His organic vegetables are known far and wide for their naturally intense taste. If you sow the same seeds in your garden, you will hardly get the same intensity. So how does Köbi make his food simply taste better and contain even more nutrients?

Healthy soil for healthy food

Our soil keeps pests and pathogens at bay and helps healthy plants to grow. This in turn benefits humans and animals, because we can only get the best nutrition from healthy food. Soil is the foundation of our lives and its condition directly affects the quality of our food. If the soil is not in good condition, even the best seeds, targeted fertilisation or plant protection measures are of no use.

More people, less land

Despite its importance, too little attention has been paid to soil so far. The fact is that around 23 to 26 billion tonnes of soil are washed away from agricultural land worldwide. This corresponds to a loss of one percent per year (according to LID and NRP 68). At the same time, the globalisation of agricultural trade has led to rich countries with little land increasingly having their food grown abroad. According to a study by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), around 60 percent of the environmental pollution caused by Swiss consumption and production currently occurs abroad. And the number is increasing because the population is growing while the agricultural area is shrinking. Another factor to consider is that it is primarily the areas with the most fertile soils that are being built over, while the naturally unproductive areas in the mountains are used much less frequently as settlement areas. Ticino lost the most agricultural land between 1985 and 2009, with a decrease of 16 percent. Where cultivation was abandoned, bushes and forests grew up, which is why the canton is now forested in many places. The development in Valais is going in the same direction.

Humus as a nutrient store is dwindling

In Switzerland, 1.1 square metres of agricultural land are lost every second. Our soil is not only disappearing due to overbuilding, it is also losing humus. Humus is defined as the total dead organic matter in the soil. It is so important because it protects the surface from erosion and its components are an excellent store for plant nutrients and important for soil organisms. In addition to price policy, the overburdening of Switzerland with concrete is one reason why agriculture has been intensified in recent years. With the mechanisation of agriculture, machinery (especially in the lowlands) has become ever larger and more efficient. The soil is seen as increasingly compacted.

Rich soil life without herbicides

The humus content can be increased by organic fertilisers such as manure or compost. When the minerals are in balance and the soil receives enough oxygen, fewer herbicides and pesticides are needed thanks to healthy plants and a rich soil life. A research team from the Bern University of Applied Sciences and Agroscope was even able to prove, as part of the National Research Programme (NRP 68), that no-till in combination with green manure makes the controversial herbicide glyphosate superfluous.

More taste thanks to own compost

Jakob Bürgi from Schindellegi has been composting green waste since 1996. Not only has the humus layer increased, but weeds such as dock have become fewer. “The soil is darker and more crumbly because it contains more oxygen and is kept loose by microorganisms (bacteria). The roots of the plants also reach much deeper,” explains the organic farmer from Canton Schwyz. Because the nutrients in his compost (unlike conventional fertiliser) are not water-soluble, the plant can utilise them much better. “The vegetables become more aromatic, more nutritious and less watery,” Köbi knows.

Although he needs most of the 500 tonnes of compost he produces annually for his own farm, direct sales to nurseries and private individuals are becoming increasingly important. “You can not only buy green compost from me, but also harvest the organic vegetables in our large garden right away,” explains the innovative farmer, who hopes that more attention will be paid to the soil again in the future.

Click here to visit the Bürgi family farm in Schindellegi SZ.

You can find the Experience Day with Jakob Bürgi in the Mucca shop.

Source: Nationales Forschungsprogramm (NFP 68). Nachhaltige Nutzung der Ressource Boden. Medienmitteilung der Berner Fachhochschule 2016. Zollikofen: BFH-HAFL.

Dudda, Eveline. (2015). Boden unter Druck. Landwirtschaftlicher Informationsdienst LID, 2015 (472). Bern: LID.

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