The role of artists

April Green Tease Reflections by Gemma Lawrence from Creative Carbon Scotland

This month we met the spring season with our April Green Tease events in Glasgow and Edinburgh, welcoming a range of people from across the arts and different areas of sustainability to find points of connection between their interests and practices.

In an introductory tour around the lab we were shown the multi-layered map of green and brownfield sites visited during the three weeks of GI, and soil and plant samples taken from around the city. Alex Wilde, member of Open Jar Collective, explained their motivation for exploring the state of soil in the city, as an under-appreciated resource but something which we are all rely upon and are intrinsically connected to.


She described the layered nature of Soil City programme encompassing site visits, soil testing (contributing to OPAL citizen science project), walking and bike tours, public talks and workshops, and an online archive Field Notes, designed to capture the range of perspectives and ways of thinking about soil which emerged over the three weeks.

In between homemade soup, cakes, cups of tea and some hands on soil testing, the Green Tease gathering held a passionate discussion soil. It seemed that everybody has a story to tell or question to ask about how we understand, use and look after the soil in our neighbourhoods and city. See Katy Gordon’s account of the discussion here

We also spoke about what Open Jar saw their roles as artists to be in raising questions about urban relationships with soil. Clem Sandison suggested that the bespoke bright yellow bicycles, designed and made by the collective, were symbolic of their artistic approach, offering an usual and intriguing starting point for conversation, that you may not come across in a typical citizen science project. She also talked about the importance of creating new civic spaces for discussion, bringing together diverse perspectives and encouraging learning, exemplified through the Soil City lab.

Over the course of the event we discussed the importance of finding new ways of valuing soil, as well as green spaces and brownfield sites in cities, beyond their potential for economic development. It became clear that Open Jar Collective see part of their role as offering a different set of values based on the connections between communities and urban ecologies.

We look forward to seeing how the Soil City project unfolds over the coming months!

Tasting party

It was great to celebrate two weeks of the Soil City lab with our fermentation experiments. The nettle beer was passable but there was not a crumb left of the sourdough chocolate cake!

Lovely to continue conversations with people who had been at events or met us out on site. Felt like we had really settled into the space.


Friday 22nd April // Reflections by Hannah Baxter

Today I went along to ‘What is soil?’ because I wasn’t really that sure about it and wanted to find out! The workshop was led by Malcolm Coull, from the James Hutton Institute, and Abi Mordin, from Propagate. There were also quite a few worms involved who led by action rather than with words.

Malcolm gave a talk about soil which, he said, is made from inorganic material, organic materials, water, air and beasties. It is formed by the climate (the wind blowing materials about and the cold pushing rocks apart) and organisms, and it takes a very, very long time to make. Soil is best known for growing things in – and many people in the room were experienced gardeners – but it is also good at storing water, storing carbon, locking up chemicals, supporting buildings and preserving the past. It is also a home for millions of organisms – apparently there are more living things in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet. But there are big problems facing soil – competing demands from various people, pollution from industry, floods washing it away, overgrazing and weathering.

Abi then talked about compost. This led to a little debate about what should go into compost. Is it okay to put in cooked food? Abi thought not, and most agreed, as it can attract rats and mice but an allotment holder present puts it into his compost – controversial! Should orange and lemon peel go in? It can but it takes a long time to break down. And what about human poo? Abi makes humanure! But she wouldn’t use cat or dog poo. Essentially Abi explained that composting is helping to speed up a natural process of organic matter breaking down and for this to happen the organisms doing the work need to be kept happy with food, shelter, heat and water. Compost is not the same as soil; but it is added to soil to improve it.

There was then a practical part of the workshop and we were asked to think about whether soil can be made. If soil is depleted this might actually have to happen as soil would not naturally form as fast as existing soil is being exhausted. Malcolm asked if people would be comfortable with growing plants in this type of soil and mostly everyone seemed cool with that. We then had a go at making soil. I say we but actually I didn’t as my hands are very dry and sore from being in allotment soil a lot this week! This soil was a mix of ground down bricks and ash to make up the non-organic part and Abi’s compost to make the organic part, along with helpful worms and other tiny organisms too small for us to see.

The workshop gave me a lot of questions to think about. Are we being good enough to our soil? What will happen if it is depleted? Will we have to ‘make’ soil and how could this happen on a large enough scale? Abi also asked where does the top soil imported for community gardens and allotments come from – is it okay to move soil around like this? But with these questions, I did get the very helpful answer from Malcolm and Abi to ‘What is soil anyway?’

