the microbic world loses its negative and dangerous character and becomes positive and beneficial. Negatives vanish and positives take their place. The world, as fashioned by men, undergoes an enormous simplification. The scores of diseases of men and the animals and vegetables they farm constitute an immense mass of negatives, the elimination of which would alter the very aspect of life. At present we are pushed to a host of discoveries, inventions, and health, and even life-destroying creations, because the simple contrasting pictures, which figure in this chapter, have not been seen at all by the vast majority and not seen with lively vision by the few. We shall now review further happenings in the wide world brought about by the alienation of men's minds from the creative power of the soil.

Chapter 8

Banks for the Soil

The traders of England take living matter in the form of cattle from the soil of the Falkland Islands, pay money for it to the Falkland farmers, but pay nothing at all to the living soil itself. The reason for this is that there are no banks in Britain for the soil of the Empire, though there are plenty of them for the farmers of the Empire.

What the soil needs as payment for its share in the production and feeding of the cattle is not, of course, money. It does not want symbols of reality; it needs reality itself. Unless it has this reality, it becomes less and less able to carry out its part of the partnership between it and the Falkland farmers. So it must have a payment in its own currency, that of soil-food-substances, and not in the currency of men.

It is true that the currency in which the farmers are paid could be turned into one factor of soil-food by means of a further trading transaction. The farmers, for example, could with the help of their banks buy phosphates from the island of Nauru in the Pacific Ocean and give it to the Falkland soil to make up for the phosphates that were taken out of it in the bodies of the exported cattle. But this transaction, being carried out by traders' money-banks, would not prevent the final loss of the phosphates of the Falkland' soil. These phosphates would, in the absence of banks for the soil in Britain, just go down the drain; in other words, they would first be eaten as a part of beef or mutton by some people in Britain, made use of by them, be passed by them as excreta into the drainage system and, through it, eventually reach some part of Britain's Atlantic girdle. So, from the world of terrene men, these phosphates would be dispersed into the vast, dark world of the waters of the sea.

With banks for the soil in Britain, however, the story would be very different. Not only the phosphates, but all the life substances of the Falkland soil would be collected by the banks for the soil and paid back to it, just as the farmers' banks collect the money due to the farmers and pay it back to them. The banks for the soil would, in brief, follow the rule of return. They would do for the Falklands, what they would also do for all exporting countries, the products of whose living soils were imported into Britain. They would collect all forms of imported soil substances after use, make them into soil-food and return them to the exporting countries. Thus the balance of life, which is far more important ultimately than is the balance of trade, would be preserved. As it is, in this age of commercial values, nothing at all is done; the benefits of trade are split off from life itself as a whole, and, quite unconsciously, the traders become the enemies of that life. They actually destroy that upon which their own very wealth depends. They impoverish the soils and in the end will so degrade them that trade will come to an end. Even the soil of the huge cattle estates of the Argentine, which send far more animal food than the little Falklands to Britain, is known to be deteriorating.

It is, then, where traders and other business men are most concentrated that the need of banks for the soil is most urgent; it is there that the wastage of the currency of life substances is most colossal; it is there that the knowledge of this wastage is so meagre as almost to be entirely absent. Britain, as an importing country in particular, takes large quantities of raw material for food, clothing and manufacture from foreign soils. The towns of many other countries do likewise. The result is that export trade in terms of the life-cycles, entails a great transfer of the elements of life from one country to another without return, or, in other words, a slow bleeding of the exporting countries. The importing countries are seen as leeches or other blood-sucking parasites harboured, all too willingly, by the exporting countries. With vast territories the exporting countries will enjoy a long spell of prosperity founded upon a primal high fertility of the soil, but the end is inevitable, a loss of the wholeness of its life-cycles, partial or complete spoiling of the land, erosion, flood, swamp, even barren hills and desert, degenerate plant and animal life, human depopulation and poverty, disease, and other sequels of the loss of soil fertility.

In reconstruction, this loss of the fertility of the soil, due to the wrongful values of commercial dominance, can only be met by banks for the soil. It is not a question only of whether life can be healthily carried on without them, but of whether it can be carried on at all. In 1896 Professor Shaler of Harvard gave a very clear and ominous reply to this question of questions:, 'If mankind', he said, 'cannot design and enforce ways of dealing with the earth which will preserve the sources of life, we must look forward to a time -- remote it may be, but clearly discernible -- when our kind, having wasted its great inheritance, will fade from the earth because of the ruin it has accomplished.' That is the startling fact, with which the neglect of banks for the soil faces the peoples of the era of progress.

The Falkland Islands are very small and very distant. Their loss to the modern world would make little difference. They do but present an infinitesimal part of a wastage that is going on on a truly enormous scale. Of this wastage, let us now take one of its chief examples, that of the wastage of human sewage.

Everyone knows that manure can be turned into food by the soil, and in nature is returned to the soil. Yet the waste of potential manure is prodigious. The dictionary definition of waste is 'resembling a desert'. Yet what is called waste does not resemble, but is the opposite of the desert. The desert is out of life. It is modern water-carriage sanitation that takes the elements essential to human life and puts them out of life, and then calls them waste.

A vast picture of this waste is given by Professor F. H. King in his classic, Farmers of Forty Centuries: 'On the basis of the data of Wolff, Kellner and Carpenter, or of Hall, the people of the United States and Europe are pouring into the sea, lakes or rivers, and into the underground waters, from 5,794,300 to 12,000,000 pounds of nitrogen, 1,881,900 to 4,151,000 pounds of potassium, and 777,200 to 3,057,600 pounds of phosphorus per million of adult population annually, and this waste we esteem one of the greatest achievements of our civilization.'

