Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Soil Quilt Project

(Above:  The Rensing Center's contribution to the Soil Sister's Soil quilt!  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

During my last days at Wormfarm Institute I visited with Erin Schneider at her farm, Hilltop Community Farm in Lavalla, Wisconsin (which is about six miles outside Reedsburg).  Erin had been contacting area farmers for participation in her Soil Quilt Project.  Wormfarm was among the contacts and her information was passed on to me.  It was wonderful touring Hilltop.  I learned that being "organic" isn't enough; sustainable is better.  I learned terms like agroforestry and permaculture design and all about solar panels, but what I came for was to learn more about Erin's latest project, the Soil Quilt.

We learned from one another.  I learned that 2015 is the U.N. International Year of Soil.  Erin learned ideas for taking all the "blocks" of soil printed canvas and how she might easily construct a quilt.  (I suggested mounting the pieces to a painter's canvas ... raw edges showing ... using WonderUnder.  Having grommets applied to the canvas would also allow Erin to hang the finished piece on the side of a barn or just about any structure without needing a sleeve and slats, etc.)  As a non-stitcher, Erin was scribbling notes as I talked.  As a non-farmer, I was simply fascinated.  Erin is a soil expert!  Really, that's her day job ... soil scientist!  She even teaches on the university level!  Her Soil Quilt packets for participation in the quilt are fabulous ... including instructions for burying the 13" x 13" piece of provided canvas, a timeline for completion, details for community "quilting bees" to collect and assemble the quilt, and basic information about what soil is and does!

Here's Erin's blog post called Let the Soil Speak!  It's another way to look at what soil is.  My favorite line is:
Soil is the mixture of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and myriad organisms that together support life. Soil is considered to be the "skin of the earth" – it's largest, living, breathing organism and collective geologic slate.

 (Digging the hole for our part of the Soil Quilt.)

So ... I asked for a packet to take with me to the Rensing Center, another location whose mission includes an environmental focus.  Erin happily passed one to me!  Ellen Kochansky, the director of the Rensing Center was thrilled.  Now, I already knew how to dig a hollow and bury the canvas.  I'd watched Erin's You Tube video!  Erin put a few mushrooms in her square to add to the decomposition.  So, Ellen selected a spot and we agreed to try saturating our square with a bit of Gertrude the Goat's milk.  (That actually took as much time as digging the hole!  Canvas isn't very absorbent, even when already damp with water!)

Here's the canvas down in the hole ... about 14" x 16" inches down ... under the spreading wisteria roots and with the few extra tablespoons of goat milk poured in on top.

Erin's packet even included a yard of fancy yarn ... to put down into the hole with the canvas but allowed to come through the surface like a flag.  Good thing!  It would be just over two weeks before I would come to dig it back up!


One of the reasons Ellen selected this location was because of the nice red clay soil.  Two weeks ago, we didn't see as much of the red clay.  Yesterday, however, a new drain field for the old septic tank was being dug by Scott of Seneca Treehouse Project.  Scott, like Erin and Ellen, is concerned about the environment ... and DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  The Seneca Treehouse project is a great resource for people wanting to learn how they can do something too! Scott helps people use their land, even plots as small as a half acre, better and more sustainably. 

(Above:  Returning to the pink yarn ribbon to dig up the canvas!)

This morning I returned to dig up the canvas.  There was no problem finding it.  I was worried that it hadn't spent quite enough time in the ground.  Erin's paperwork said 2 - 3 weeks but leaned toward the three week mark.  My first two weeks here were HOT ... as in over 90 degrees without any rain.  I wondered if lack of moisture would slow down the decomposition and result in just a little "dirt", no interesting soil markings.

(Above:  Digging up the canvas square.)

This week, however, has been cooler and we did get rain.  I was really pleased how the canvas opened up with plenty of red clay marks.  It goes in a large envelop and gets mailed back to Wisconsin tomorrow!  Thanks, Erin, for letting Ellen and me participate in your important project.

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork ... in the hopes that others will take up this unique idea for an educational and totally awesome way to share the needs of our planet's "skin", aka soil!


Ellen Kochansky said...

Now THIS is my idea of a quilt with a mission! I can't think of a thing we've done at Rensing that I love more, or a partnership with as many great threads. Thanks, Susan, for tying all these knots together. You rock!

Lesley Turner said...

Wow, Susan. What a full and rich life you lead.

quiltedfabricart said...

How very interesting! I've tried ecobundling but this has a twist. I wonder if you need the right soil though. I can see where clay would work but I don't know about regular old dirt. One way to find out though :-)

Margaret said...

Hmmmm....I just laid down a layer of bark chips (red cedar for the most part)...maybe I could take a bit up again and try burying a swatch...I have canvas too...Hmmm....!! Don't have red clay, mainly sandy down below here...but...Susan, you DO get me thinking!!