Coming Back to Soil

A Down-to-Earth Project Seeks to Inspire a New Generation of Soil Explorers

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Two hands hold soil with backdrop of straw
Not to be underestimated, soils are fundamental to all life on Earth. (Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis)

Soils are fundamental to all life on Earth and are the foundation of nearly every ecosystem on the planet.

Soil Life, a collaborative project between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and UC Davis, aims to educate people about the necessity of soil to support and sustain life. It seeks to empower young people with solutions to some of our greatest global challenges.

The Soil Life website at soillife.org is also full of ideas about what you can do to help build healthy soils in your life and community.

A search for solutions

The project was founded by Jessica Chiartas, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis. Her passion for soil grew out of the hope it provided her at a time when she had become bogged down with all the problems facing the world.

“The more aware I became of issues concerning the environment, human health, and socioeconomic justice and the more questions I asked, everything just seemed to keep circling back to soil — the way it’s treated, our disconnection from it in our everyday lives, the unresolved history of removing people from the land,” said Chiartas. “The more I began searching for solutions, everything kept coming back to soil — from improved ways of growing food and fiber to the potential for soil carbon sequestration to more sustainable building materials and consumer products to antibiotic discovery.”

Woman in red shirt with video camera smiles while soil science students sample soil in dry straw landscape
Soil Life founder Jessica Chiartas shoots footage as part of a Soil Science field class at UC Davis in 2018. (Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis)

Chiartas wanted to create Soil Life for two reasons: To dig into what’s “dirty” while calling into question what’s “clean,” and to inspire the next generation of soil explorers for the benefit of all.

She hired a team of undergraduate students to give them an opportunity to put the skills they learned in their majors into practice and to work with people who would understand her target audience.

“They say the best design is invisible,” said Chiartas. ”So just like soil, it’s easy to take for granted the many layers of the process and all that goes into cultivating it. This project took a lot of collaboration and input from a lot of perspectives.”

The hidden universe of soil

By focusing on the “6F’s of Soil: Food, Fiber, Filtration, Foundations, ‘F’armaceuticals, and Fun,” the project highlights the value and importance of soil in many aspects of our lives. Using accessible, engaging graphics and media-based content, the site's creators aim to evoke a sense of awe and wonder for the hidden universe upon which life on Earth depends. 

The project begins with an interactive intro to soil science; sets the stage with the soil environment; introduces the cast of soil biology; peers into the processes of soil function; digs into the diversity of soil orders; and brings it all together with soil health.

The Media Hub provides a Netflix-style experience for binge-watching a curated list of soil-based videos, as well as infographics and educational resources. Once audiences are inoculated with the soil bug, there’s a clear list of actionable ways to get involved — at home, in their communities, on social media, with legislators, for their education, and through donations.

“I want young people to feel empowered that they can make positive change in the world and to provide people with clear actionable items for how they can engage,” Chiartas said. “And hopefully while they are there, they learn a little something about the way the planet works.”

Media Resources

Hayley Morris is a News and Media Relations intern within UC Davis Strategic Communications.

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