Studium Generale - Wageningen University presents: Living Soil Science

Location: KABK Main Gallery

Watch below a recording of the lecture on 10 November 2022

As soil scientists move away from black box approaches towards a deeper understanding of soil processes, society also starts to look at soil with a different attitude. An attitude that moves away from considering soil as dirt or as a mere substrate for food production. Soil organisms and the processes they perform are intrinsically connected with soil physics and chemistry, driving soil functions that go beyond food production. The soil is living.


In this lecture, we reflect on the evolution of soil quality concepts from its early development to current times. We discuss soil multifunctionality as a component in environmental quality, the role that humans hold in soil degradation through management, and the role of soil scientists in understanding the impact of soil management on soil functions.

Soil scientists have the knowledge and the duty to act together with farmers, policy makers and other societal actors, to defend soils, contributing to SDGs, soil-based ecosystem services and shaping the future of our land working together with nature and those same organisms that create a living soil.

Giulia Bongiorno is a postdoc in the Soil Biology group (SBL) at Wageningen University (WUR), with a focus on the role of soil biota in soil health and agriculture. Her interest lies in monitoring and counteracting the negative effects of intensive agricultural practices on soils. She has worked mainly in agricultural systems within and outside Europe, from arables and perennials to agroforestry. She has participated in several European funded projects that brought her to get in touch with a variety of systems around the world. Her work during these years ignited her interest in the role of agriculture in the broader economic and societal context, and in the important of soil literacy and outreach.


Soil science in a changing world

Fundamental soil science plays an important role in addressing a range of societal challenges. Unravelling soil mechanisms is fascinating as physical, chemical and biological processes are intricately linked, and create a world in itself hidden beneath the surface. After showcasing an example of how ‘hard’ soil science contributes to sustainable cacao production in Latin America, we will discuss how soil science in general can stay connected to society in a rapidly changing world. This requires us to think about how we do soil science, and to envision alternatives. To do this, we need to be able to take diverse perspectives on what soils mean to different people. This also means letting go of the idea that soils can be reduced to biogeochemical seed banks to be exploited for the human good through agriculture.

Wietse Wiersma is a third-year PhD candidate at the Soil Chemistry & Soil Biology groups at Wageningen University. He investigates the biochemical soil-root interactions in tropical cacao soils that govern the uptake of cadmium, a heavy metal that is currently threatening the sustainability of cacao production in Latin America. Additionally, he has a strong interest in understanding how soil science can connect with society, which led him to explore the potential of ‘transformative research’ in soil science. He is also organizing a graduate course on Integral Soil Science.

Soil sciences in relational perspective

This talk will be a joint exploration of how our relations to soils have evolved over time and what we need to invest in for our future. We have created tools and practices to cultivate, to modify and tap into the riches of virgin land. We plough, we weed, we sow, we work the soil to make the soil work for us. Our relationship to soil, in an agricultural and productivity paradigm, is framed as solely material. In soil science, however, other insights on soil are coming to the surfaces that ask us to rethink this relation. In this talk we will explore some of the onto-epistemological shifts that might be required from us. Asking what new scientific insights on soil mean to us, what it asks from our relations to soil and how bodies and emotions are involved in these shifts.

Dienke Stomph (she/her) is a PhD candidate and Lecturer are the Cultural Geography Chair group at Wageningen University & Research. In her education and research she focuses on decolonial theory, embodiment and new materiality. She combines her background in soil science and agroecology with critical social theory to study socio-ecological relationality.

Her interest lies in the study of decolonisation, especially through the revitalisation of soils. For which she studies how farmers are invited to perceive soils as living bodies rather than inert matter. And how, in this shift from dominating and subjugating soil life to forms of engagement with soil as living organisms, bodies of soils and humans are invite to relate differently.

Food intervention

Every session of Earth Craft will be accompanied by a food intervention that comments upon the knowledges offered

Lena and Ale are an artist duo investigating food making and sharing as ways of healing and coming together. They explore the notions of curiosity and balance through ancient and new processes of fermentation and conservation and their research is initially inspired by mystic Hildegaard von Bingen’s writings, which offer a nuanced approach at understanding and utilizing common ingredients for the wellness of the body and the mind.

To accompany the EarthCraft series they will build tubular edible moments using local and affordable ingredients. Considering time and natural bacteria as partners as well as ingredients in the mechanism for the transformation of violence and toxicity into something that can nurture us.



10 november 2022 18.30 - 20:30


Gallery 1, 2 and 3