Dirty boxers aren’t usually a good thing, but if you’re a farmer or gardener, they might just say a lot about your soil.

Evan Wiig, executive director of the California Farmers Guild, is challenging green thumb of all stripes to test the quality of their dirt with a simple pair of cotton underwear. If you’re soil is alive and healthy, according to Wiig, you’ll be left with not much more than an elastic waistband within a couple months. If you can wash and still wear the undies? You’ve got some work to do.

“In healthy, natural soil, you’ve got all these millions of tiny creatures—earthworms, fungi, bacteria—all busy eating, decomposing organic matter, transferring nutrients from the soil to the plant. But industrial agriculture decided it doesn’t need the help of these creatures,” said Wiig.

“Cotton is an organic material and breaks down naturally just like anything else you’d put in your compost pile. So if you bury cotton in soil teeming with life, all those creatures will begin to feast. Whereas in lifeless soil, nothing happens,” he said.
How does soil become lifeless? Wiig says that synthetic fertilizers and chemical inputs can make dirt “dead”.

“To those who rely solely on synthetic fertilizers and chemical inputs, the deader the dirt the better,” he says. “But the farmers we work with consider themselves stewards of that underground ecosystem, as farm partners with those tiny creatures. They take pride in active soil biology—and benefit from water retention, protection against pests and even the ability to sequester carbon.”

So far more than a dozen farmers, ranchers and gardeners have taken the #soilmyundies challenge, and the results will be judged and showcased at the September Agrarian Games and Farmer’s Market on September 16 at the Petaluma Fairground.
More details here.