Learn About Soil At SoilHack Gathering

Adam Ormes Court
Tuesday, 2nd May 2017

The first UK SoilHack event begins in May. All attendees will be able to learn and share their soil experiences, bringing together a range of techniques, solutions and systems that everyone can re-create.

Following the launch of SoilHack at the first UK Farm Hack event in 2015, the first SoilHack gathering will be held on the 27th-28th May in Somerset, England. Details here: www.feedavalon.org.uk/soilhack2017 

Farm Hack is a worldwide community of farmers and growers who build and modify their own tools, sharing their hacks online and at meet ups - improving their practices through open-source collaboration.

SoilHack was set as a subdivision of Farm Hack to provide a space for people to share their understanding of soils and help each other get a clearer understanding of how to improve their health. We have a wiki page on farmhack.org, to which anyone can contribute. So far, we've been collating good resources, running a soil events email list, a Twitter account, and giving presentations at events (including the Scottish FH last year).

We’ve been motivated to do this by hearing an increasing number of people sharing stories about how they've transformed their soils (and sometimes also yields, financial overheads, and/or workloads) through applying novel methods such as no-till/no-dig, cover cropping, biochar, agroforestry, etc. - all of which seems highly significant given the current horrendous rates of soil depletion and the game-changing role that soil carbon has to play in regenerating the biosphere.

The question, especially for those of us who aren't full-time soil scientists, is how to gain an overview of the ever growing body of soil research which helps in understanding why these practices work; as well as, more importantly, seeing how they'd be relevant to our own situations. Our response to this has been to attempt to catalyse a self-organising network for sharing such knowledge, since we felt that it needs to become much more accessible if we’re going to be able to transform our relationship with soil into a symbiotic, rather than an extractive one.

We strongly feel that this task calls for the harnessing of the enormous potential of peer-to-peer (P2P) learning. For those not familiar with the term, which originates in computing, P2P networks are networks “in which interconnected nodes ("peers") share resources amongst each other without the use of a centralized administrative system.”1 Meanwhile, “social peer-to-peer processes are interactions with a peer-to-peer dynamic. These peers can be humans or computers. Peer-to-peer (P2P) is a term that originated from the popular concept of the P2P distributed computer application architecture which partitions tasks or workloads between peers. This application structure was popularized by file sharing systems like Napster, the first of its kind in the late 1990s.  The concept has inspired new structures and philosophies in many areas of human interaction. P2P human dynamic affords a critical look at current authoritarian and centralized social structures. Peer-to-peer is also a political and social programme for those who believe that in many cases, peer-to-peer modes are a preferable option.”2 With the concept of peer-to-peer, computer technology has provided us with a template for the powerful sharing of knowledge; the time is ripe for the spread of new ways of learning.

The challenge is in figuring out how to get across to people used to interacting with centralised learning structures that for a P2P network to work, they need to be involved in supporting it. Instead of working to earn the money to attend a course or workshop, P2P learning needs people to put efforts into creating and maintaining the means to share knowledge, as well as seeking out and sharing information. Within permaculture circles, most people are already familiar with the idea of skillshares and permablitzes, both examples of P2P learning; also in a similar spirit spirit are La Via Campesina’s ‘Campesino-a-Campesino’ (Farmer-to-Farmer) communication methodology and John Liu’s vision for Ecosystem Restoration Camps. What we're trying to create is an integrated effort based on these principles, where everyone comes together to share knowledge and make SoilHack into a valuable resource that’s open to all.

The evolution of the internet has made knowledge sharing increasingly easier to do over time (and simultaneously more overwhelming with all of the available options). With the development of newsgroups, email discussion lists, forums, social media, online videos, and the now ubiquitous MOOCs (massive open online courses), there is now a large and growing body of information available online, of varying quality.

We feel that there is great value in having a curator to guide you through these resources; hence, the idea of SoilHack is to have collective, open curation of knowledge around soil; nobody knows everything (soil scientists have only identified a small fraction of soil life), and there is always much to be gained from the input of different perspectives. The image of mycelium, being a 'fungal internet' through which both nutrients and chemical signals (i.e. information) are transferred between plants, seems particularly appropriate to what SoilHack is all about - both creating and nourishing real-life networks of people, and supplementing the real-life relationships with useful information. 

And so, to the SoilHack gathering. While we’ve not yet finalised the schedule (and a number of spaces will be left free in the programme to allow for spontaneous sessions), at this point we have people booked in to run sessions on: soil evaluation, biochar, building soil with fungi, aerobic composting, the politics of soil carbon, indigenous and youth oriented ways of relating to the soil, microscope soil analysis, cover crops, soil education, and aerobic compost teas.

Some sessions will be practical hands-on demonstrations, others theory and debate. There will be parallel streams running to give a choice of activities. We warmly invite you to come to the gathering or, if you can’t, to get involved online. Please contribute your experience, insight and curiosity to this effort, so that we can begin to rapidly grow our collective intelligence, and in turn all be able to benefit from it. This knowledge needs spreading and putting into action fast. 

Contact: [email protected]

For details on the event visit: www.feedavalon.org.uk/soilhack2017/

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer-to-peer

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_peer-to-peer_processes

Useful links

Farmhack comes to the UK

Earth restoration peace camps