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.

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What would you do with 40,000 samples of Scottish Soil?

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What would you do with 40,000 samples of Scottish Soil? And why on Earth might you have such a thing? We were lucky enough to find out, spending an incredible day at the James Hutton Institute http://www.hutton.ac.uk/ in Aberdeen. The James Hutton Institute is an international research centre that works with some of the world’s most significant agendas around climate change, food and water security. Previously called the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, since 1930 they have been collating the data and physical samples from it’s soil research into an archive. Shelves of labeled paper bags, plastic pots, jars, files, boxes. The day was spent exploring, examining, documenting and in conversation.

As strangers to the processes of soil science, the scale of the collection, was overwhelming, almost like discovering a particular hoarding habit. Hanging on to tiny amounts of something seemingly so simple, so common. As common as muck. Where does the collection stop we wondered? What is the collection worth? As we were generously given the trust to open draws, handle pots, flick through old field notes, the significance of the collection, the attention to detail became more and more apparent. Its worth is in the information and data that this collection can provide, to help us better understand how to use and the protect this valuable resource in our land. To inform policy around agriculture and to better understand the relationship between carbon and soil.

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A discussion about the relationship between soil and war resurfaced at several points. The collection was started during the second world war. The same time that aerial photographs appeared as a form of wartime surveillance and so it became possible to begin to make assessments on soil from the sky. Food security for the country was utmost and ultimately this rested on the productivity of our fields and our soils, the extent to which was an unknown at this point.

The ‘Soil Sampler,’ was the character who walked and climbed every 15metre square of Scotland, with a spade. Dug an at least one metre deep pit, noted it and took back bags of 15g samples that resulted in this collection. A manual and labour intensive process. We wondered to what extend does the personal, or subjective play some small role in such scientific processes? Intrigued by the fact that one sampler might see the colour of the soil with slightly different eyes.

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The soil samples have been processed, tested and analysed to record their composition. This is complemented by the soil survey, which notes the character of the area, what was growing, the weather, human activity etc.. These feed into the beautiful soil maps of Scotland, which can be accessed online here http://www.soils-scotland.gov.uk/data/soil-survey

The latest recipe to make its way into The Empire Cafe Zine will be McCune Smith‘s take on the empire biscuit.  They’ve added their own seasonal Scottish twist to a recipe for ‘imperial biscuits’ from the Glasgow Cookery School Book.  Harrie’s edition of the book was published in the 1930’s (exact date unknown) but a centenary edition has been printed and is widely sold again.

“Once the bible of Scottish cuisine, the recipe book was the set text for the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science, affectionately known as the Dough School by locals.”

These delightful biscuits and Open Jar’s recipe Zine will be on sale at The Empire Cafe all week from Sat 26 Jul – Fri 1 Aug.  And The Empire Cafe’s full programme of events, talks and workshops is now live!

Last weekend Clem Sandison from Open Jar Collective was invited to give a talk by the Andrew Raven Trust at their Annual Weekend. This year’s event focused on a question – What is the impact of how we consume food in Scotland?

It was a stimulating weekend of debate. Here are some thoughts and messages that particularly stood out for me – gleaned from my scrawled notes!  

  • Clare Holohan led a wonderful herbal medicine walk and I learnt that daisies are Scotland’s native equivalent to arnica.
  • Cesar Revoredo talked about the power of supermarkets within the food supply chain. Data from Kantar World Panel showed the retail market share of potatoes in Scotland: Fresh potatoes 38.4%, Crisps 38.2%, frozen potato products 23.4%
  • The decision on what is made available to the consumer is decided by the retailer.  Choice is a myth.
  • The strategic objective of the retailer is to increase their sales.  This may be stating the obvious, but when it comes to food which is a basic human right, is this really what we want?
  • Judy Wilkinson talked about the untold story of Allotments.  They are places for more than growing vegetables… A Food Bank could feed a family for a week, a raised bed might feed them for a month, an allotment could feed a family for life.
  • One of the big questions that kept arising – what is land for?
  • Christine Watson reminded us that Spring Barley is Scotland’s top crop production – for whisky malting.  That’s great for the export market, shame it’s not being used as a food crop for people.
  • Crops bred for high yield are generally NOT climate tolerant or disease resistant.  What’s the priority?
  • Europe imports an area twice its own size of soya every year.
  • Davy McCracken spelled out how fundamental biodiversity is to ALL life!
  • We need a shift from the ‘productivity’ narrative that is the basis for most government policy to an ‘Ecosystems services’ narrative which values biodiversity. This reminded me of what Patrick Holden said at the True Cost Accounting event a few weeks ago – a bee never sent an invoice
  • David and Wilma from Cream o’ Galloway shared their incredible story of the trials and tribulations of running a sustainable dairy farm and their move towards cheese production.  Exporting ice cream to South Korea was a wake up call and highlights the lunacy of our export led market economy.  David and Wilma are always an inspiration to me, and they make damn fine cheese!  
  • There were big debates towards the end of the weekend about the need for massive systems change.  
  • Geoff Tansey argued the case for a dynamic Steady State Economy. Hear hear.
  • Frank Strang announced that the Scottish government are launching their proposed 2025 vision of Becoming a Good Food Nation.  The Scottish Government wants food to be a key part of what makes the people of Scotland proud of their country – food which is both tasty to eat and nutritious, fresh and environmentally sustainable.” So let’s be part of this conversation.