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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

Symphony of the Soil (a movie)-TAGLINE: Discover the life beneath your feet.

I am not sure how I came to learn about this movie but once I read its review I was determined to watch it. Since it was not easily available in the library, I had to place a special request through my University inter-library loan. Columbia University claims to have the third largest library in the nation; so I figured I had a good shot at getting my hands on this much acclaimed food dvd.

From the trailer review:

Symphony of the Soil is a documentary feature film produced and directed by Deborah Koons Garcia that explores the complexity and mystery of soil. Filmed on four continents and sharing the voices of some of the world’s most esteemed soil scientists, farmers and activists, the film portrays soil as a complex living organism. 

The dvd came as a 2 disc set with several short films (Sonatas of the Soil) that delves deeply into soil-related topics. Below are some thoughts and clarifications that I felt like researching based on the movie. 

1. Mulching vs. composting. Turns out there is a technical difference between the two concepts. Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and is usually made up of garden refuse, kitchen scraps, lawn clippings when subjected to naturally or artificially induced high temperatures. Finished compost has many uses. In contrast, mulch is the layer of organic materials placed on the top of the soil as a protective cover. Mulch helps to suppress weed germination, retain moisture, insulate the soil, and reduce erosion. Mulch also contributes nutrients the soil by gradually breaking down over time. Mostly, farmers don’t use compost as mulch. Compost is full of nutrients that they want to get down in the soil to feed the plants through their roots.                              


The movie showed a farming couple from Wales, UK. The farm they owned was called Blaencamel. According to Pete Seeger, co-owner of the farm, they have rehabilitated “some of the poorest soils in the British isles” into deep dark organic matter just by practicing large-scale composting to build their soil. In his wife’s word, “We don’t grow plants. We grow soil and soil grows plants. “

2.  Permaculture vs. Organic farming vs. Biodynamic farming.

Biodynamic Agriculture has much in common with Organic agriculture. Both make use of tool such as cover croppinggreen manurecrop rotations,  and the regular application of compost. However, biodynamic agriculture adds to those methods, an acute sensitivity to the astronomical calendar for the scheduling of farm activities.In addition, those practicing biodynamic agriculture use herbal and mineral powders to augment their regular compost applications. Permaculture, a very similar concept is a contraction of permanent agriculture. It refers to a series of principles and practices that if applied would ensure sustainability of the soil.  It was developed in Australia in the 1970s based on agroecology and indigenous farming systems. Permaculture farms are organic, low-input, and biodiverse, and use techniques like intercropping trees, planting perennials, water harvesting, and resource recycling.  


Again, one of the sonatas of the movie includes a farm in Egypt (Sekem Vision) which features the sustainable development of their vision, a giant biodynamic farming community in the deserts of Egypt. The business pioneers Dr Ibrahim Abouleish beautifully summarizes his business philosophy with this closing, “Food for the soil, then comes food for the people and then food for the market, local first followed by global market.”

3. What exactly is wrong with Industrial Agriculture?

The famous food activist, Vandana Shiva sums it up in this one sentence.”Industrial agriculture is Tomato sold by Cargill , bought by Pepsi and sold as ketchup to Pizza Hut.” She talks about farmer suicides being a growing concern and one of the implications of this type of agriculture. From one of her research papers, I quote, “The increasing costs of production and the falling farm prices that go hand in hand with globalization, combined with the decline in farm credit is putting an unbearable debt burden on farmers. This is the burden that is pushing farmers to suicide.”

In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open up its seed sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto and Syngenta. The global corporations changed the input economy overnight. Farm saved seeds were replaced by corporate seeds, which need fertilizers and pesticides and cannot be saved.Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, poor peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity. This new expense increases poverty and leads to indebtness.


In general, the movie was quite eye-opening and for a change inspiring. It seems as though our soil in addition to providing us life-sustaining food has a lot of lessons to teach us on caring, patience, recycling etc. It gives us the opportunity to use just our physical and mental inherent aptitudes to not only survive but thrive in this planet we call home.

In conclusion, I end this piece with a positive note describing soil as mentioned in the movie, ” Our soil is Times Square on New Year’s eve- all the time, full of life.”

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