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I find the interconnectedness among all of the creatures on our planet to be one of the most awe-inspiring and sacred components of our human existence. I am fascinated and humbled every time I learn more about the ways the many beings on our wondrous Earth work together in intricate harmonies.

Take, for example, forests, where vast networks of fungal threads act as communication and nutrient pipelines for trees. I enjoy listening to podcasts, and one of my favorite episodes of the podcast Radiolab (“From Tree to Shining Tree”) focuses on the amazing connectivity of the species in the forest. Here, ancient fungi (found even on the very earliest tree fossils known to man) attach to tree roots and form a symbiotic relationship. The fungi literally mine for nutrients in the soil and feed the nutrients to the trees, which could grow no taller than a tulip without the aid of these tiny friends. In return, the trees provide the fungi with the sugars they need to thrive — researchers across the globe have found that forest trees give an astonishing 20 to 80 percent of the sugars they make to feed their fungal friends. The trees may also use their association with fungi to communicate warnings and messages with one another; to share nutrients with other trees, thereby protecting the health of the entire forest; and even to store nutrients, with the fungal network acting as the trees’ nutrient savings account.

Of course, it’s no secret that humans also depend entirely on other creatures for survival — the earth provides the unbelievably vast array of plants we use for food, supporting the existence of all life on the planet. What’s more, scientists today confirm again and again that plants are our most important health ally, protecting us from disease, supporting all of our bodily systems, and even protecting us against what may be uniquely human ailments: stress, obesity, anxiety and more. Many of our most important medicines come from other creatures, too, whether plants, animals or bacteria; and more and more, modern research supports the sometimes thousands-of-years-old uses of medicinal herbs to fight an array of ailments, from minor everyday complaints to serious chronic diseases.

During this time of year, many of us are enjoying the delicious and nourishing fruits of our labors in the garden — harvest time must surely be one of every food enthusiast’s favorite times of year. I think gardening and growing our own food is one of the most profound ways we interact with our planet and the other creatures that live here. It’s not just us and the tomato plant that have created that beautiful fruit — every crop we pick is the result of thousands of organisms working in concert to create our soil, our plants, our very bodies. So as you bite into that perfectly ripe heirloom plum or enjoy the earthy flavor of an oven-roasted beet, maybe take just a moment to meditate on the intricate, beautiful and unfathomably complex system that led to this exact moment. And say thanks.

Plug in to Our Podcasts!
If you’d like to listen in on some fun and informative conversations about urban homesteading, natural remedies and sustainable living — especially on your commute or while you’re working in the garden — check out the Mother Earth News and Friends Podcast. Episode topics include Favorite Medicinal Plants, Keeping Urban Chickens, and Profit as a Homesteader. The podcasts feature several Ogden Publications editors, including Mother Earth Living editor Jessica Kellner. Find them at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and Friends Podcast

Photo by GettyImages/Yuri_Arcurs

Three things I love this issue.

Information and recipes to pack more nutrition into every meal.

A look at declining nutrient levels in our food
A worldwide tour of the planet’s healthiest diets.
An in-depth investigation of hunger and satiety.

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Mother Earth Living
The ultimate guide to living the good life!