For the last 8 Saturdays Bristol has been home to Soil Saturdays, curated by the Soil Sisters. It has seen many people come together to talk about soil and art and it has made me, amongst many others I am sure, aware how powerful art is as a medium to bring other issues to the fore in a safe and inclusive way.
The joy of Soil Culture at Create for me has been the opening of a space for discussion around soil, it’s true importance in all of our lives and how it is so important for many of us across the city who make livings from or support soils and soil health and wellbeing in everything we do. My career of the last 20 or so years has been based around soil, my life based on the rich brown earth beneath our feet and to be able to meet and converse with people over that is something that is rare and beautiful.
The idea of a city creating a declaration for it’s own soils is at once powerful and brave. To do so says not only do we, as a group of individuals, care deeply about the soil in our city but we also care about food, people, education, agriculture, health and wellbeing, children, community and the city itself and it’s wealth and health. It says we care not just about today, but about a future for our forebears where they can have access to healthy food, outdoor space and recreation land in a city that is becoming more and more intensely populated. It speaks of a wish to create the most resilient city we can, going into a future that is unknown but is certain to be different from the now.
Many have questioned why we might feel the need to create a declaration for soil, and some have asked why we might think it necessary. My answer is always that as a city we need good housing and transport links, excellent schools and services for all communities across the city, as well as a plan to feed all those people and to keep our local economy thriving. Creating a declaration for our city’s soil creates an opportunity to ensure that food growing and production is factored into the future planning of the city and creates a future of more certain health and wealth.
In order to create this declaration there was a hope that many people from many walks of life within the city would come together to work co-productively to create this document. This type of gathering is rare, but we were fortunate in our wishes and there were a whole mix of people, ranging across city council strategic directors to members, food policy council members, permaculture and growing professionals, members of nationally important organisations and people who are interested and care about the future of food and access to land in our city. At one, very powerful moment, there was a table working together that was made up of a city strategic planner, a university professor and soil activists from Rising Up who spent much time protesting around Bristol’s Blue Finger in February and March this year. To create a space where that is possible is remarkable and to be a part of something so powerful makes the whole event a day to remember.
The Soil Declaration itself is still being brought together by the facilitators of the day but what we came up with was a series of statements around soil’s importance in the city and its hinterlands that focussed on beliefs and actions to be taken around those beliefs. Having openly talked about this on social media it is clear that not only is Bristol the first city to embark on such an important piece of work, but that it is possible, and likely that others will follow suit.
For Bristol it is vital to protect land that is already being put at risk by development and to ensure that various things that have happened on our most precious soils, are stopped from happening again. Our Blue Finger of rich and fertile best and most versatile soil, that manages crops in all extremes, needs protection as does all BMV soil countrywide. By creating this Soil Declaration, Bristol is putting itself, in a citizen led movement, at the forefront of this enormous change in the way we look at our precious resources, and that is a hugely powerful and brave move. It should be applauded.