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pro landscaper magazine

Deeper than six inches of soil

by | 05 Dec 23 | News, Opinion

“The inspiring story of British farmers standing up against the industrial food system and transforming the way they produce food – to heal the soil, benefit our health and provide for local communities.”

Having only touched the surface in the December issue of Pro Landscaper, we’re diving deeper into the dirt and discovering all there is to know about the brand new documentary, Six Inches of Soil.

With an aim to give farmers the confidence and practical knowledge to adapt their techniques to support nature friendly farming as well as allowing consumers to understand the context within their food supply, to change the general perspective on agroecologically produced crops – award winning Cambridge based filmmaker and founder of documentary film production company, DragonLight Films, Colin Ramsay is currently producing a feature film about agroecology, connecting people with soil, where their food comes from and how it is produced.

“The inspiring story of British farmers standing up against the industrial food system and transforming the way they produce food – to heal the soil, benefit our health and provide for local communities.” says Ramsay.

Ramsay spoke of how they “do a lot of work with universities around educational content, promos for small businesses, training, and short documentaries. This is then our first feature film and it’s a really exciting time for us!”

Six Inches of Soil came about several years back when producer Claire Mackenzie and Ramsay had been working on a short film for Kenton County Council concerning regenerative agriculture in Cambridgeshire which quickly developed into a wider story. Following up with farmers across the nation and discovering their journeys, the film was officially shot in the winter of 2020. Faced with the additional challenges of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, the team took every opportunity to get stuck in and film outside on the farmlands wherever possible.

For Ramsay, this was a whole new territory, “I didn’t really know anything about regenerative agriculture, so had to do a lot of research. Going on these farms and speaking to people, seeing what’s possible, and the passion they have for the subjects. The passion they have for soil was really inspirational, and actually quite life changing for me.”

“We couldn’t come up with a name straightaway. It’s really hard to name a film, it was like our baby.” Off the back of a research trip, having visited a farm in Peterborough with farmer, Steven Breads, Ramsay explained how he was quoting an old radio broadcaster who once said we owe life to the rain and the topsoil. “It’s a really humbling quote, despite all our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and that in itself really focuses the mind.” And just like that, they had their name.

“Man — despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments — owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” – Paul Harvey, 1978, U.S. radio broadcaster.

With so much pressure on food and farming to be more sustainable, areas of the industry such as horticulture and landscaping also play a huge part into the success of maintaining our growth. “We have to really question supply chain. Where does this come from? How is it made? Is it ethical? I think if we can all start doing that, then we can make the change needed.”

Most of the biology and magic of growing plants, whether that be food or design, it happens in the ground. “We really need to treat it as a precious resource, not just the dirt that most people think it is.” This isn’t just a British thing, it’s a global phenomenon that’s becoming increasingly apparent since we’ve degraded a lot of our soils and not looked after them. “We need to turn the ship around, before it’s too late, so that’s where the idea came from.”

According to the United Nations, we only have approximately 60 harvests worth of topsoil remaining. “That’s one generation of topsoil left before it becomes so degraded, that harvest yields start to drop.” Ramsay continued to explain that “Britain suffers from something like six million hectares of erosion annually, and that kind of land is so desirable as it’s always wanted for farming. Together with the biodiversity crisis we have in this country, what we really need is a national land use framework.”

Looking through the lens of sustainability, Six Inches of Soil highlights an ecologically minded perspective, looking to future generations and the support that our farming industry so desperately needs. “This affects our food choices as well. Every time you go to the supermarket, whenever you buy food, it matters. It matters where that food comes from, and how it’s produced.”

The documentary covers three farmers: a livestock farmer, an arable farmer, and a mixed farm – their cultures, journeys into the industry and their story across the space of the filming year. Featuring the challenges of the industry, the highs, and lows of their journeys through their eyes and their experiences of regenerative agriculture.

“Most people don’t go into farming to make money – it’s a passion. And then what practices can you initiate on your farm, such as regenerative soil, bring back biodiversity, bring back soil biology, and the ability to have a long-term view.” More often than not, some changes can take five to ten years to accomplish, that’s where the system needs updating as its too complex. All of these overlapping circles, affect our food and farming systems. It’s about how you navigate that from a storytelling perspective, but also, how do you get across the key messages without missing out the big ones. There’s been lots of discussions around how you tell the story in a kind of, in a way that hopefully, people will empathise with the characters, but also won’t blow their heads off, because there’s so much information.”

The biggest inspiration for this project are the farmers themselves. This documentary gives them the voice they don’t often receive.

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