Our Soil

NATURE Lab is pleased to partner with Dr. Abby Kinchy, author of Science by the People: Participation, Power, and the Politics of Environmental Knowledge and Dr. Dan Walls, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – on ‘Our Soil‘ during Summer 2023.

Funded from a National Science Foundation grant, Our Soil involves community-engaged environmental research (“citizen science”). The Our Soil / Nuestros Suelos teams have been developing a DIY Community Soil Study Toolkit to test soils for three heavy metals (lead, arsenic, and copper) that may be found in urban soils. In addition to the research being done throughout Summer 2023 in North Troy, work is also being done in tandem with partners at a sister site in Arica, Chile, under the lead of Dr. Sebastian Ureta.

Research with The Sanctuary for Independent Media includes a series of hands-on workshops with North Troy neighborhood residents, to teach how to sample and analyze soil.

Stay tuned through the Summer to stay up to date on selected fellows, research and findings for Our Soil.

Check out Soil In The City, A comic book created for the Our Soil Project. Soil In The City tells the story of one woman’s growing awareness of lead in her environment and how it may affect her child. Each page is free to download and print.

The logo for Soil In The City, which features said title in yellow against a background of the layers of soil one may find outside.

Although we may not always realize it, soils support and provide many benefits to the environment, our lives, and our health. We also may not always realize that soils can accumulate pollutants which negatively impact our health. The Our Soil team and NATURE Lab are seeking residents of North Troy, NY who would like to learn, think, and act with us about local urban soils through a series of collaborative workshops in Summer 2021. HMM’s Sina Basila Hickey spoke with Abby Kinchy to learn more.

The Our Soil Project is working towards making testing for pollutants in soil and avoiding them more widespread and accessible in order to help prevent health issues that arise from exposure to hazardous materials through contaminated soil. In part one of a two part podcast, Dr. Dan Walls, post-doctoral researcher, discusses with McKenna the methods involved in testing soil for pollutants and the potential dangers posed by polluted soil.

The Our Soil project seeks to spread awareness on the importance of soil and provide the resources necessary for communities to test their soil for pollutants and educate themselves about soil. In this podcast, Professor Sebastián Ureta, who is studying soil pollution from mining in Chile, discusses with McKenna Conners his work with the Our Soil project and how vital clean, healthy soil is to communities.

Our Soil Team Members

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Dr. Abby Kinchy

Abby Kinchy is a sociologist whose research and teaching focus on environmental challenges and the relationship between science and democracy. She lives in Troy, NY, where she is a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Kinchy has written two books that explore how ordinary people use “citizen science” to examine environmental problems and advocate for solutions. Science by the People: Participation, Power, and the Politics of Environmental Knowledge, co-authored with Aya Kimura, and Seeds, Science, and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops. Kinchy also led the Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project, a study of volunteer watershed monitoring projects in Pennsylvania and New York, where concerned citizens aimed to use water quality data to protect their streams from the impact of natural gas development. More information about Abby Kinchy can be found at https://abbykinchy.weebly.com.

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Dr. Dan Walls

Dan Walls is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His graduate studies and a prior postdoctoral position focused on fluid mechanics and transport phenomena, most recently in the context of the remediation of crude oils spilled into aquatic environments. His prior research has required him to both operate specialized laboratory equipment as well as construct experimental apparatuses for making scientific measurements. Through this project, he will utilize skills from his previous training as well as contribute to the broader socio-technical analysis of heavy metal contamination of soil.

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Kathy High

Kathy High is an interdisciplinary artist working in the areas of technology, science and art and is organized with The Sanctuary for Independent Media a series of artist workshops, “BioArt in an Industrial Wasteland.” She produces videos and installations posing queer and feminist inquiries into areas of medicine/bioscience, science fiction, and animal/interspecies collaborations. Kathy is a visual/media artist, independent curator, and Associate Professor of Video and New Media at the Department of the Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. She teaches digital video production, history, and theory and has been working in the area of documentary and experimental film, video and photography for more than twenty years.

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Sebastian Ureta

Sociologist Sebastian Ureta, an associate professor at Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Santiago, Chile, has been studying the problem of soil contamination resulting from mining in Chile since 2013 (see Ureta 2016, 2018), and collaborated with Kinchy in developing the proposed project. He is working with environmental organizations and engineers to develop a sequence of community meetings, participatory soil contamination assessment exercises, and workshops (“Nuestros Suelos/Our Soil”), to assess the risks of exposure to soil contaminants and evaluate the possibilities for political and collective action surrounding Chile’s mining industry. 

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Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta

Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta has extensive experience with conducting bilingual (English and Spanish) community-based soil research, and in this project will focus on developing and validating field kits for testing soil for lead and arsenic. Her related efforts include initiatives funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and NSF. Gardenroots (https://gardenroots.arizona.edu) partners with community members to measure potential contaminants in gardens neighboring mining sites. 

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Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro

Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro is Professor at the Geography Department of SUNY New Paltz. He teaches soils, physical geography, people-environments geography, gender and environment, and geographies of socialism. Current studies and publications mainly address critical physical geography; ideologies about soils; soil degradation (especially acidification); trace element contamination processes in urban community gardens; urban agriculture; materialist dialectics; and socialism. Author of Ecology, Soils, and the Left, he is chief editor of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism. 

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Branda Miller

Branda Miller is a Professor of Media Arts in the Integrated Electronic Arts Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Arts and Education Coordinator at The Sanctuary for Independent Media.  She has developed numerous media literacy and education projects using interdisciplinary electronic arts production. An Emmy Award-winning editor, Professor Miller’s course “Art, Technology and Community” connects RPI students to the Sanctuary and the Missing Link Ministry. Branda helps the Sanctuary hands on with editing their films from the events, to helping out with all different workshops that go on throughout the Sanctuary and the surrounding community. Branda was the Project Coordinating Artist for the “Found Art in North Troy” paroject that the Sanctuary held, as well as an artist/educator in the Youth Media Sanctuary and “Be The Media” workshops. Branda is an internationally recognized media artist and it a crucial part of the Sanctuary.

A light-skinned woman in a winter coat and hat, wearing a camera on a cord around her neck, stands with her hands in her coat pockets.

Sarah Bachinger

Sarah Bachinger is a New York based artist and Community Outreach Coordinator for the NATURE Lab Initiatives Our Soil and the Water Justice Lab. As a collaborator with the more-than-human, her work attempts to transmute their material experiences through archive + art. She is interested in exploring and opening spaces for speculative communications between more-than-human agents + humans as a means of presenting alternative perspectives to anthropocentric histories + imagined futures. Drawing inspiration from new materialism + animism – her work is intuitive, process-based, multidisciplinary and site-specific – it has included installation, photography, performance, community art practice, audio/visual, lectures and mixed media sculpture/painting.

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We use art and participatory action to promote social and environmental justice and freedom of creative expression.

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