Soil City was featured on Farmerama – a podcast sharing the voices from the smaller scale farming movement in the UK and beyond. Episode 9, about 13 minutes into the programme.

Listen to Alec Finlay speaking at our Land Rights Night, Severine von Tscharner Fleming from the Greenhorns speaking at our Farm Hack event, and Open Jar Collective member Clem Sandison giving an overview of the aspirations behind Soil City.

Green Tease

Green Tease event organised by Creative Carbon Scotland and hosted by Open Jar Collective in the Soil City Lab.  Reflection by Katy Gordon, 20 April 2016

I am going to start with a confession.  I thought about writing a preamble to cushion the confession but instead I am going to come straight out with it:  I have never given much thought to soil.  There, I said it.  But judging by the look on my friends faces when I said ‘I am going to a thing about soil tonight’ I don’t think I’m alone.  I have, however, given a lot of thought to food.  I love food. As a nutritionist my traditional approach has been that it if is healthy, then I’m happy.  However, recently I have begun to wonder ‘while food is healthy for me, am I healthy for food?’  As I have been tucking into my ‘5-a-day’ words like food miles, seasonality and, most grandly, food provenance have been creeping onto my dinner plate and making me question whether the New Zealand kiwi or the out of season strawberries are such a good choice after all.

And it is this recognition of the need for a change to my diet that brought me to the Green Tease event as part of the Soil City project. The link between soil and food is clear but alongside community food growers the event was attended by artists, a soil scientist, a housing officer, a stalled space officer and a visual arts consultant so it seems the interest in soil is wide ranging.  After some delicious soup in a quirky lab under the train arches on Osbourne Street we set out on our soil investigations.  Using a mixture of samples, some with their own accompanying worms and beasties, we smelled, we squeezed, we prodded, we rubbed, we sprayed and we talked.  Whilst it lacked the scientific rigour of the soil investigations that the project is doing at various sites in the city, it still gave a great insight into all the things there is to know about soil.

After getting our hands dirty we sat in a circle and chatted as a group about, of course, soil.  We talked about contaminated soil, pioneer plants, road verges, feral commons, risky play, derelict land, community spaces, food waste, compost sales and even martian poo.  Soil was at the heart of all these discussions and everyone had stories to tell. It was fun, informative and I sensed a real desire to facilitate change.  I would like to thank the Open Jar Collective for their ambitious project and allowing me to be involved.  I will definitely look at soil in a whole new way.  Which is good, because soil is all around and I will have a constant reminder of the promises I made myself to eat better, not just healthily, but better.

Soilari at St Enoch Centre

Reflection by artist Jo Hodges // 20 April 2016


How do you get people thinking about soil in one of the most built up places in the centre of Glasgow such as a shopping centre? We (Robbie Coleman and Jo Hodges) embarked on a mission to do just this by embedding ourselves into the environment of the St Enochs shopping centre with a performance installation called Soilari Future Soil Therapies.

A while ago we began investigating microorganisms in soil, focusing on one particular bacterium, mycobacterium vaccae. This bacterium has been the subject of ongoing research into possible treatments for conditions such as tuberculosis, crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers at Bristol University and the Sage Colleges in New York found that exposure to the bacterium acted as an antidepressant by stimulating the release of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain (some people have speculated that this is why gardening make you feel good!)

As artists, we’re interested in how speculative futures can be used to gain insight into current issues. Noticing that many urban dwellers without gardens or allotments rarely engage with soil (and that it is regarded as ‘dirt; and washed off all food these days) we wondered in future cities, if we will become so disconnected from soil that we’ll never see or touch it anymore. With the continual development of the built environment and monetisation of so many aspects of life, will soil follow the same route?

Working with Prof. Lorna Dawson from the Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, we created the Soilari Future Soil Therapies installation as an exercise in public engagement. Using the mycobacterium vaccae research as a starting point, we devised a fictional future scenario in which companies would sell ‘soil therapy’. At different points in the day, lunch breaks for example, we speculated that people would visit ‘therapy units’ to be exposed to soil and get a daily feel good’ dose of mycobacterium vaccae. Following on from this we envisaged that if this became the way that millions of people maintained their health and wellbeing, these companies would need to buy up vast swathes of land in order to harvest the ‘theraputic’ soil?

So, to Wednesday 20th April…. visitors to The St Enoch Centre were met by a ‘therapist’ from the Soilari Soil Therapies company from 30 years in the future who invited them to a free soil therapy relaxation session and explained the concept and procedure. They were made comfortable and breathed in a flow of air that passed over the soil that was hidden within the ‘therapy units’. At the same time they listened to a field recording from the location where the soil was ‘harvested’. They were given a ‘company’ leaflet and a soil sample to take away. Back in the present, they were also asked to answer some questions about their current relationship with and understanding of soil including when they last came into contact with soil and ideas for how soil could have more importantance in cities.

The installation was designed to look as different from the natural environment as possible and along with the uniformed therapists fitted in really well to the shiny clean shopping centre surroundings. There were other treatment booths in the centre and we felt disturbingly at home there. Getting the public involved presented us with the identical challenges faced by the other vendors. Lots of people thought we were going to sell them something and we had to rapidly develop strategies to get over this. Once we had people curious enough to try our ‘therapy’ it was easy and fruitful to explain in depth what we were doing and why. Customers ranged people who had never grown anything to experienced gardeners and also a fortuitous meeting with actual soil scientists who knew about the research we were speculating on. It felt like a playful way to start a serious conversation about the value of soil, green spaces and growing food in the city.

Creating speculative futures and exploring the implications of an increasing disconnection from soil, is a very different approach to the hands on field research engagement of Soil City. However we hope it has added another dimension to the developing conversation about our current relationship to soil, biodiversity and wider issues such as consumerism and ownership of land.

Massive thanks to Open Jar Collective for the space within the Soil City programme to experiment with this approach to public engagement.

Soilari Future Soil Therapies was developed as part of Nil by Mouth, a programme of residencies and knowledge exchange during 2014/5.


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.