The loss of such quantities of the three elements is but a partial measure of the total loss, into the sea and other waters, of elements of the human life-cycle, a loss which could be avoided by the banking of these elements and returning them to the soil. To supply, by contrast, a picture of banking, Mr. King quotes Dr. Arthur Stanley, when Health Officer of the city of Shanghai, in his annual report of 1899: 'Regarding the bearing on the sanitation of Shanghai of the relationship between Eastern and Western hygiene, it may be said, that if prolonged national life is indicative of sound sanitation, the Chinese are a race worthy of study by all who concern themselves with Public Health. While the ultra-civilized Western elaborates destructors for burning garbage at a financial loss and turns sewage into the sea, the Chinaman uses both for manure. He wastes nothing while the sacred duty of agriculture is uppermost in his mind.' Banking for the soil, therefore, captures Dr. Stanley's decision. He was no advocate of sanitary progress for Shanghai in the form of destructors for garbage and the water-carriage system.

There are in Europe, however, towns which, like those of the Far East, bank in the interests of the soil. There are towns which have actually gone back to this banking after trying out the water-carriage system. The beautiful capital of Sweden is one, and its transfer back to use in place of wastage must have been just completed when the war broke out. In German towns banking was ordered by the Government in 1937, not as a part of the soil basis of civilization, but as a war measure amongst other war measures, an application of knowledge about life-creation to assist at life destruction.

In Britain, the Ministry of Agriculture in 1923 published a leaflet, No. 398, advocating this banking, but again not for the obvious reasons of the rule of return. Motor-cars, buses and lorries had greatly reduced the number of horses and the amount of stable manure. Among the various substitutes for this loss, one which had thereby gained a financial farming value, declared the department, was ashpit refuse. There was plenty of it, but it was unfortunately very little used. 'Incineration of this refuse is costly and is sheer waste. More up-to-date town authorities are now making an effort to dispose of their refuse in a better and more useful way, and some are adding other wastes and crushing the whole for use as a fertilizer.'

There follows an account of what some of these towns were doing: London, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen, Rochdale, Warrington, Halifax and in particular Gateshead, where 80 per cent of the houses had 'mixed pail' or ash closets, and hence the 'home refuse contains a considerable proportion of human excreta'. This was crushed with ordinary town and slaughter-house refuse, and made into a manure at the low price of two shillings and sixpence per ton, at which price it was eagerly bought by local farmers. Tested in the field, it showed itself a valuable substitute for farmyard manure. Night-soil in dried form was prepared and sold by the Rochdale, Warrington and other corporations, a method, which if generally adopted, said the leaflet, would solve the problem of the wastage of sewage and 'the shortage of organic manures on the farm would be greatly relieved; but we must expect these methods of conservancy to be superseded'. Fifty years ago even London was a town from which farmers could take night-soil for their fields. But the excessive convenience and niceness of the water-carriage system have given it the approval, not only of the urban peoples, but of many of the country folk also, so that now something surreptitious has become attached to any other method of disposal. One must expect these other forms of conservancy to supersede any form which recognizes sewage and garbage as merely latent forms of life. That, however, is unquestionably what they are; and a hygiene which destroys them and drives them out of the human life-cycle, has no real title to its name. In this it is the opposite of the name it bears.

The waste substances themselves show their avidity for life when put together. In the. making of manure from the various town wastes, the materials, when mixed together, cook themselves by fermentation. A heap of compost, for example, gets so hot that, if an iron rod is thrust into it, when withdrawn it is too hot to grip and hold. The final result of this cooking is like the leaf-mould that forms on the floor of a forest. The rotting of vegetable and animal matter in a forest is a cleanly process and that done in a town with town wastes can be as clean, and as free from flies and smell. It can, indeed, and should be the replica of the method of the forest, except that the pace of the urban method is rapid and makes good, sweet humus in three months, whereas the making of humus in the forest is a slower process. But in both cases there is evidence of active life. The heat is one evidence, and the growth of fungus is so active that it can be seen like smears of whitewash both on the floor of the forest and in the urban heap.

This waste then announces, in a really emphatic manner for something supposed to be dead and done for, that it is very much alive and that it is just as much a part of the life-cycle as a whole as it is when it pulses in the hot blood of a Derby winner. It is also hot life, indeed, for during the greater part of its activity it is considerably hotter than is an animal's blood. Then, when its heat and activity die down, it has become the pleasant-smelling and crumbling humus, which is a starting point of the rich green growth of healthy vegetation.

Such is one result of banks for the soil. The shamefully misnamed waste becomes the beautiful, soft, crumbling humus, which is the very substance of healthy life. It needs, perhaps, a poet to realize what beauty it contains. A poet can see in it the great, positive Yea, which is the unchangeable token of healthy life and of all that gives strength, grace, swiftness, endurance, cheerfulness, agility, elegance and beauty to mankind. It is the universal parent of the excellencies of life.

Next chapter

Table of Contents
1. Introductory
2. Rome
3. The Roman Foods
4. The Roman Family
5. Roman Soil Erosion
6. Farmers and Nomads
I. The Land
II. The Nomads
III. The Farmers
IV. Nomadic Migrations and Farmers
7. Contrasting Pictures
8. Banks for the Soil

9. Economics of the Soil
10. The English Peasant and Agricultural Labourer
11. Primitive Farmers
12. Nyasa
13. Tanganyika
14. 'Earth Thou Art'
15. Sind and Egypt
16. Fragmentation
17. East and West Indies
18. German Colonies: The Mandates
19. Russia, South Africa, Australia
South Africa
20. The United States of America
21. A Kingdom of Agricultural Art in Europe
22. An Historical Reconstruction
The Initiation
The Institution
The Achievement
23. Recapitulation
24. Action

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