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Cambridge event showcases agroecology film Six Inches of Soil





A perverse economic system enables the production and advertising of cheap ultra-processed foods, ruining the soil and leaving the NHS to pick up the bill for the long-term health problems it causes, a farmer told a Cambridge audience at a recent fundraiser.

Tom Pearson was speaking at an event helping to launch the crowdfunding campaign for Six Inches of Soil, a compelling film project that began in 2021.

DragonLight Films filming
DragonLight Films filming

The film – previewed here – is a narrative about agroecology in the UK told through the eyes of three new farmers, and showcases the incredible results that can be achieved through regenerative farming.

The audience at Cambridge Unitarians earlier this month heard from a panel that consisted of Dr Lizzie Sagoo, a soil scientist at ADAS, the UK’s largest independent agricultural and environmental consultancy; Adrienne Gordon, a new-entrant farmer currently in her second season on three acres of rented land in Caxton; and Tom, who runs a family arable farm in Cambridgeshire.

Lizzie told the audience that there are more than 700 types of soil in the UK.

Six Inches of Soil film is being filmed by DragonLight Films
Six Inches of Soil film is being filmed by DragonLight Films

“Compaction, erosion and loss of organic matter are the biggest issues for soil in the UK”, she said, and outlined crop and land management practices that help protect and regenerate soils.

Tom stressed the importance of living roots and diversity to build a healthy soil, adding that he feels strongly about getting the public involved and “getting people on the farm” is fundamental for a better understanding of how the soil works.

Adrienne discussed what she learned while volunteering at organic farms in New Zealand. At the start of last year she put up a polytunnel with the help of her family and started growing food. Adrienne trades the salad and vegetables she grows at several local markets including Histon, Great Shelford, Great Gransden, Cottenham and Hauxton.

“South Cambridgeshire Council has hired someone to help villages to sell locally-grown produce at markets,” she said. “We’re moving out of Cambridge because parking for stallholders is non-existent and driving in is so difficult, and people aren’t coming in to buy food on a Wednesday at this point.

Six Inches of Soil event, SOIS, at Cambridge Unitarians
Six Inches of Soil event, SOIS, at Cambridge Unitarians

“Covid reduced the footfall, and since then the market’s become more of a fast food, lunch place.”

In the Q&A, asked what the main problems are in farming today, the panel cited economic dynamics.

“Farmers need to be able to make a profit,” said Lizzie. “The push on pricing has had a negative effect, alongside increased energy and fertiliser costs. The price rises farmers face in terms of input costs are staggering, and they can’t afford to have crop failure.”

“We are what we eat,” said Tom, “but we have such a perverse economic system. Our society allows production and advertising of cheap ultra-processed foods and then spends billions of NHS pounds on the long term health problems that these diet choices cause. Meanwhile hospitals and schools can’t afford fresh produce.

Six Inches of Soil event, SOIS, at Cambridge Unitarians
Six Inches of Soil event, SOIS, at Cambridge Unitarians

“The cost of bad diets in terms of healthcare costs to the NHS runs into billions of pounds a year.

“In France, the government recently announced that half of all food bought by the public sector must be organic or locally produced, in the hope of improving diets and farming practices, so the situation for them is not so disastrous. Outside a general consensus that eating fresh fruit and veg is a good idea, we are only starting to understand the complexities of food and health: nutrition research is massively under-funded.”

Adrienne said that treating food solely as a commodity means the price is set by stock markets, which works better for shareholders than farmers — and, indeed, consumers.

“This ignores the fact that food is a fundamental human need,” she concluded.

The audience also heard how food security is essential to our wellbeing — indeed our survival — even if the message isn’t fully understood by UK politicians. But there was optimism too.

“It’s incredible how quickly soils can be turned around,” said Tom. “Nature is pretty good at mending itself, we just need to support those regenerative processes.

“Regenerative farming can result in soils that will be more resilient to future changes in climate such as wetter winters and drier springs and summers.”

A farmer feels the soil on his farm
A farmer feels the soil on his farm

Adrienne said she wants to see “more people on the land growing food”, adding: “We need to feed the soil to feed the people.”

The fact remains, however, that the UK is the most nature-depleted country in Europe. So how to kick-start the revolution?

Lizzie said: “There is a lot that we can do to regenerate and improve soils, and there are farmers out there that are showing us what is possible.”

Adrienne wants to see more farmers producing local food, with “market gardeners in every village”. She added: “What is happening now is amazing. There are people sowing the seeds of a more resilient food system that is waiting in the wings for when the dominant agrochemical methods cease to work.

“We’re already seeing problems: the current system is failing, there’s empty supermarket shelves… There’s a need for skills and knowledge. We’ve literally got the seeds to start growing food, for when the time comes that we can’t get food from global markets.”

Six Inches of Soil is about the trials and the successes of carefully weaning the land off high artificial input farming and choosing a regenerative nature friendly approach – “can’t go cold turkey, that doesn’t work” said one audience member — towards self-sufficiency. Transitioning to regenerative agricultural practices is a process that can take five to ten years and the sooner we start the journey the better, say the makers of the film, directed by Colin Ramsay and produced by Claire Mackenzie, who are encouraging the process through their work.

“There’s rarely enough time to cover all the complexity of the food and farming system,” says Colin. “That’s why we always bring it back to the importance of soil, and the farmers who steward the land in our name. This is why Six Inches of Soil is a story that needs to be told.”

The Crowdfunder closes April 28 at 6pm – but you can still help fund the project using this link to the website.



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