Places are made by the people and practices that accumulate in place, and Places are broken by systems that degrade the dynamic circulation of knowledge. We want to build a movement that’s a living circulation of materials, that bring healthy soil into the spotlight in all urban centres; and to demonstrate its interdependence with agroecological systems–farmland, pasture, agroforests, rainforests, wetlands, and mangroves–inside and outside of urban centres.
We believe a re-vision of urban food systems is possible–of making soil care part of the social ecology of a close-knitted, place-based community that both hopes and acts.
Visions of an alternative, lush, agroforested foodscape2018, watercolour by Michelle Tan for Foodscape Pages
We’ve started with a research pilot for soil in Singapore, in which we’ve involved others in creating a community-led literature review, backed by a local research firm. We have collected material, and next we want to move on to knowledge consolidation in a series of readable formats and hands-on practical formats. We are receiving invitations to hold workshops and share material, and gaining interest from other groups – communities, restaurants, and place-making firms alike. On our list of things to create–besides our working wiki platform (https://soilproject.miraheze.org/)–are a Community Soil Manual that acts as a toolkit of practices, methods and steps we have begun using and highlights people and soil sites readers can visit and contact in Singapore, and inspiration for any would-be soil advocate. We wish to see an expansion of autonomous production spaces where people in Singapore have more access to healthy soils.
We have broader visions about the culture change we seek, and preparations underway to realise these.
First, we would like our work to support and seed collective knowledge generation around healthy soil in Southeast Asia: citizen science programme linking work with communities and university-backed research programmes. We are in discussions to put together a research programme with faculty members in Singapore, including at the Yale-NUS College, to look at the story of soil–as a material, as a product, as a supply chain, and as an empirical scientific object. This research, if it comes underway, will fulfill one of our broader goals: to link high-level measurement reporting on soil with community gardeners and practitioners, and to do so by building capacity for environmental education and knowledge production at the academic, university, and pre-university levels.
Second, this project has been an adventure in learning to speak for urban soil. Every discussion with policy-makers and scientists teaches us to refine our message, and to position urban soil in a world where it does not feature in the narrative frame that power-holders and knowledge producers behold, and create. Our lessons have taught us how to build sympathy and agreement amongst diverse actors, and these early interactions have proven fruitful. We believe that community-led research efforts can build a movement around an ecological matter–this material thing called soil or earth. And we believe it lets us explore, intervene in, and regenerate social culture: knowledge about ourselves, and knowledge about our necessary interdependence with living, healthy soil.
Third, we want to go beyond speaking for soil, to speaking with soil communities. We are diving into building our capacity building programme with key audiences (schools, the public, community gardeners) this year, to merge it with a research programme for successive years. We want to use this opportunity to create material that inspires, captures, and works with the participants of our programme to co-create a collective story about social-soil communities together.
Fourth, as we build out our capacity-building programme, its curriculum and materials, and run it with schools and the public this year, the programme becomes a vehicle towards a third phase: of building a platform for businesses with products and services capable of nurturing the practice of soil regeneration.
Our vision for the Soil Regeneration Project is of building seed capacity for communities, knowledge producers, and businesses to do good, influence policy, inspire and move everyone from inertia to action, and bring a regenerative food economy and marketplace into daily life.
Finally, our Vision of soil regeneration–as something anyone can pick up the skills to do, as adaptive capacities for a more regenerative food system–begins in a single Place, but is a Vision of multiple places. It is a vehicle through which we can point towards a vision of several Southeast Asian bioregions connected by strong nodes in cities and their outskirts, which provide connecting points for the circulation of food, alternative education, autonomous capacity-building, and knowledge resources. It envisions people equipped with the language and understanding of how soil, water, land, and food, are interconnected with their own health, and to have the capacities to advocate for, challenge, and persuade local governing authorities through peaceful and creative means that bring joy, hope, and connection to multiple stakeholders. The Soil Project wishes to bring cities’ resources and aspirational visions into convergence with those of peri-urban nodes–focusing on distributed, small-scale, decentralised but coordinating nodes as a constellation for impact and change, and equalising power imbalances.
From capacity-building programmes in Singapore to grow people’s interest in the region that feeds them, and its ecologies (including care and protection of rainforest biodiversity, land and water), we will continue with programmes linking Singapore and other urban centres. From other urban centres in Southeast Asia (KL, JB in Malaysia, Manado in Indonesia, Thailand, Manila in the Philippines and Mandalay in Myanmar), we will work with local urban settlements and communities to build up local soil regeneration–as an autonomy-expanding act for the most severely vulnerable urban communities, through health, food and climate justice.
We envision a world where the humanist values of autonomy and well-being that we teach and learn in our schools, finds its way into our spaces and lives.
By 2022, we envision beginning projects in Thailand and Malaysia that span over: local capacity-building programmes and food production in island resorts and hotels, working with the tourism industry to make urban-rural travel a point of education and regeneration, rather than consumption and excess, working with ethnic minorities in Thailand to find adequate approaches to long-term, safe agricultural livelihoods. By 2030, we envision a reframing of the “urban-rural” connection in practical terms and our everyday language: from one of degeneration in pursuit of urban aspirations, to one of regeneration, through a more collective form of future-making.