Hope Sprouts Eternal in Multidisciplinary Soil Panel

Science, Art and Activism Unite for Sustainable Solutions to Dirty Questions

Graphic Raven Sisyphous

Soil degradation is a global problem.

Faced with the upcoming food systems crisis, 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. The panel “Soil: Source of Life,” held Friday at Concordia, discussed the causes of the crisis as well as the changes to food systems needed to avert it.

Topsoil is the bioactive and biodiverse layer of soil necessary for long-term food production. Most modern industrial agricultural practices diminish the amount and vitality of topsoil, in contrast to sustainable agricultural practices, which build fresh topsoil.

In the words of Dr. Elaine Ingham, an international leader in microbiology researching the complex links within the soil food web, “the difference between soil and dirt is that soil is alive while dirt is dead.”

Soil mismanagement—on top of a growing human population, increasing meat consumption, urban sprawl, desertification, climate change and the industrial chemical poisoning of land and water—is leading to the elimination of a finite resource fundamental to humanity’s food systems: soil.

“Healthy soil is necessary to build resilience to climate change,” said Loïc Dewavrin, a large-scale organic farmer who, along with his family, cultivates 1,500 acres by the St. Lawrence River on a mission to prove the efficacy of sustainable agriculture.

The event was co-organized by Compost Montreal and Mycelium Labs. The D.B. Clarke Theatre was packed with a mix of young students, modern farmers, social activists, indigenous groups, grey-haired hippies and green entrepreneurs.

Upon entering the guests were given a folded dove containing a poem and sunflower seeds, a collaboration between Dewavrin and Emily Rose Michaud, an artist and activist who works with land and who seeks to collaborate with both natural and social forces.

Michaud was central to the development of the “Sprout Out Loud!” zine and to the transformation of the Champ des Possibles, a commercial space that was transformed into a municipal park in the Mile End.

Other guests included Silver Bear, alias Steve Mccomber, a member of the Iroquois Confederation known as a keeper of Iroquois seeds; Jonathan Pineault, a self-declared “unlikely” businessman who started permaculture enterprise Écomestible; and Vanessa Reid, activist and ex-executive director of the Santropol Roulant.

“There is almost no soil that lacks minerals and nutrients, only the life and biodiversity that is required to sequence and unlock these nutrients [that] are missing,” Ingham said.