A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
Part 1: It may be fitting that a near two-hour film devoted to the subject of soil would begin from the perspective of outer space looking down upon the Earth. For as we learn in the beginning of the movie, most of our planet was formed out of lifeless mineral rock through which a thin layer of soil first emerges. Life springs forth, thus.
Deborah Koons Garcia’s exceptional, new film, Symphony of the Soil, pays loving homage to the beauty and the wondrous mystery of soil, celebrating not just the incredible soil diversity filmed on four of the world’s continents, it also rejoices in the knowledge of leading scientists, and farmers whose careers have been devoted to better understanding this profoundly essential living medium.
As the film begins, microbial ecologist, Dr. Ignacio Chapela, stands upon a mountaintop in Norway, as he tells us, “Life supports me on this precarious ledge where we can see life gaining upon the mineral basis of the planet. The nutrients of the rock being transferred into the living layer that is the soil that supports the plant and other life. And building up life to make soil thicker and thicker, as life complexes upon itself.”
Garcia’s protagonist is the soil itself; not only does it embody life as comprised of billions of bacteria, and other living organisms that break down matter into organic nutrients, soil provides a living substrate upon which plants can grow. In contrast to dirt, which is without life, and must be supplanted with fertilizers and other chemical inputs as a viable medium for plants to grow, the abundance of soil on our planet also enables more complex forms of life to exist, and to thrive.
Soil—we are told—is extremely rare in the universe.
Symphony of the Soil is a joyous excursion into the scientific realm, presenting a level of understanding of just how vital and unique a role soil plays in supporting planetary life. Garcia takes us on a global journey to see how different soils are formed in nature, helping to reveal some of the mysteries and interesting properties that define the various soil types.
Most remarkable of all, is how much fun this film is to watch, and to appreciate that the world of soil can be such a fascinating character onto itself. For so ubiquitous an entity around us, most of us know, so precious little about it.
At least, until we watch the film.
Coming next: In part 2 on Thursday, Deborah Koons Garcia talks about the creative process that went into the making of this documentary.