The Gut and the Garden



Soil City Field Notes

April was an intense, inspiring and rewarding month. The launch of Soil City was really successful and we couldn’t have anticipated how much people wanted to talk about soil.

We’ve documented the journey so far in the field notes section of the Soil City website. Please have a read of the wealth of activity, responses and reflection that came out of the Soil City programme during Glasgow International.

Thank you to all the people who contributed and made it possible.

We will we sending out an update soon about future plans for Soil City.



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


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 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.


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.


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

Call for volunteers at Glasgow International

Would you be interested in being part of the Open Jar Collective team and working on the Soil City project at Glasgow International 8th – 25th April 2016?

During the festival itself we are looking for people to volunteers to get involved in touring with the mobile unit, enabling public access to the laboratory and supporting our programme of events. We can pay travel and food expenses.

No experience is required but an interest in creative social engagement, soil and food is preferable. Particular roles we will require are; front of house for the lab, setting up for events, making food for events, documenting events and cycling the mobile lab.

Download the Call for Volunteers to find out more


Sowing the wheat

2J7A0508 2J7A0513

The Concrete Garden and Open Jar Collective are pleased to be taking part in Scotland The Bread and growing three of its trial wheats in The Back Garden from autumn 2015.  Next summer the local community in Possilpark will be able to harvest, thresh and mill the grain and bake it into healthy bread. Their findings will be part of Scotland The Bread‘s participatory research – from the soil to the slice.


2J7A0562Last week we received the wheat seeds – Golden Drop, Hunters, and Rouge d’Ecosse  – and worked with volunteers and local families to sow these in a communal raised bed at The Back Garden.

First we cleared the bed of weeds and stones, then we carefully measured out the spacing and marked the rows with string.  We made holes 2.5cm apart and sowed 4 rows of each variety of wheat, then we carefully covered the seeds and netted the bed to stop birds doing any damage.

We’ll be watching closely for the seeds to germinate in the next 10 to 14 days and the volunteer growers will be collecting data for Scotland The Bread‘s research.

2J7A0549 2J7A0547


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:


Getting started on the journey from soil to slice

Next week with Global Canteen, we’ll be sowing a bed of Scottish winter wheat in Possilpark. Join us on Thursday 15 October, 2-3pm, at The Back Garden (behind the Health Centre on Saracen Street).  Local growers at The Concrete Garden‘s new growing space The Back Garden are one of the communities participating in Scotland The Bread a project that has been developed by Bread Matters.

2J7A9728 2J7A0009

Global canteen-Scotland the Bread poster

Scotland The Bread “brings together research and change in our grain, flour and bread supply with the skilling-up of bakers who can bring real bread into every community.” At their farm in Macbiehill, which we visited a few weeks ago, Bread Matters “are evaluating Scottish heritage winter wheats and high-mineral Nordic spring wheats as well as spelt, emmer, einkorn, oats, barley and rye. In total they have more than 70 varieties of grain growing at Macbiehill Agroforestry. Harvesting of the winter rye and wheat began on September 19th. The spring oats will probably be last to be harvested in mid-October.”

Wheat seeds from Macbiehill Agroforestry will soon be winging their way to us here in Glasgow, ready to be sown in the city.  There will only be a small sample bed at The Back Garden in Possilpark, but a larger area is being sown by our friends at Locavore in their Urban Croft at Queens Park.

2J7A9792 2J7A98652J7A9886 2J7A9796

Site visit to Macbiehill Agroforestry

We will be one of six community growing sites taking part in Scotland The Bread, giving people the chance to see what goes into the whole process of producing bread – from sowing and tending the crops, to threshing and milling the grain, to finally baking and sharing a nutritious sourdough loaf.  At The Back Garden we’ll be monitoring the success rate of the crop and gathering data to add to Scotland the Bread‘s research.

We’re exciting to be starting on this journey with Bread Matters, The Concrete Garden and the team of local volunteers who will be caring for their precious wheat bed from now until next September!

Blog and photographs by Clementine Sandison, Design by Josie Vallely

Communal cooking at The Concrete Garden

Back in September when the sun was shining, Open Jar spent a few days cooking with the lovely growers and local families at the Concrete Garden and Back Garden in Possil Park.  We were exploring what you can make with different types of flour, learning from different cultural traditions.  Using the freshest seasonal produce from the garden we made steamed Chinese dumplings, pasta with nasturtium pesto, empanadas baked in the wood oven, not to mention bannocks and corn on the cob cooked on a fire at the Harvest Celebration.  It was all pretty delicious and we’re really excited about starting our weekly Global Canteen Cookery Group that will be running on Fridays from 23rd October.

2J7A0031 2J7A00512J7A0027 2J7A00332J7A0076 2J7A0081 2J7A0089 2J7A0105 2J7A0106 2J7A0115  2J7A0134 2J7A0144  2J7A0162 2J7A0171

Global Canteen Cookery Group- for social mediaGlobal Canteen Cookery Group

Fridays, 23 October – 11 December, 12.30-2.30pm at The Concrete Garden

Each week we will harvest fresh produce from the garden, share recipes, learn new cooking skills and enjoy a tasty lunch together.

To book your free place contact Emma on: 0141 237 9144 /

Photos by Clementine Sandison, Design by Josie Vallely

From soil to slice in Possilpark


Site visit to Bread Matters, Macbiehill Farm

We are pleased to welcome our newest associate member of Open Jar Collective, Beth Ramsay. Beth is an artist based in Newcastle and has recently been working with Pollinaria, an organic farm and artist residency programme in rural Abruzzo, Italy. Her research has involved collecting interviews with farmers, millers and bakers about their take on the future of grain based agriculture. Find out more here.

Beth will be joining Open Jar at the Concrete Garden for our latest project, Global Canteen, which will involve regular cookery sessions and pop-up food sharing events. Together we will be experimenting with local seasonal food inspired by recipes from around the world with communities in Possilpark, and are excited to be taking part in ‘Scotland the Bread’ a project that seeks to reconnect people with their bread from soil to slice.

Last week we visited Bread Matters at Macbiehill Farm where we were introduced to some of the heritage grains being grown on site, including wheat, rye, spelt, barley, and oats. We are looking forward to experimenting with Scottish winter wheat at the Concrete Garden, all the way from planting, to threshing, milling, and baking.

More information on the Global Canteen project and Scotland the Bread coming soon!



Photographs by Clementine Sandison