Throw Away Gourmet

Throw Away Gourmet are a group of students from the Glasgow School of Art who regularly come together to strengthen community through the action of preparing and sharing food that would otherwise be thrown away. Using donations raised from these meals we are then able to share food throughout Glasgow. It is a developing student led project that evolves and grows, reaching out to different communities within the city and raising awareness of food wastage through the action of bringing people together to eat.

“It was a lovely evening with some great people, conversation and food”.

The spread included:

Courgette salad
rocket salad
potato wedges
vegetable stew
spicy sausage stew
hasa five spice pork ribs
torteloni with pesto and lime
plum crumble
fruit salad

Yoghurt Recipe

Recipe shared at our fermentation workshop.  It works best with whole non-homogenised organic milk, like the lovely stuff now being supplied by Locavore from Mossgiel Farm in Ayrshire. The yoghurt can be strained overnight to make cream cheese / labneh, just add a bit of salt, and try mixing the cream cheese with chopped wild garlic. Delicious!


Natural Yoghurt recipe

From: The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger

1 litre of organic whole milk

1 tablespoon natural live organic yoghurt at room temperature

  1. Over a low flame, slowly heat the milk in a non-reactive pot to 180˚F. The milk should reach a hearty scald – hot and foamy but not quite simmering. If you are going to make yoghurt a lot it’s worth buying a cheese thermometer, you can also use a jam thermometer if you have one.
  2. Stir it occasionally as it heats, remembering that the faster you heat the milk, the more grainy bits of overheated congealed protein you’ll find in your yoghurt. When it’s done, pour into large glass jar to cool.
  3. Let it sit until cooled to 110˚F, or cool a bit quicker by placing pan in a cold water. At this point take a spoonful of milk from the jar and mix with a spoonful of live-culture yoghurt, then stir this back in. A tiny amount of yoghurt can culture a large amount of milk, so you really don’t need much, but it’s important that it’s evenly distributed.
  4. Put lid on the jar and place in a cool box wrapped in a tea towel. Fill four other jars with very hot water and put them next to the yoghurt. This creates your incubation chamber. Close the cool box (better described as the warm box) and leave for 12-24 hours. Some people culture their yoghurt in a wide mouthed thermos flask which has the same function of keeping a steady temperature but it is then a bit difficult to transfer yoghurt to the fridge so I prefer to do it in jars.
  5. Don’t disturb the yoghurt too much while it’s culturing. Avoid the temptation of jiggling the pot to see how thick it is! After 12 hours check to see if it’s set and refrigerate. If it’s still not set, refill the jars of hot water and leave for up to another 12 hours.
  6. If you like thick greek yoghurt, then you can strain the yoghurt for an hour or two in a muslin cloth. Remember to save a little yoghurt for making the next batch.


SOIL CITY: Urban Alluvium Workshop / Guddling About // April 17, 2016

Artists: Minty Donald and Nick Millar // Field Notes by Ursula Lang // Photos by Clementine Sandison

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What does the water carry?

Have you looked into a storm drain along the streets of Glasgow? Probably you’ve glanced down at the floating cigarette butts, sky reflected on a thick surface, and odd pieces of urban detritus. Following the former tideline of the River Clyde, in this workshop led by artists Minty Donald and Nick Millar, we used urban storm drains to investigate what the water carries as it moves through the city. And how might this matter become soil?

Glasgow’s rivers have been shaped in conjunction with the city’s settlement and industrial history – and vice versa. What was once a wide, flat alluvial plain shaped by the coming and going of the tides has become the solid paved streets we take for granted. Over centuries of dredging and channelizing, the river’s path through the landscape has deepened and narrowed, constraining its meandering tendencies. This Soil City workshop is part of a larger ongoing project of Minty and Nick’s called “Guddling About” – based on the Scots word meaning to muck about, to be playful, to get messy. link:

How do water and soil meet?

It was a cold Sunday afternoon, windy and grey. A small group gathered, lots of conversation. Out we went, to meander along the former tideline. As we talked and walked, we stopped to peer into storm drains in gutters. We collected jars of water from eight storm drains with a basic water pump attached to a length of plastic tubing taped to a stick. Lowering the tubing into the water attracted pretty enthusiastic attention from passers by – many of whom were football fans. The liveliness of the streets loosened up conversation.

