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Six Inches of Soil review records seeds of hope being planted by Cambridge-based Dragonlight Films





It seems entirely possible, after watching Six Inches of Soil, to conclude the whole world is going to hell in a handcart because the food we are eating is making us go mad.

The horrific, stunted lives endured by captive chickens, cattle and pigs are brought to a conclusion in the utmost fear, and the adrenaline and stress these animals pump out during their last moments suffuses their bodies, whose flesh we then eat (unless you’re a vegetarian, which we’ll get on to).

Q&A session at the Cambridge premiere of Six Inches of Soil, a film about regenerative farming by Colin Ramsay. Picture: Alex Fryer
Q&A session at the Cambridge premiere of Six Inches of Soil, a film about regenerative farming by Colin Ramsay. Picture: Alex Fryer

And not only does industrial farming denude the produce of taste and nutritional value, it promotes obesity, dementia, cancer, depression, birth defects... And, hey, it’s terrible for the environment too.

Six Inches of Soil follows three farmers as they make the switch into regenerative farming, and invites experts to comment on what’s going on in agroecological terms.

Ultimately, the 96-minute film offers a message of hope, but to get there you have to onboard some stark truths.

Soil - it means humanity survives or it doesn’t survive. Picture: Keith Heppell
Soil - it means humanity survives or it doesn’t survive. Picture: Keith Heppell

Firstly, the soil is running out of nutrients and, combined with drought, will result in mass die-offs because it is the topsoil – the vital first six inches of soil covering the land – that provides us with everything we eat.

Secondly, the giant supermarket chains are not the custodians of the Earth we need and the sooner they are confronted the better – the current food model puts just 10 per cent of the retail cost of the producing food in the hands of the growers. If humanity is going to survive, it will be despite not because of the current retail model.

Thirdly, consumers are part of the food problem and they – we – need to become part of the solution. How? Essentially we all need to go on the journey that the three main characters in this film go on – from blasé to deeply, profoundly committed. And, despite all odds, successful.

The Cambridge premiere of Six Inches of Soil at the Arts Picturehouse, with writer/director Colin Ramsay, centre, and producer Claire Mackenzie, left, and Adrienne Gordon, right. Picture: Alex Fryer
The Cambridge premiere of Six Inches of Soil at the Arts Picturehouse, with writer/director Colin Ramsay, centre, and producer Claire Mackenzie, left, and Adrienne Gordon, right. Picture: Alex Fryer

I first started writing about Six Inches of Soil in early 2022, and have occasionally wondered why the film was taking so long to be released, and now I know the reason – Colin Ramsay, the film’s director, writer and cinematographer, is a man who can hold his nerve. He wanted to chart the transition from conventional farming methods – insecticides, habitat destruction, pesticides, soil overuse, high CO2 emissions, etc – to regenerative farming, which makes the soil resilient and helps transform the food system to sustainability and beyond.

In the film, which was edited by Daria Hupov, we meet and get to know Anna Jackson and her dad Andrew, who are arable and sheep farmers in Lincolnshire; Adrienne Gordon, a small-scale Cambridgeshire vegetable farmer; and Ben Thomas, a livestock farmer in Cornwall.

At the start, this trio is struggling to make the switch to regenerative agriculture methods. Britain is one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth and the challenge of converting arid, sandy soil to nutrient-rich earth is considerable, but after two years the results are astonishing. The key factor is determination – these farmers really wanted to make this project work.

As Adrienne said in the finished cut: “I only have this one life and the world is in pain and it’s suffering and I want to use my time here to help heal it, and growing food is the way that feels like it makes the most sense.”

Ben appeals to consumers on camera, saying: “Consumers have a choice: they really have the power, they can decide to buy cheap meat from industrial farms, or they can find farmers like myself that are producing meat in this way, that really value animal welfare and the environment that we’re farming in – and if enough consumers make those choices, we can change the food system.”

Q&A session at the Cambridge premiere of Six Inches of Soil, a film about regenerative farming by Colin Ramsay, with Prof Mike Berners-Lee, right. Picture: Alex Fryer
Q&A session at the Cambridge premiere of Six Inches of Soil, a film about regenerative farming by Colin Ramsay, with Prof Mike Berners-Lee, right. Picture: Alex Fryer

The whole situation with regard to meat may be a separate issue but it cannot be ignored: the farming methods espoused in Six Inches of Soil (SIOS) are not going to feed everyone. Yes the beef from Ben’s Treveddoe Farm may take a shepherd’s pie or chilli con carne “to the next level”, as one of his customers says, but it’s left to Prof Mike Berners-Lee, author of There’s No Planet B and one of a dozen experts who contributed to SIOS, to point out the obvious.

“The biggest waste in the system, or loss in the system,” says Prof Berners-Lee, “is that we feed so much of it to farm animals – that’s human-digestible food being fed to farm animals who give us back a tiny proportion of the nutrition that we feed into them.”

Colin Ramsey and Daria Hupov editing 'Six Inches of Soil'. Picture: Keith Heppell
Colin Ramsey and Daria Hupov editing 'Six Inches of Soil'. Picture: Keith Heppell

We’ll have to address this dilemma at some point: the most obvious outcome is that beef, pork and chicken will have to become much more expensive.

The cost of producing food is addressed in the film by Satish Kumar, food activist and founder of Schumacher College, who says: “We’re prepared to pay for computers, houses, aeroplanes, but food must be cheap – that idea has to change.”

It does indeed, but the political will to change it just isn’t there right now, so it has to happen at a grass-roots level, which is where Six Inches of Soil proves its worth.

What we do learn from this film is that we can produce better quality food in harmony with nature using regenerative farming methods: in fact the principles of agroecology may also be our best chance to offset climate change – agroecology keeps carbon in the ground and creates resilient systems fit for an era of climate uncertainty.

Can we make the switch? The odds are stacked against us but Six Inches of Soil shows how it could be done. For that, Colin Ramsay and his team deserve our thanks.



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