Soil City and Soil Memory Zine

Delighted to share the publication resulting from our residency in Madrid last summer with Matadero Madrid Study Group on Ecologies. It documents the processes and shares the conversations (in Spanish and English) about the soils of the river Manzanares – its past, present and future. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Hard copies are available from Matadero Madrid and Open Jar Collective.


Declaration for Soils

A couple of weeks ago we hosted an afternoon and evening of food and discussion at Kinning Park Complex to explore how we value soil and what opportunities there are for collective action to protect it as a resource. The event was part of Soil City, a project by Open Jar Collective to reimagine the city as if soil matters, and was presented in association with Glasgow Local Food Network and the CCA’s Intentions in Actions programme.



We started with a Soil Soup workshop.  People brought a selection of ingredients, soil samples, stories and words.  We wrote histories and imagined narratives from the perspective of our soil samples, followed by a shared a meal.


In the evening we were joined by journalist Karin Goodwin, to explore what a declaration, manifesto, or statement about soil might involve.  We asked the questions: What do we know about soil?  What are our hopes and visions?  What actions can we take?



In the group of people assembled – including scientists, artists, local growers – we found a strong interest and desire to continue this conversation about creating a Declaration for Soils.  In the New Year we hope to develop these ideas further and invite more people to join this conversation and work towards collective actions to protect our soils, while looking ahead to the World Congress of Soil Science which will be held in Glasgow in 2022.


What do we know?


What are our hopes and dreams?


What are our next steps?


Notes from the frontline


Open Jar Collective was commissioned by The NewBridge Project to take part in Hidden Civil War in October. Hidden Civil War was a month long programme of activity in Newcastle upon Tyne which invited activists and artists to contribute to a series of events that exposed, collated and presented evidence of a Hidden Civil War in Britain today.

Open Jar Collective artists Alex, Beth and Clem began with a period of field research, carrying out interviews with people in Newcastle and the North East of England who are connected to food and farming.  Through this research we began to build a picture of the people active in the food system, including local organic growers, food policy organisations, academics, community activists, and food banks. People we spoke to expressed a need to have more opportunities to share knowledge with others working within the food system.

In response to this expressed need, we organised an event at Summerhill Bowing Club to enable connections to be made between people who are on the ‘front line’ of making food in Newcastle more accessible and sustainable. Our aim was to stimulate conversation, provoke new ideas and build the potential for collaboration by inviting people to share a meal prepared using locally sourced sustainable produce.

We invited people to describe their hopes and concerns, we explored the strengths, obstacles, unknowns and possibilities of the food system.  We finished the day by devising a series of questions to instigate a wider conversation with the public.

The next day we took over a shop unit in Grainger Market, creating a space for conversation about food and building social connections in the face of austerity.  We invited people to respond to the questions and generate their own.  We gifted bundles of fresh herbs to the people who shared their thoughts with us.

We are in the process of collating all the material gathered which will be shared with the participants in the form of a series of postcards.


Soil City Zine

We are really looking forward to launching our Soil City Zine next week at Not by the Book, 10 years of the Radical Independent Bookfair Project in the Intermedia Gallery in the CCA Glasgow.

The Soil City Lab will be popping up from 4 – 6pm with activities including soil printing and fermenting followed by the launch of the Soil City Zine 6 – 8pm, documenting our research and conversations so far. Thanks to all our contributors and Design by Zag for all the work that has gone into it.

Check out all the other fantastic events which are part of the programme.


Notes from the Front Line

Open Jar Collective are taking part in the Hidden Civil War programme in Newcastle this October with a project called Notes from the Front Line.

Hidden Civil War is a month long programme of activity in Newcastle upon Tyne, commissioned by The NewBridge Project. Throughout October 2016 we are inviting activists and artists to contribute to a series of events that expose, collate and present evidence of a Hidden Civil War in Britain today.’

Open jar Collective have been gathering evidence and inviting people in the Newcastle and the surrounding areas to consider points of fragility in the food system.  We are hosting conversations and will create a space for dialogue that will help to build points of connection in the face of austerity.

We are posing the question – who’s on the front line in the challenge to feed Newcastle sustainably?  The front line of food production and distribution is all around us in our everyday lives  – from farms to food banks, supermarkets to corner shops, cafes to canteens.

We’ll be popping up in Grainger Market on Saturday 15th October, 11am-3pm, to share the stories we have gathered from the front line and to welcome your own ideas

Open Jar Collective: Notes from the front line

Soil City

“We know more about the stars in the sky than the soil under our feet”  Dr Elaine Ingham

Launching at Glasgow International, Soil City is a long term project initiated by Open Jar Collective, engaging with the citizens of Glasgow and a wider community of scientists, artists and activists, to re-imagine the city as if soil mattered.


Soil City will be a space for conversation, participatory research and knowledge exchange. We will seek to understand the relationship between healthy soil and healthy people – reflecting on how economic inequalities are reflected in the way land is used or remains ‘vacant’ in Glasgow. We propose that reframing soil as a valuable collective resource will play a role in challenging economic, environmental, and health inequalities. Hospitality and eating together are at the core of Open Jar Collective’s approach, and soil is what supports our nourishment. You can expect to find explorations of soil through the alchemy of cooking and sharing meals as part of many of our activities.

