February 4, 2012 in Features

Ben e ath ou r feet

By The Spokesman-Review
If you go

What: “Dig It! The Secrets of Soil.” The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History exhibit features hands-on activities, videos and soil samples from every state and territory in the country.

When: Today through Sept. 22

Where: Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC), 2316 W. First Ave.

Cost: Museum admission: Adults $7, seniors and students, $5. MAC members free

Information: (509) 456-3931 or www.northwestmuseum .org/

Today: Smithsonian professionals, Inland Northwest scientists and conservationists will discuss “Can we feed the world and sustain the planet?” at 2 p.m., followed by reception.

Museum exhibits that feature planets and stars sell themselves. But soil? How do you get people excited about the stuff they walk on every day?

Well, you can chat with Lynn Bahrych, project manager for “Dig It! The Secrets of Soil,” a Smithsonian exhibit that opens today at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

Bahrych, a Washington state conservation commissioner who relocated from the San Juan Islands for a year to oversee “Dig It!” shared several cool things about soil, including:

• It’s packed with interesting creatures

“In one shovel full of soil, you have 4 billion living organisms,” she said.

Bahrych once saw forest soil magnified 100 times. In that soil, there were creatures that “looked like the creatures from the ‘Star Wars’ space bar,” she said.

And the earthworm is king in the soil kingdom.

“Earthworms create soil,” Bahrych said. “What comes in their front end is just about anything you can think of – dead leaves, organic matter. They can actually digest rocks. Out the other end, out come worm ‘castings’ – (excrement). It’s the best compost ever. Earthworms really rock.”

• Super soil surrounds us

In prehistoric time, volcanic lava flows, followed by Ice Age flooding, carved and shaped the Palouse and built up layers of soil rich in ash and glacial material. Perfect for growing wheat.

“It’s the most fertile soil that exists,” Bahrych said.

• Soil is in thousands of everyday items.

For instance, sand is used in women’s cosmetics “to make the sparkle,” Bahrych said. “And tetracycline is made from a soil bacteria.  If you get strep throat, you will be using a soil bacteria to get well.”

Soil rich enough to produce food covers only 3 percent of the world’s surface. Humans can find substitutes for most everything else considered essential but, as Bahrych points out: “You can live without oil, but you can’t live without soil.”

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