Save the dirt

By Deacon Tom Cervone, Ph.D., Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C., and Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. M.S. 

Our Mother Earth

Editor’s note: This series takes a deeper look at Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical ― On Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’

Dave Hudak, a former Field Office Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, showed great wisdom when he’d say, “Save the dirt.” He was really saying, “Save the soil.” If you give life to the soil and make it healthy, you’ll resolve many land, water and air issues. An excellent article is, “The Soil is Alive, Protecting Soil Biodiversity across Europe” (European Commission, 5/22/08). Soils with high biodiversity can be noisy (Ute Eberle, 2/9/22, Life in the soil was thought to be silent. What if it isn’t? Living World). Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.”

Our goal is to remove carbon from the atmosphere and increase it in the soil. An article that describes common soil issues is, “Can Dirt Save the Earth?” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff (4/18/18, The New York Times), which reported, “The world is warming not only because fossil fuels are being burned, but also because soils, forests and wetlands are being ravaged.” In this article, we learn about soil health and the benefits of compost. It also said, “Society could theoretically remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the earth, and at the same time enhance the fortunes of farmers and the overall stability of the nation’s food supply.” By focusing on soil health, one farmer reduced his herbicide use 75% and fertilizers 45%; found that mulch and cover crops prevented weeds from growing; and he didn’t use insecticides. These successes suggest farmers can increase carbon in the soil while actually reducing their overall expenses. 

In California, local governments will make compost more accessible for farmers, helping them retain water in soils; fight droughts; boost soil health; and reduce methane from being released into the atmosphere. Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas (“California gears up for a new composting law to cut methane emissions and enrich soil,” Grace van Deelen, 6/1/2022, Politics and Policy). Another helpful article is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, food security, sustainable land management, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

Just think how great it would be to have healthy soils that:

  • promote deeper roots in the ground throughout the year for more CO2 sequestration; 
  • hold more water to reduce flooding and run-off of agro-chemicals;
  • have cover crops to protect against erosion from wind and rain; and
  • have super-improved habitat for soil fauna and flora. 

Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension in New Jersey also studied soil health. It found leaf mulching helped soil health, and that it could easily be integrated into any crop-production system with proper planning and management. Through partnerships with local municipalities, agriculture can help solve a leaf problem that affects cities/towns. Leaf mulching can improve on-farm income, reduce municipal disposal costs, reduce soil erosion and increase the productivity of farms (Daniel Kluchinski et al., 3/1996, USDA-NRCS, “On-Farm Leaf Mulching: Effects on Soils, Crop Yield, and Pests”).

What can we do? Visit: 


“... if this is to be a permanent nation, we must save this most indispensable of all our God-given assets - the soil from which comes our food and raiment (clothing). If we fail in this, remember that, much sooner than we have expected, this will be a nation of subsoil (i.e. below topsoil) farmers.” - H.H. Bennett 1933 (Father of Soil Conservation).


Dr. Tom Cervone is a deacon at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Evansville, Indiana with 50 years of experience in ecology. He graduated from St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan University. Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C. is a support sister on the Seton Harvest Farm started by the Daughters of Charity in response to the Communities - Care of Mother Earth. This CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm grows all natural produce for shareholders and the poor. Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. MS. is an award winning ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, who lives in Evansville, Indiana with her family.