Stone Barns is one of those places where we wish the world could exist. It’s beautiful, the air and water are clean, the people are healthy, and need we mention- the food is amazing.
In the middle of the desert, hours from the center of Cairo- is an Oasis. Lush fields of camomile, calendula, and oranges. Date palms line the roads, expansive lawns run to the edge of the large white buildings.
Sekem which means “vitality from the sun” in ancient egyptian, is a company and campus dedicated to naturally grown products and sustained community development. The company produces skin care products, tea, baby toys, cloths, processed, and non processed food stuffs.
Filming Children in their half-day job (the other half they are in school),picking organic camomile
At their headquarters they have a school, mosque, workshops, and a medical clinic that are all free for their employees and the surrounding community. Everyone who worked for them that we saw, and met, and filmed, was happy, healthy, and educated- a huge contrast to the rest of the country. The food and products that are produced by Sekem is top quality, and most of it is exported to Europe markets.
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.
– By Jessy Beckett
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
“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.
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).
The Rodale Institute is the longest running organization promoting sustainable and organic farming practices in the U.S. Their organization is smart, tactical, and scientifically sound. Tim LaSalle (now past) CEO, is one of those people that, with every breath, forces his audience to pause and think about the interconnectedness of global issues, and how simple and clear the solutions really can be.
Tim LaSalle being interviewed
Set against the verdant background of mid summer Pennsylvania, it’s hard not to be swept up in hope for our collective agricultural future. Rodale is proving, step by step, that through careful soil fertility management, such as the addition of organic matter, we can solve many of the world’s large problems. As we walked through their field of wheat, held their soil in our hands, and witnessed the clouds of beneficials (including fire flies might I add)- it was hard not to imagine a world where agriculture is sustainable, where life is well managed, and where the soil is alive.
|DP John Chater, Sound Man Ray Day, and Deborah in a wheat trial at Rodale
– By Jessy Beckett
Patrick Holden is a man of two lives.
In one life, he is the Director of the Soil Association, an organization that functions as both the UK’s premier organic certifying agency, as well as a ‘charity'(as non-profits are called in England) that lobbies for, and educates about, the benefits of healthy soil. In this life he is a public persona- appearing regularly on the BBC and working directly with the Prince. He lives in the city. He wears a suit.
In the other life, Patrick is a farmer. He raises dairy cows for milk and he just built a new cheese making facility. He grows the largest carrots you’ve ever seen in your life. He lives in an ancient farm house. He has four small boys. He prefers work boots and a vest.
By walking between these two lives, Patrick Holden has created praxis, meaning that he practices, embodies, and actualizes the concepts that he speaks about in his public work. When we filmed Patrick on his farm both sides of him were present. His ease with public speaking and his comfortability with complex subjects came through beautifully. But when it came down to it, what supported the whole shoot and every thing he said, was the underlying confidence Patrick has when he puts his hands into his soil and pulls up his bunch of carrots- the confidence of praxis, the knowing that he is truly grounded in his work.
For 160 years, the Rothamsted Research facility, UK, has been sampling, testing, and preserving soil samples. They have the world’s longest running agronomic tests, comparing the productivity of different types of cropping systems. They have trials that aim to gage the effects of nitrogen laden precipitation on crop growth, and most fascinating of all- they have what could best be described as a soil time capsule.
Thousands of glass bottles, dating back to the 1850s, filled with soil. The Director of programs, Keith Goulding, described to our crew how the soils in the bottles represented snapshots of time. How each soil sample was unique. How major world events, such as radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, could be detected in the soils from 1986 and thereafter. Our visit to Rothamstead drove home the theme that the world over- our actions are bound together by the interconnected global skin of soil.
– By Jessy Beckett
For those of you who haven’t visited Wales- we must tell you, it is, on film, a dream world. The moisture in the air catches light at every angle, softening every shot. Around each hedgerow and country road there is another glistening green vista.
Blaencamel, the farm of the Anne Evans and Peter Segger, is no exception. The root of the name Blaencamel- ‘blaen’ means a quick, clever mind capable of grasping and assimilating new ideas aptly suits the place. The Seggers are clearly innovators. They have rehabilitated what, by Peter’s accounts, must be “some of the poorest soils in the British isles” into deep dark organic matter- soils that grow carrots and leeks that dwarfed any I’ve witnessed here in California.
The entire two day shoot in Wales, part of larger UK tour lingers as one of the most memorable locations. Partly due to the candid nature of two deep souls deeply committed to the stewardship of their place, partly due to the glittering dew drops on every blade of healthy grass, but mostly due to the richness of their soil.
High in the hills above Rishikesh- the birthplace of the great Ganges river, there’s a secluded valley. Hand hewn terraces perfected over the centuries, line the walls. Gravity fed river rock irrigation channels lay like patchwork over the valley floor. Water buffalo are used to plow. Just north out of the hustle and change of modern India, one man has taken it upon himself to preserve his areas agricultural legacy.
Vijay Jardhari experienced during the course of his lifetime the introduction of hybrid seeds into his seemingly isolated valley. These seeds, in combination with the fertilizers that they were sold with, amazed him and other farmers for the first few seasons they grew them. By the time that he and others realized that the breeds did not not do well after a few seasons, and that they did not stand up to drought or severe weather, many of the native varieties- bred specifically for the area over millennia, had been lost. The story is not uncommon, what is special about this valley however, is the mission of one man to reverse the trend.
Vijay is a humble man. When he speaks of the seed bank he started, of how he trekked all over the Garhwal Himalayas around his valley to collect seeds from other farmers, of how everyone in his valley thought he was mad, he laughs. He is the type of man who sings with his four daughters as they work at the seed bank. He thinks nothing of his work to give away as many seeds as possible to other farmers.
Vijay has made it his life’s mission to educate all those willing to listen about the value of saving seed. Like a Ghandi of seeds, he patiently explained to us the different varieties, about how people now visit him from all over India, of how he intends to die saving seeds. With his soft voice and broad smile, you can’t help but like him. Surrounded by 600 varieties of beans of every color, perched high on a terraced hillside, you can’t help but want to stay with him, and save the world bit by patient bit, one seed at a time.
For more information, please see his organization’s website: Beej Bachao Andolan
– By Jessy Beckett