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Back at the Soil City Lab, the kettle was on and cups of tea warmed our cold fingers. We used a simple apparatus to filter each of the eight water samples: test tube stand, glass funnel, filter paper, and jar. Part ritual, part experiment. For about a half hour water dripped at varying rates. People chatted, looked through the library, and attended to ongoing Soil City projects like making nettle beer.

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We looked at the eight soggy filter paper circles laid out on the map. Tiny bits of vegetation, grains of sand, a couple of very small piles of wet mud. The actions of this performance brought us into closer contact with the drain water and all it carried, while at the same time our almost clinical treatment of the water once back at the lab distanced us from it. We talked about when dirt, sediment, and soil might be “matter out of place” (Mary Douglas’ famous phrase). Dirt in the garden is soil, is earth, is right where it should be. Is the muck from a city drain ever in the right place?

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At the end of the workshop, Minty sprinkled the filtered water as we walked a length of the former tideline. Lines of water marked the sidewalks, crossed the road diagonally. A man outside a pub watched us go by, and asked if if was holy water. Hard to escape the symbolic meanings of water, how we carry it, and where we place it. Minty smiled and said, “It’s drain water!”

Farm Hack


Further reflections on the Farm Hack event by Ashley Robinson

Mark it down in the diaries, folks – Scotland’s very first Farm Hack – Oct 1st & 2nd, Tombreck Farm in Perthshire. A gathering of people, ideas and skills – all aiming to make the technology and tools of  agro-ecological farming a bit more accessible, collaborative, and open-source. A description nicked from the Farm Hack website describes Farm Hack as, a  “farmer-driven community to develop, document, and build tools for resilient agriculture – and to build community around that goal.”

When I heard that one of the co-founders of Farm Hack, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, was speaking in Glasgow, I knew I needed to attend. Speaking as part of Open Jar Collective’s “Soil City” events, Severine was discussing her experiences of Farm Hack, and the potential for a Scottish Farm Hack later this year.

What IS Farm Hack? I think of Farm Hack as a Wikipedia of appropriate technology for small-scale farmers. Of course, it’s much more than that. It’s an online platform for ‘hacks’ of the farming variety – which enables the sharing of resources, information, tools, blueprints, and skills. It’s also an offline platform for building community, creating connection, and empowering collaboration.

What started in 2010 in the US as a website and a handful of events, has grown into an inspiring way to organise community-led technological innovation and design in relation to small-scale farming. This technological innovation and design is deliberately human-scale – creating adaptable, affordable, and easy-to-fix farming equipment.

How does it work? This open-source and ever-evolving database of technological resources are achieved through collaborative, and slightly unlikely, partnerships. Techy folk and farmers come together in a mutually beneficial way, to develop and build tools. Market gardeners to mechanics, shepherds to engineers, dairymen to designers – everyone has a role in Farm Hack.


Severine speaks! Severine seems to be a woman of contrasts, or at least, my short time spent with her gave me this impression. She offered in-depth analysis alongside silly anecdotes, enlightened solutions and harsh realities, here-and-now examples with grand possibilities for a different future.

She spoke of the importance of developing tools and equipment using design principles that mimic those principles of agro-ecological farming, such as simplifying complexity, and being energy and labour-saving.

She spoke of the multitude of benefits of bringing people together towards a common goal. Particularly bringing together people who aren’t usually in the same sphere – technies and farmers. These benefits are  more than just the formation of genuine relationships, the value is where those relationships can lead. Good design? Yes. Better technology for farmers? Of course. More importantly though, those relationships foster mutual understanding of one another and their respective values and paradigms. This understanding, and this collaboration across different spheres in society, can only lead to good things for the small-scale farming movement.

She spoke of different examples of what Farm Hack has developed, giving us a look into what we could be doing here in Scotland. Software, such as a mobile phone app, that alerts the farmer when their greenhouse temperature drops, or if their electric fencing fails. Pedal powered and draft-animal powered farming machines that use muscle, rather than oil, energy. Clever modifications of old tractors, making a more modern utilisation of existing implements. The sharing of untapped resources that were previously part of society’s waste stream.  The only limit seems to be those of the collective human creativity.

Following Severine’s presentation, many of us gathered to discuss and organise a Scottish Farm Hack, with much fruitful insight and exciting plans coming together. We wanted to keep most of the same elements and format of the UK Farm Hack gathering, including a weekend residential format, practical and technological workshops, skill sharing, and of course, the social aspect of connecting with others.

