The Ground He Stands On
It’s 2020, and our planet is in danger. For decades, climate change has caused spikes in global temperatures, the melting of our ice caps, and exponentially-worsening natural disasters, and scientists argue a need for more urgent attention to and action on the issue. Ray Archuleta, certified professional soil scientist and conservation agronomist, believes that we can do something about it, and the answer to recovery is, quite literally, right beneath our feet. An energetic, empathetic, and impassioned leader, he has traveled the country educating the farmers of today. After working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), he founded the Soil Health Academy, a non-profit dedicated to equipping agriculturalists with the information they need to work smarter, not only for their own profits, but for the health of the land. Additionally, he’s taken his mission to the big screen in the Netflix documentary, Kiss the Ground. And his work is far from finished.
Archuleta has worked intimately with soil for more than 30 years, but he hasn’t always been so attuned to its inherent power. “A lot of our life is a progressive journey,” says Archuleta, whose epiphany struck nearly a decade into his career. “It doesn’t just happen at once, it’s many instances. You start asking very critical questions, and you become cognizant that there’s something wrong.” During his tenure on the road, he started to put the smaller pieces together, finding a through-line of foundational issues in the way we’ve been farming for far too long. He adds, “I kept asking questions like, ‘Why is the water not clean?’ and ‘Why are the farmers still going broke?’” All signs pointed to faults in the foundation for all life above: soil.
Archuleta knew he’d found a weakness, not only in our natural system, but also in our education systems. Coming out of college with a “fragmented, reductionist view,” he didn’t yet have the tools to step back and see the full scope of the issue until years later. Rather than perceiving the land as a means for mass crop production, as he’d been taught in school, he began to identify soil’s role, and in turn, his own role, in the ecosystem as a whole. “Soil is a very dynamic, living system, and once you see that – that it’s just as alive as your pet – it starts to change the way you interface with it, the way you have a relationship, the way you deal with it. It changes everything,” he says.
At the cornerstone of Archuleta’s mission, and of his educational work, is the concept of biomimicry: the modeling of structures and systems on the Earth’s intrinsic, natural processes. “Our agriculture is extremely destructive and intrusive the way it’s done now,” he says. And in truth, large-scale agricultural practices have actively worked against how nature operates for almost a century. Perhaps, the most devastating ecological collapse in American history, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, was caused in large part by inexperienced, miseducated farmers introducing harmful, mechanized farming techniques to an ecosystem they didn’t fully understand. “The biggest problem is the human mind, it’s the way we think,” he affirms. “We think we’re doing the right thing, but we’re not. It’s a form of arrogance. What have we learned? Our food system is very fragile, our ignorance and fear lead to more [arrogance], and we don’t research on our own.”
But if there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that hope is far from lost. “I think we can fix a majority of our health issues, our resource issues, and our climate issues with the soil,” Archuleta elaborates. “If we would all farm like nature does, it would change the whole planet.” We, the citizens of the world, still hold an incredible amount of power to change our future; we just have to collectively step into the higher consciousness of a mission and harness it. Archuleta does it every day, and he aims to inspire everyone he meets to do the same: “I just have a passion for people and for healing the land, and it’s not about me. It’s every day, it’s when we open the door for somebody. You might think it’s so small, but it’s the small things that really count,” he shares.
Writer: Summer Myatt
Photographer & Videographer: Eric Jacobson
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)