Visualizing Perennials

In Kansas people are doing the unthinkable. In the midst of the corn-belt, in a sea of annual grains that stretches as far as the eye can see, The Land Institute has breeders working to re-structure our agricultural relationship with plants. Through traditional breeding practices, they are attempting to perennialize our basic food, oil, and fiber crops- corn, wheat, sunflower- the list goes on.

Their vision for replanting the landscape with perennial crops- whose roots will hold down the prairie top soil, is inspiring.

Lead Scientist Jerry Glover being interviewedLead Scientist Jerry Glover being interviewed

Perennial Sunflowers

Perennial Sunflowers

Jerry Glover and Fred KirschenmannJerry Glover and Fred Kirschenmann

– By Jessy Beckett

The Palouse

Filming in the Palouse was a constant reminder of how rich our country’s soils really are. For hundreds of miles, in every direction, lay these golden green rolling hills of wheat. As far as the eye could see. Our host in the Palouse, renowned soil buff Dr John Reganold, never failed to point out the value of these highly productive loess soils, brought in by wind from the prairie to the west and south.

Crew and John Reganold on  Butte in Easter WA

Soils like this, he reminded us, are what the US has built its empire upon. Without owning the majority stock of the world’s productive soils, we would not have the world prowess that we have today. Rich soils give us the ability to not only feed ourselves, but also be one of the largest exporters of two of the world’s staple crops; corn and wheat.

One of the best parts of the shoot was when John took us to a giant road-cut, to see the different layers of soil that supports the relatively thin layer for loess top soil. If you look real close beneath our feet you can see a tiny strip of dark top soil. A stark reminder that however rich in soil the US and eastern Washington may be, the most productive soils are just a thin layer- the skin of the earth.

– By Jessy Beckett

Soil on Ice

You must come to Norway and witness the birth of soil!” Ignacio said excitedly over the phone. And that was it, our trip to the northern tip of European civilization had begun.

To film in Norway in July was a directors’ dream. 24 hours of sunlight, an endless dawn and dusk quality light. Perfect. And then there’s the natural surroundings, northern Norway was (and is still being) carved by glaciers. Glacial recession not only leaves behind amazing sloped mountains and fjords, but also glacial sediment, pure rock dust, that, as Ignacio alluded to, forms one of the base parent materials for soil.

So there we were, a four day trip to Norway, following Dr Ignacio Chapela up and down the sides of mountains. One particularly grueling day was spent hauling our film equipment up one of these monstrous glacial valleys, to film on a live glacier.

Ignacio Chapela, mountaineer, tries to assuage the fears of the crew about about the still long and steep road ahead

A healthy combination of over-estimating our collective abilities to carry heavy equipment, and underestimating the amount of time it would take to transport and hike meant we spent a full 10 hours just reaching the glacier.

The birth of soil, as Ignacio had described it, was indeed majestic. A silver river, colored by the granite sediment it held, rushed from beneath the glacier. Every crevice in the ice led down to the water below. Year markers marked the steady regression of the glacier, and highlighted the fact that it’s been receding far more quickly in recent years (an allusion to climate change, need I digress).

Ignacio standing at the birthplace of soil

   In the end, despite the fridid temperatures, and the grueling hike in, the magic of the glacier and witnessing the ‘birth of soil’ put our qualms on ice. Not one of us balked when Ignacio, the only one with a sense of time in a land of 24 hours of sun, showed us his watch on the way down. Both hands pointed directly up, the direction of north, the direction of the sun. In our glacial trance we’d filmed all the way until midnight.
– By Jessy Beckett