Soil: The Critical Zone






2022-10-01 - 2022-10-30


This residency is available to one person/project. You may apply as a pair or an individual.

terra (n.)
Latin, "earth," from the Proto-Indo-European root *ters- which means "to dry."

SOIL is 2022 NAHR’s focus. Fellows will explore the critical function of soil from a range of natural, ecological, social, political and ecosystem perspectives, and reflect on the impacts of soil health and soil degradation.

More than 75% of the earth’s soil is substantially depleted, while the remaining 25% is of inestimable value. (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Report from 2018)

Soil is alive. It is a critical zone just beneath our feet. It is foundational for entire ecosystems, impacting rural and urban environments. Soil is composed of several layers called horizons that interact with each other,  a composition of a dynamic and rich fabric of life and organic matter. Soil is a living system bursting with microbes, fungi, insects, worms, other invertebrates, and more, which collectively determine its complex biodiversity. This complex, dynamic, and transformative assembly establishes the chemical and structural composition of the soil and impacts what is likely to thrive. These layers of materials and organisms make up a fragile ecosystem that is in jeopardy by unsustainable use patterns, urbanization, industrial food production, contamination, and ignorant disregard.

Soil builds and shapes cultures. Over millennia, soil conditions have supported and erased civilizations, restructured entire social compacts, been a determinant of the architecture of inhabitation, impacted artistic, ritual, and religious practices, and been crucial to the narratives of societies - their triumphs and conflicts as seen through their territories. Soil can be framed as an indicator of the future, and as a key component of the historical chronicle. How cultures interact with soil affects the entire animal/plant/water cycle, the structure of social and political systems, and the narratives of the future.

NAHR is looking forward to receiving proposals that reflect creative and critical approaches to investigating soil as a dynamic and resilient ecosystem, and as a critical element which can provide a regenerative lens for the future. The goal is to chart paths that will transform the actions of the exploitative anthropocene into a sympoiesis conducive to life - like the soil itself.

Santa Ynez

The Santa Ynez Valley is north of Santa Barbara in an inland valley, with rolling California mountains rimming heavily cultivated farmland. The Santa Ynez Mountains are on the south, the San Rafael Mountains on the north, with the Santa Ynez River running from east to west.

From a geological point of view, the consolidated rocks of the Tertiary age compose the surrounding hills. These consolidated rocks are marine in origin and consist of relatively impermeable fine-grained deposits. In addition, there are unconsolidated deposits of Pliocene and younger aged material, made chiefly of sand, gravel, silt, and clay.

The Valley’s soil varies with respect to the underlying geologic material. Soils underlain by consolidated deposits tend to be clayey loams, whereas soils underlain by unconsolidated deposits are typically sandy loams (Hydrologic Consultants, Inc., 1997). Both soils have formed from similar parent material, as the unconsolidated deposits are sourced from the erosion, transport, and deposition of the underlying and surrounding consolidated deposits (shales and sandstones) that comprise the surrounding mountains and hills (Upson and Thomasson, 1951; Hydrologic Consultants, Inc., 1997).

Ecologically, the River provides a rich habitat for various endangered birds. The lower Santa Ynez River supports a large and little-known population of Southwestern Willow Flycatchers (Empidonax traillii extimus). Golden Eagle is always sighted in the summer, and the oak savannah supports grassland birds, including wintering raptors (Buteo regalis).

The vegetation consists mainly of brush interspersed with chaparral, live oak, and grassland. The native flora of the Valley is understood to be naturally renewed by fire, such as Adenostoma fasciculatum which produces a specialized lignotuber underground that allow it to resprout after fire has off burned its stems.

The soil in the Valley is well suited to the cultivation of certain grapes, and the well-established viticulture economy has resulted in extensive research on the soil. The farmland is mostly planted with wine grapes and the Valley is known for its wineries. The agriculture also includes significant groves of olive trees and fruit trees. The farms are typically small to medium sized. There is also a notable community of horse owners and equine-serving businesses. The Valley attracts visitors who come to experience a typical California viticulture landscape, taste and purchase wine, visit the small towns, and enjoy the temperate climate. As such, the Valley is a particularly rich context for reflecting on soil health and systems for soil renewal.

Refugio Road Ranch (r3), Santa Ynez, California
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