PhD student Jasmine Black was supported by NIReS to attend the Summer of Soil Living Soil Forum in Sweden, July 2013. In this post she keeps us up to date with her experience, the effectiveness of the forum and what she took from it.
This summer (2013), a small group of soil conservationists set up a 5 week programme named ‘Summer of Soil’. Their aims were to create an international soil movement in which people generate intelligent initiatives in order to create more sustainable soil practices and a greater awareness of soil issues and management globally. This included various workshops on growing and preserving food, organic agriculture practices, bee keeping and others. It also included a week long Soil Forum in which an international platform of speakers and delegates attended from a wide variety of backgrounds – scientists, farmers, organisations and consumers. Some attendees came with ideas for organisations or practices they wanted to get people involved in, others came purely of interest; it was an intriguing mix of people!
The setting was ideal for this Forum; interwoven between a matrix of forests and organic farms, bordering a coastal inlet of the Baltic Sea, the Kulturcentrum Jarna, founded in 1968, has a prevailing principle of relating to the world in a holistic, all-inclusive way. It also houses a Youth Initiative Programme as well as organisations such as BERAS (an ecological scientific institute) and SOFIA (an international sustainable development institute).
A few key themes repeated throughout the forum really struck me. One of these was the relation of soil to food production and food security. There is an obvious need to reconnect consumers with the land their food is produced from and with the farmers who work to produce it. Hand in hand with this idea was that, through globalisation, there has been a real disconnect in communities and a great loss of community lifestyle and spirit. Communities once revolved around their local farms and farmers in order to get the food to sustain them. Farmers thus had the power to cultivate what they knew would grow well in their soil; and were not driven by the consumer.
Times have changed and this farmer – consumer relationship has been altered; practically reversed. The majority of consumers now don’t see or understand quite how hard farmers work to produce their food; and what practices are needed to keep soil healthy in order to keep producing the desired products. Key questions that arose from this topic included how can we give back farmers the authority to influence what is grown through what they know their soil can best produce? How can we awaken an awareness of this importance in consumers, and evoke the change needed?
Another key theme, and a term widely used at the Forum, was ‘living soil’. This is the concept of thinking about soil from the perspective of biota; that soil is alive and not just dead dirt. With this perspective came the idea of ‘building soil’ through composting. In this way, soil biota were highlighted as a key influence on soil health; helping to supply new nutrients, water holding capacity and the physical protection of soil. The need to spread this idea through farming communities and consumers was emphasized. Connecting consumers through the concept of healthy living and healthy soil was a key idea; relating the need to feed our bodies with the need to feed our soils. This is a cyclical relationship as soils feed us through both crop and cattle production.
During the Forum, several discussions and ‘world café’ sessions led to the formation of groups of delegates and speakers with ideas for projects they wanted to begin and develop into a successful, viable business or organisation. Some of these organisations already existed but needed information from soil specialists to help them develop. One such was Allveristy, an online free educational website aimed at educating communities in developing countries. Lesson topics are chosen by the communities and Allversity sources specialists to write and illustrate these.
Being a soil scientist and an artist, I felt the need to help out with this particular project, and with a group of other soil scientists wrote a lesson on the basics of soil, agriculture and good management practices and current global threats to soil health. I also gave them an illustration of a cartoon soil profile as a mascot for the lesson (initially created for the Science Festival). The lesson is still under formation but can be found on www.allversity.org once completed. It was great to be able to contribute to a project that had near-immediate effect and that there was a definite demand for.
Other projects formed included ecological restoration of large degraded ecosystems, soil and art initiatives and the idea of using best practice, ecologically friendly farms as examples to others in order to promote ecologically sound farm practices on a global scale.
Overall, the Soil Forum proved to be a success; with a passionate, involved and creative group of delegates who came together to produce projects which have a viable future and are currently being developed. A Facebook page was also set up in order for delegates to keep contact, share more ideas and potentially discuss another Forum for 2014.