We discussed the potential of the Scottish Farm Hack differentiating slightly, by having a more holistic approach. This could mean not just focusing on innovative tools and associated skills, but supporting and attracting all aspects of agro-ecological farming. Examples of this include showcasing the methods and techniques of resilient agriculture, or bringing in the livestock, woodland, and orchard aspects of farming alongside arable production ‘hacks’.

Many thanks to Severine for her enthusiastic and enlightened contribution to the Scottish Farm Hack imaginings and discussion – and Soil City for hosting! Perhaps we’ll see you, and many other farmers and tinkerers, on the sunny hillside at Tombreck, dreaming and building the tools for the Scottish farming renaissance.

Farm Hack

Some Notes by Kristina Nitsolva from the talk co-founder of Farm Hack, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, shared at the Soil City Lab

Farm Hack is…

….the meshing of cultures – engineers and farmers are different characters, approaching problem-solving in different ways. Collaborating patience and time and listening, and this should be honoured. Farm Hack is like a microcosm of what it takes for the different cultures/fields to collaborate towards common goals.

….meeting through working in service of sustaining (sustainable) farming.

….sharing a problem or a project at gatherings and inviting input, advice, collaboration.

….hacking open accountability (of the unaccountable organisations, mechanisms).

….activists working with scientists.

….hacking open farm equipment so it can be adapted to the needs of small-scale farmers, it can be easily repaired, and so that it can be affordable unlike farm machinery produced by large corporations.

….is organising- you don’t need to be a designer, a farmer or a tech person; communicating, connecting people and their ideas and bringing them together is vital to the movement.

What is the sharing economy?

The opposite of the current economy which tends to put a price on things and activities we could easily do for free.

How do we go about changing this?

One idea is making our economy visible by situating art and activism in places where multiple intersections of our economy meet (rivers/cities).

Inspiring developments in the movement?

Ouishare ( and their conferences in Paris and beyond

Our connection to land

Monday 11th April, Land Rights Night, reflections by Kristina Nitsolova

Carving out spaces for collective learning and getting to grips with new to us ideas is a challenge in a culture of hectic urban living. Yet, in the midst of a very busy arts festival, quite a few of us chose to come along and hear the perspectives of the speakers contributing to this discussion on Land Rights.

Each speaker contributed a response to how our relationship to land is changing and has been changing as economic considerations seem to increasingly take priority over the social, cultural and environmental in a local and global scale. Having those different voices, spanning two continents, different generations and fields of interest, asking critical questions allowed us to learn not from facts but from the experiences of the speakers, and begin to look at our own connection to (our) land and response (or lack of) to how it is used and who makes the decisions.

Land as commons, a resources owned by no one and shared by everyone, was a key point of discussion and an ethical point from which issues of land use and land right were perceived by some of the speakers. Elinor Ostrom’s 8 principles for managing a commons were highlighted as guidance and inspiration-giving document. Looking back in history at how commons and land rights issues had been approached in different cultures was highlighted as another source of wisdom for the current movement (for example, the Highland Land League); other movements are also a source of knowledge (for example, the Food sovereignty movement). The feral commons of the Govan graving docks, now cleared and the the site of a new housing development, illustrates how land use issues are very much relevant to those of us living in cities, as well well as those living in rural areas, the possibilities of public use begin to diminish through the commercialisation of urban land.


Severine  von Tscharner Fleming (Greenhorns; Farm Hack) focussed on agency, that of young farmers in the US working to build ‘infrastructure for holding land in common’ in spite of the barriers created by large scale agricultural models which make it very difficult for young people to re-enter agriculture as a way of (making a) living. She spoke of their ambition to open up access to land for local economies for young farmers and people without enough, or any, capital in an increasingly speculative system. She said to look up Terre de Liens, a group from France, who are forging the way and inspiring the global movement!

Artist Alec Finlay, guided us through a journey of Scottish landscapes and their Gaelic names demonstrating how landscape and culture, nature and people are interconnected but how we may be witnessing the weakening or disappearance of these connections. Here are some notes from his contribution to the evening excluding the beautiful-sounding names and the stunning landscapes projected on the wall: First there was the place, then the name. The name of what a place once was…Place names are social signs…A field of biotic relations, necessary relations. A name could aid habitat restoration as it is all that remain from a past habitat…a sound designating reality. A name is a place and it’s absence