Soil – Really Important Tiny Lives

By Guest Contributor Kayla Siefried

February 2017

At the Compost Education Centre on the Coast Salish territories known as Victoria BC, we “grow soil.”

We grow nutrient dense healthy foods, and have biodiverse gardens, and that’s because we are concerned with the life that is within our soil at our demonstration gardens at 1216 North Park St.

Photo courtesy of Compost Education Centre.

Soil is an extremely important part of the food system. And it’s often a forgotten piece of the puzzle.

Take a moment to look at the things around you. Try and identify one thing that did not originate from soil.

It’s tricky. That plastic mouse you are holding? Made from oil, formed in the soil. That computer screen you may be reading? Full of a wide variety of precious minerals, mined from the earth, formed through geological processes…you get the idea.  

Asking these sorts of questions about life cycles with young learners inspires a connection. And connection is what the environmental movement needs. As people realize their imperative connection to the natural world, their innate need for the ecosystem services that nature provides in order to live, they develop a sense of stewardship toward those natural systems.

Photo courtesy of Compost Education Centre.

Life is supported by what originates in the soil, and so much life is contained in the soil! There are really important tiny lives living within that brown stuff. Inviting young learners to interact with the life that soil supports (including all the plant life and the tiny lives of worms, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, beetles, etc.) is vital to fostering a sense of stewardship.

At the Compost Education Centre we teach all things soils to all ages of learners through our educational programming. If you are involved with a young student group in the Capital Regional District, you can experience one of our interactive workshops for kids and youth. We explore soil science, worm composting, and the demonstration gardens onsite here in Victoria. The Education Coordinator can come to your location on bicycle loaded with worms and puppets, or you can come to our straw bale learning classroom in our gardens.

With school groups, summer camps, and home learners alike, a journey through our urban garden is perfect for the summer and autumn months. Taste and smell plants from our gardens, check out our aquaponics system, learn some permaculture design elements, and meet our puppet friends Corey, Brownie, and Dr. Wriggles! Visit the Compost Education Centre Website for more information.

In the meantime, here is a fun activity you can do with a group of learners to visually express the importance of stewarding our soils:

Photo courtesy of Compost Education Centre.

Precious Soil: A Visual Activity

Grab an apple and a knife.
Explain to the learners that this apple represents the earth.
Cut the apple into quarters. ¾ is ocean/water, set that aside. The other ¼ represents landmass.
Cut the ¼ that represents the landmass in half.
1/8 is arctic or desert, and not useable for growing food/fiber/lumber.
1/8 remains.
Slice off about ¼ of the 1/8.
Only this 1/32 is useful for food/fiber/lumber, because the other part of the 1/8th is too wet, cold, dry, hot, covered in buildings, steep, or shallow.
Peel off the apple skin with your knife.
This is the soil we actually use to grow food for all the worlds people.

This ‘earth skin’ – topsoil – is super fragile! The soil can easily wash or blow away! It’s important to take care of our soil. 99.7 % of our food comes from our soils…not to mention everything else we use on a daily basis.

So, how will you be a soil steward today?

About the Author, Kayla Siefried: I’m pretty interested in high quality soil. And I know (so do the journal articles) that high quality soils start with good quality compost, and young people are the future, so teaching young folks about soils is all too important. Learn more about how the Compost Education Centre is involved with youth education, and learn how to grow your soil at

Featured Image courtesy of Compost Education Centre.