Rancher Loren Poncia counts roughly 500 glossy Angus beef cattle, 350 sheep, and 19 hogs among his brood at Stemple Creek ranch, a scenic stretch of sandy rolling hills dotted with bony Eucalyptus trees near the Pacific Ocean in Tomales, California. The animals have brought Poncia acclaim: Stemple Creek’s organic meats fetch top dollar at nearby markets and at restaurants as revered as Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. But these days, Poncia’s attention has turned to some different critters. They number in the billions, and they live underground: soil microbes.


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