The Healthy Food, Healthy Soil Connection
San Diego County has approximately three million residents in 18 incorporated jurisdictions and more than 100 communities in the unincorporated area. It is the fifth most-populous county in the United States, and has a population greater than 20 of the 50 U.S. states. Within the county’s boundaries are 71 miles of coastline, a total land area of 4,526 square miles, with 4,207 square miles of that land and 307 square miles of water.
San Diego County has 5,732 farms and ranks as the 12th largest farm economy among 3,000 counties and has more small farms than any other county. San Diego is a top producer of avocados, nursery crops, honey, lemons, strawberries and laying hens. The value of San Diego County’s agricultural production totaled $1.7 Billion in 2015.
San Diego as region prides itself as a leader in organic farming. 385 of San Diego County farms are certified organic. Organic growers rely on compost to feed their soils. Unfortunately demand and other factors outstrip supply.
Meanwhile, San Diego County disposes of more than one million tons of compostable materials in landfills every year, which equates to about 40% of all waste disposed. Of that million tons, roughly 500,000 tons is food material. Not included in the million tons is an additional near 200,000 tons of our region’s landscape trimmings and green materials that were applied to landfills as Alternative Daily Cover (ADC). These materials, when treated as wastes and disposed in landfills, produce methane gas and leachate; two byproducts that pose risks to public health. The State of California has declared landfills a major emitter of greenhouse gases, and has declared methane a climate pollutant.
Better management of these discards (yard trimmings, food scraps, manure, etc.) will improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, revitalize agricultural and garden soils, ensure a robust and healthy food system, and create local jobs while protecting human health and improving the quality of life for the region’s populace. Diverting compostables from the landfill will stimulate the economy by facilitating commerce, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, composting generates four jobs to every one job associated with landfilling.
The County population’s wellness, economy, self-sufficiency, and quality of life can be enhanced through strengthening a local, sustainable, closed loop food-shed, which relies on healthy soils. Healthy soils in turn rely on the nutrients, organic matter and beneficial microbes that compost replenishes in them.