Socks and soil

Elizabeth Thacker Jones muses about some of the unlikely treasures found deep beneath New York City concrete.

A view from the farm.
A view from the farm.

A few weeks ago at the NYU Urban Farm Lab, we dug down deep into the soil.

Thrusting our pitchforks into the hard ground was no simple feat, and I didn’t feel the need to go workout at the gym after class that day. We dug way down, about eight inches into the ground. Large rocks and hunks of concrete did not stop us. Neither did debris.

Our humble discoveries probably wouldn’t surprise anyone living in New York City: worn out pennies from the seventies and shards of red brick, mostly. But what was most shocking to me that day was finding a long black sock.

I have to admit, when it peeked out of the moist soil, I was curious as to what it could be. Soil has a unique color and texture, and it was easy to spot this very long black piece of cloth peeking out beneath a small mound of dirt. Soil color is the most obvious and easily determined soil characteristic, and it is special and to be cherished; erosion rate in conventional agriculture exceeds that of soil formation and can be detrimental to crop yields. When soil erodes, adjacent streams and waterways are polluted.

We have been studying soil for decades in pursuit of finding that perfect concoction, much like finding the perfect pair of socks: breathable, chemical free, comfortable, durable, and adaptable for the seasons. Our feet, which we cherish, are the foundation of our bodies. We rely on our feet to support us, much like we rely on the soil to support our plants. What lies beneath healthy soil is magical. Just as New York City has a strong foundation beneath it, so does land where we grow food and plants.

At the very least,  we’re a little closer to figuring out where our socks end up when we lose them.

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