Students share stories about soil


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A group of University of Iowa students chose unconventional means to educate community members, faculty, and fellow students about the importance of soil.

“An Evening in the Soil: From Regenerative Agriculture to Urban Farms and Food” was hosted by the Climate Narrative Project, an initiative from the UI Office of Sustainability; it was aimed at educating people about the importance of soil when it comes to climate change.

The UI Office of Outreach and Engagement in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost also cosponsored the event, which is part of a program that started in the spring semester.

“It was a good way for the students to look at how soil affects climate change in a little different way,” said George McCrory, communications specialist for the UI Office of Sustainability.

Jeff Biggers, the writer-in-residence with the UI Office of Sustainability who oversaw the Climate Narrative project, said before the first event happened, there was a long discussion about what the project could be. He said ultimately it came down to one question: “What accounts for the gap between science on one hand and action on climate change on the other?”

The previous project focused on the river, whereas this semester’s was on the soil.

“This semester we decided to climb out of the river and step onto the shore, step onto soil … not dirt, not sand … but the soil,” Biggers said.

Biggers said he wanted the multimedia art project to inspire people to take action to slow the effect of climate change.

“We have science coming out of our ears, and yet effectively we’re doing very little to move in the direction of the climate action we need,” he said.

The students involved in this semester’s project included Erica Damman, Jenna Ladd, Jeffrey Ding, and Sarah Nagengast.

Using film, music, short stories, and art, the students told stories about the soil connecting to everyone, how important it is, and what everyone can do to ensure its health.

Damman, a Ph.D. student, used time-lapse footage of her drawing an insect as she played a recording of an “interview” with the insect.

As her story went on, she spoke of the soil as not something we simply plant our food in, or walk on, but as a fellow species.

She said when looking at the complexities and interdependence of the life in soil, “it compels us to look at soil as our companion species.”

McCrory emphasized that the project was about giving students a novel way to share what they’ve learned and what they believe in.

“It was a way to tell stories about the soil in a lot of different ways,” he said.

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