An Insightful Understanding of Our Soils

Everything You Need To Know with Dr. Mary Cole

Most people are unaware of the importance of soil microbiology to plant growth. Soil microbes play a vital role in plant nutrition, disease resistance, and drought tolerance. There is a growing need in the agriculture and food fields to understand soil microbes and their role in plant health.

Dr. Mary Cole has seen many changes in agriculture during her 40+ years as an agricultural educator. “I have seen a lot of change, but I think people are still trying to do things right.”

She has worn many hats in her life: microbiologist, weed scientist, educator, and researcher. Her true passion lies in agriculture and teaching others about the importance of soil health. What we know about these tiny organisms is fascinating, and there is so much more we have yet to know.

Growing up, Mary was surrounded by a half-acre of land covered with veggies. She recalls that her grandmother used to fill a bucket of water with cow mature in it which may smell unpleasant, but this was her way of fertilizing the plant without a trace of any synthetic chemicals. Most of the time she and her siblings used to pick veggies and just wipe with their clean clothes, not to mention their mother’s dismay at their action but eventually they were able to eat them. She said it is in that situation she grows up where the vegetables are important and how they are grown are also important.

 As she continues to carry along her vision to help and protect our soils, she eventually gains more knowledge and interest when she is taking her Ph.D. at the University of Monash which focuses on how to manage diseases in a non-chemical way and so her journey continues.

Then in the year 1980, she started Agpath. Its mission is to introduce farmers in a way to farming the soil that everything you grow above the ground will grow there. That is the attitude they want to achieve. Some workshops show people how to make compost and also there is a full day to use a microscope. They teach how to use a microscope and show the micro-organisms in the soil or the compost tea. When people on the courses see the organisms, they become more excited. At first, they only wanted to farm organically but after seeing what’s beneath the ground they started to have this heartfelt connection on the ground. It’s so inspiring having this population that is aspiring to take care of our planet.

But looking back, Mary was doubted by farmers telling her what she was talking about was rubbish and nonsense because at that time no one understood her point of view. Thanks for the encouragement of some scientists that told her to keep going and continue what her advocate and what she is doing is right. The world needed people like her and then finally over time she was able to get the recognition she deserves.

Farmers between the age of 60 and 70 go to her to ask for help if she can test their soils to lessen the chemical input because they have grandchildren having allergies or eating problems. They think it’s because of the number of chemicals they put in their crops which is true. Now with more recognition, especially with younger people that she finds there is more not well thought in the universities because she has students coming from universities doing research and intern telling her that in 14 weeks they were able to learn more from her rather than a 4-year course in the university, and we can say Agpath has a great role in that.

The world is full of life. However, most people don’t know that all the growth in the natural world can be directly attributed to what is happening underground. All the plants and animals are alive because of roots within the soil. Soil is very important to live, and humans should not destroy it, because if we did, there would be no life on Earth.

From a personal perspective, Mary defines regenerative agriculture as the foundation of caring for the soil that supports life. It’s about caring for the country in all that we do.

At some point, fire and climate change impact weed management. Weeds are negatively seen, but they can be useful in terms of mulch potential. Weedy species may seem like the initial growth when the fire burns through an area, they are fast-growing and short-lived, but when the rain comes, soils are pushed down to the rivers. Weed management with compost tea is a cutting-edge application of an age-old practice. They protect the soil with a cover.

Farmers have been taught that weeds aren’t good  and they should be eradicated at all costs. However, evidence shows that farmers need to change their way of thinking about weeds if they want an effective solution. In place, through succession and evolution, you got to listen. There’s a difference in hearing and listening by explaining the concept. If they got it? That will be awesome!

Mary also knows that farmers suffer because of how they sell their products. She wants people to know the value of good food and why it is important not to waste it. People should grow their food, which is much better than buying it. 

She always believes that the solution lies in understanding “How our soils play a vital role in plant nutrition, disease resistance, and everything that has life”.

Her passion continues to inspire others and do the right thing. She freely believes that she may not give all her experience but she can start others on their journeys.

Truly, Dr. Mary Cole, is a woman with great determination and perseverance, her uttermost love and understanding of everything above and beyond the ground gain my respect. She simply tells us that if we learn to care and take into action what is supposed to be done in our soils then we are all on the same page of making this world a better place to live in.

It is interesting how the first people took care of our land. A lot of people were here before us, who used to live in harmony with nature. They did not destroy it, they respected it and when they died they left their knowledge for the next generations. Mary is one of these people, and we too can take her footsteps as well. LET US ALL be part of the CHANGE and start being the SOIL-ution.

Check out  Dr. Mary Cole’s Regen Mentor profile here if you want to work with her.

If you missed the SECRETS OF THE SOIL podcast episode 7, wherein Dr. Mary Cole talks about Soil Microbiology; Weed Management with Compost Tea and How That Happens; Post Fire Soil Reclamation; Nutritional Value of Natural Foods, listen below.

Want to dig deeper into soils?

The Soil Learning Center is a hub of resources for farmers & growers who are on the regenerative journey. A platform created by soil lovers at Farming Secrets Media Group.

The goal of Soil Learning Center is just that: creating a central online space bringing together resources, education, content and inspiration, to better your growing practices, boost profits and product quality with an emphasis on sustainability and promote freedom from climate change.

For today’s modern farmers, you can’t afford to not know about regenerative farming and how these practices can help you succeed. 

We’ll also discuss successful stories from other farmers and growers who have found their unique solutions using nature’s tools with this new form of agriculture. 

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