Symphony of soil should convert us all

Charles Redfern - 19 June 2012

'We don't grow plants. We grow healthy soil – and the soil grows the plants.' There are a lot of stand-out points and quotes in Symphony of the Soil, the new film by Deborah Koons Garcia – but this is the one that did it for me.

Soil is dirt, grubby, muck, filthy – but without it there would be nothing. Last month, 17 May, in close co-ordination with the Soil Association, Organico organised and funded the UK premiere of the Symphony of the Soil at the Soho Curzon, London.

With a question and answer session with director Deborah Koons Garcia and Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning, and a little bit of pomp and ceremony, it’s not every day we hire the big screen at UK’s premiere art house cinema, make two advert clips or call on pro-bono contributions from a ** Michelin chef, Martin Blunos.

The film, starts with the origins of soil – how minerals are ground by glaciers to a fine texture until they reach the sea. In a "dialogue of nutrients", the seas will give up its soil components, exchanging it for others; as soil scientist, Dr Ignacio Chapela, observes, it is extremely rare to have a planet covered with soil. 

Soil is where biology and geology combine. The film travels to Hawaii where each of its islands have formed at different times: the separate stratas are clearly visible, illustrating the ancient formation of soils.

Dr Elaine Ingham, another expert scientist quizzed in the film describes soil life as 'Times Square'. She explains how this plentiful soil life is vital for feeding the plants. Every bit of the plant pours out food to grow bacteria and fungi that form around the root system 'like a castle walls' to protect the plant. In turn the bacteria release food that the plant requires.

The film travels the four corners of the globe: from India where a biodynamic farmer works at undoing the harm done by the so-called Green Revolution – to Wales where former Soil Association director Patrick Holden talks about the soil being 'in good heart'.

You might wonder at the current dominant agricultural system that is bent on destroying this natural cycle, rendering soil so lifeless, it needs to be pumped-up with artificially-produced nutrients instead.

One of the predictable feedbacks I got was: were we preaching to the converted? Well, the answer is that as a company the people we want to reach are the converted. We want to tell them how much more credible we are than a myriad number of competitor products out there whose heart and soul are simply not into organic.

Maybe the question I should have been asked is why is it so often the un-converted selling organic: how can you expect them to be passionate about it? In fact I was heartened that some good shop customers of ours attended the screening and felt the film was a great addition to their knowledge. Dominic Sutton of Mother Earth felt completely re-energised. He, Sara Novakovic from Oliver’s Wholefood Store, and Phil Haughton from the Better Food Company expressed interest in doing their own local screenings. They can do so when the Symphony of the Soil is ready to be released for community screenings in autumn 2012.

If we can, we’d like to help. We’re planning a couple of further screenings ourselves.

The message I get time and time again about organic is that it is a highly scientific system; it is a science in the proper sense of the word, evaluating, recording, analysing, testing, rejecting, improving; but it is a science for everyone, in the public domain, not a science that is protected by patent, secrecy and the promise of fat privatised profits; and it is a science that is careful, that takes into account impact and consequences. It is integrated.

Dr Hans Herren, who co-chaired the massively detailed and pro-organic IAASTD report, involving 400 scientists from all the over the world, also features in the film. So, for me, there is one unanswered question: with the weight of scientific evidence on the side of organic, why are the un-converted still so un-converted and what does it take to prove a case?

The answer, I fear, has nothing to do with science. 

And here is a video interview of film maker, Deborah Koons Garcia 

Charles is the founder of the ethical canned fish company, Fish4Ever, the sister company of Organico, both based in Reading. Fish4Ever's motto is Land, Sea and People. Its land ingredients are 100% organic - supporting traditional fishing communities is as important as saving the fish. He is currently involved in a number of awareness-raising campaigns working with WWF, Sustainable Fish City, the Environmental Justice Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society.

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Comments



Elisabeth Winkler
05 July 2012 08:43

I learnt so much from this beautiful documentary. One of the bits that sticks in my mind is the section where the Rodale scientist shows the difference in water retention between the different soils. Science is made very accessible - you can see with your own eyes that organic soils can retain so much more water.

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