We talked to producer Claire Mackenzie and director Colin Ramsay, to learn more about the documentary.
What inspired you to make this documentary?
Initially, I was inspired by moving to an arable area of Cambridgeshire eight years ago. I’ve always had an interest in agriculture and the provenance of food so wanted to deepen my understanding of regenerative and nature-friendly farming. I joined a group called Carbon Neutral Cambridge and together we wanted to raise awareness of how agriculture and climate change interlink.
We decided to make a short film ‘From the Ground Up’, which Colin and I first worked together on. It was about changes happening within agriculture and, whilst regenerative agriculture and agroecology may not be as prevalent, it can still provide plenty of inspiration for conventional agriculture. The plan for ‘Six Inches of Soil’ was to build on this short film.
For me, the penny dropped while filming at Hawksmill Farm with David White, a farmer who appears in our first documentary. We were surrounded by an abundance of nature, after digging up the soil you could see it was full of life, worms and biology and David had an infectious enthusiasm. Then we dug in one of his neighbour’s fields, the same soil type as David’s, but it was like a house brick and devoid of life. Claire and I sat down and said, ‘there’s a bigger story here’, so we decided to make the feature documentary.
What’s the meaning behind the title ‘Six Inches of Soil’?
Paul Harvey, an American radio broadcaster once said, “We owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact it rains.” Soil provides 95 percent of our food so without soil there is no life, yet we know so little about it. We wanted something attention-grabbing that would give people something to focus on.
What do you hope people will take away from the documentary?
With environmental documentaries, it’s sometimes unclear what actions people can take. We’re creating a window into the world of three farmers – livestock, arable and horticulture – showing regenerative agriculture from their perspective. We’ve chosen new entrants into agriculture, to help inspire the next generation and show viewers the highs and lows of farm life. Hopefully, people will then take away a sense of the future possibilities and that change is possible.
The farmers we met are delving into their soil, bringing it back to life, and are so positive and excited about their work. Farmers face climate change every day, so we want people to really understand that and show them how we’ve got to where we are today.
Are there any misconceptions about agroecology that you would like to dispel?
Agroecology isn’t complicated – it’s putting nature, people and communities at the heart of agriculture. The government has its 2050 net zero target and, without introducing agroecology, it seems unlikely that we’ll meet them. I’d love for politicians to start using agroecology in their language and get it into mainstream opinion. Over the last few decades governments of both parties have commissioned various reports into fixing food and farming, with well thought out solutions presented but have chosen to ignore most of the recommendations.
For me, it’s the myth that it’s an ‘old fashioned’ way of farming, going backwards in time. Agroecology isn’t denying science or technology, it’s embracing it and building on methods we’ve used for years. Agroecology also isn’t just about farming and ecology; it’s about creating a paradigm shift in the system..
What did you enjoy most about making the documentary?
I was delighted how people opened up, driven by their passion for the subject. I’ve enjoyed working with an amazing team and others so enthusiastic about change.
I have enormous gratitude to the cast and crew because it’s a complex and long project. It’s also been a massive learning experience and honour visiting all these farms across England.
Where can people watch the documentary?
Distribution will begin in January 2024 through our partners, like the Nature Friendly Farming Network and Sustain, farmers and educational establishments. We are building towards a cinema release in Spring 2024.
Alongside the film there will be an impact campaign and roadshow, including screenings, workshops, and further information for people to access. The film will be available to watch online too..