During Glasgow International (8th – 25th April, 2016) we’ll undertake a period of field research with a Mobile Research Unit that will be found roving around the city throughout the festival.  The Research Unit has a practical function of testing soil and recording data, and a social function of providing pop-up discussion space in unlikely places.  This will feed into the Soil City Laboratory, temporarily housed in a railway arch on Osborne Street, that will act as a central space for sharing and discussing the information and stories gathered. The Laboratory will also host a programme of talks, walks, screenings and workshops.   At the end of the period we aim to identify strategies for ongoing collaboration, research and community action to address issues of soil stewardship and land rights.

We are looking for communities in Glasgow who would like to host the Mobile Research Unit over the festival period in locations around the city, and people who would like to contribute to the programme: artists, researchers, gardeners, land managers or anyone with a perspective on or passion for soil.  For more information or to register your interest email us on:


What did we eat before baguettes, toasties and Panini?

Dumfries, in common with most Scottish towns, has a particular lunch time snack – the toasted Panini.  First referenced in a 16th Century Italian cookbook, Panino (which comes from the Italian pane meaning bread) is traditionally a grilled sandwich made with slices of porchetta, that is popular in Central Italy.  Panini became trendy in Milanese bars called Paninoteche in the 1970s and 1980s, and then subsequently in New York.  Paninaro came to mean a fashionable young person who was very image conscious.


Through the dominance of American fast food culture, Panini have become ubiquitous in Scotland, alongside white sliced bread toasties, and french baguettes. All of these breads are made from highly refined strong wheat flours which are very difficult to produce in Scotland.  Due to our shorter growing season, the wheat grown here has a much lower protein content which is fine for baking but lacks the elastic gluten required for conventional bread making. Scotland’s most successful cereal crop is Barley, once used in almost every home to bake bannocks.

According to the NFUScotland, out of the 2 million tonnes of Scottish barley produced in 2013, 55% was used as animal feed, 35% went to Whisky malting, and only a small proportion was sold as pearl barley or milled as flour for us to eat.

Bere (pronounced ‘bear’) is a form of six-row barley which has been grown in Scotland for thousands of years. Bere is quite possibly Britain’s oldest cereal grain still in commercial cultivation and was likely to have been brought here by Viking settlers. It has adapted to growing in soils with low pH and in areas with long daylight hours which makes it particularly suited to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. It grows rapidly, being sown in the spring and harvested in the summer.  Beremeal was one of the earliest flours to be used to make bannocks.


Robert Burns once described southern Scotland as a “land o’ cakes”. He didn’t mean desserts, but oatcakes and barley bannocks that would have been baked on an iron girdle over the fire.

“In Scotland, amongst the rural population generally, the girdle until recent times took the place of the oven, the bannock of the loaf.”  F. Marian McNeil, 1929


In The Scots Kitchen, F. Marian McNeil suggests that the name bannok occurs in 1572, and derives from Latin panicum, probably through the influence of the Church. It may have referred originally to Communion bread.

Bannocks can range from soda breads, scones, or pancakes to a sweet fruity tea loaf in the case of the famous Selkirk bannock, but they usually have some barley meal in them.  After testing numerous recipes, I think the best turned out to be F. Marian McNeil’s “Modern Method” using Beremeal from Barony Mills in Orkney (which is available through Greencity).


The Scots Kitchen Bannock (Modern Method)

Makes about 4 large bannocks

  • 8oz beremeal
  • 2oz unbleached white flour
  • 1 tsp cream of Tartar
  • pinch fine salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, plus extra milk if needed
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

“General Directions” for making Bannocks from The Scots Kitchen

“The girdle should be put on the heat before the dough is mixed.  To test the heat, sprinkle a little flour over it. If it browns at once the girdle is too hot; if it takes a few seconds to brown, it will do. For scones and bannocks sprinkle the girdle with flour, unless they are themselves sufficiently floury to prevent sticking; but for Scots crumpets and drop scones grease the girdle very slightly with a piece of suet wrapped in a clean rag.  In a word, the girdle is floured for dough and greased for batter.”



  1. Mix the flours, salt and cream of tartar.
  2. Put the buttermilk in a jug and stir in the bicarbonate of soda. Stir briskly and as it fizzes up, pour into the flour mixture.
  3. Make into a soft dough (adding some milk if needed).
  4. Turn out onto a floured board, handle as little as possible, but roll out lightly to about half an inch tick, then cut into rounds, or alternatively shape with your hands.
  5. Place on the hot girdle and bake slowly for about 10 minutes until the underside is brown, then turn bannock and brown the other side for about 5 minutes.  Serve warm with butter.

You can experiment with adding raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange rind to make a sweet bannock.  You could also try making your own butter and buttermilk, it’s really easy!


Open Jar Collective are exploring the cultural history of the Bannock in Dumfries and are looking for local recipes. Come along to toast your own bannock on the fire and share your stories in celebration of Burns Night with The Stove Network, at the Big Bannock Burn on Sunday 25th January 4-8pm, 100 High Street Dumfries.

Bannocks o’ bear meal, Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s bannocks o’ barley.

Wha, in a brulzie, will first cry a parley?
Never the lads wi’ the bannocks o’ barley.

Bannocks o’ bear meal, Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s bannocks o’ barley.

Wha, in his wae days, were loyal to Charlie?
Wha but the lads wi’ the bannocks o’ barley!

Bannocks o’ bear meal, Bannocks o’ barley,
Here’s to the Highlandman’s bannocks o’ barley.

Robert Burns, 1794