Hybrid Fields


Hybrid_fields If you live anywhere near northern California, get over to the Sonoma County Museum before the end of the year to check out their "Hybrid Fields" exhibit.  It’s a fascinating collection of earth-and-garden-and-food-as-art that encourages visitors to think about what they eat and why they eat it, with a particular emphasis on issues like food justice, land use, GMOs, biodiversity, and slow food. 

I’m particularly in love with Laura Parker’s "Soil Bar" exhibit in which she offers up a taste of the earth itself the way you’d taste wine.  How appropriate for Sonoma County, where they claim to have more soil variety than France, and where the flavors of the wine and the cheese and the tomatoes are believed to be very much a product of the soil.  So why not fill your glass with dirt and give it a try?  Her exhibit includes wine glasses and wine bottles filled with soil from around Sonoma County, and yes, they’re actually going to hold some tastings.

A couple of examples of her soil tasting notes:

Lagier Ranch, Veritas Fine Sandy Loam
The texture is silky fine, pumice like. Its color is light, like burnt almond. The nose is earthy with vegetal quality, like green chard and pine, built for the long haul with good supporting acidity. Hardpan finish. Suitable to serve with deep rooted crops.

Indian Camp Ground, "Arrowhead Reserve"
Texture like ground espresso between your fingertips with a rich, chocolate color.The nose is both flinty and grassy with finesse and subtlety. Old growth region.


  1. I love the idea of smelling and describing different soil types, but tasting it doesn’t seem very smart. Helloooooooo…. human-infecting parasites? Heavy metals? Pesticides? Bacteria?

    — From the Center for Disease Control (CDC) via Google–

    Eating Dirt
    by Gerald N. Callahan

    Risks of Eating Dirt

    How dangerous is eating dirt? My mother was pretty certain about this—damn dangerous. Soils contaminated by industrial or human pollutants pose considerable threat to anyone who eats them. Reports abound of lead poisoning and other toxicities in children eating contaminated soils. Similarly, we do not have to look farther than the last refugee camp or the slums of Calcutta or Tijuana or Basra to find the dangers of soils contaminated with untreated human waste. But the inherent biologic danger of soil is difficult to assess. Soil unaffected by the pressures of overpopulation, industry, and agriculture may be vastly different from the soil most of us encounter routinely.

    Using DNA-hybridization analyses, Torsvik et al. (19,20) found an estimated 4,600 species of prokaryotic microorganisms per gram of natural soil. Subsequent investigations, using more sophisticated techniques, found even more species (20), 700–7,000 g of biomass per cubic meter of soil. Soil is a considerable biologic sink, and certainly some organisms found in it are pathogenic in humans. Yet evidence of soil as a major cause of disease in humans and other animals is limited. And many reported diseases are the result of an abnormal situation, e.g., industrial pollution or untreated sewage.

    Most infectious diseases acquired through eating dirt are associated with childhood geophagy, which routinely involves topsoils rather than deep clays. One recent report describes infection of two children at separate sites with raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis ) (21). The infection resulted in severe neurologic damage to both children, and one died. The roundworm was ingested along with soil in both cases. Eating dirt can have dire consequences.

    In the United States, the most common parasitic infection associated with geophagy is toxocariasis, most often caused by the worm Toxocara canis. Seroprevalence is 4% to 8% depending on the region, but incidence of antibodies to T. canis is as high as 16%–30% among blacks and Hispanics. The most common route of infection is ingestion of soil contaminated with dog or cat feces (22). Even though, humans are only paratenic hosts of T. canis, under some circumstances (though severe cases are rare), the worm can cause considerable damage (visceral larva migrans, ocular larva migrans, urticaria, pulmonary nodules, hepatic and lymphatic visceral larva migrans, arthralgias) (22–24). Toxocara eggs persist in soil for years. As with soils contaminated by human wastes, soil consumption itself does not cause toxocariasis. And studies of seroprevalence do not distinguish between infection and immunization.

    Suggested citation for this article: Callahan GN. Eating dirt. Available from: URL: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol9no8/03-0033.htm

  2. Well, I didn’t get the sense that the exhibit actually advocated tasting the dirt, but I can say that if I am anywhere near Sonoma County, I’ll be looking at labels on wine bottles, first and foremost.

    There is a body of theory and research on the connection between exposure to dirt and a healthy immune system:

    “Hygiene Hypothesis: Are We Too “Clean” for Our Own Good?

    “Increased hygiene and a lack of exposure to various microorganisms may be affecting the immune systems of many populations – particularly in highly developed countries like the US – to the degree that individuals are losing their bodily ability to fight off certain diseases.

    “That’s the essence of the “hygiene hypothesis,” a fairly new school of thought that argues that rising incidence of asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and perhaps several other diseases may be, at least in part, the result of lifestyle and environmental changes that have made us too “clean” for our own good.”


    Even the CDC article seems inconclusive:

    “But the inherent biologic danger of soil is difficult to assess.”

    “Yet evidence of soil as a major cause of disease in humans and other animals is limited.”

    As always, it’s “where to draw the line” that is the $64,000 question! The soil in my yard has lead levels so high that we were told it would require a hazardous waste permit if we were to try to remove it and dispose of it elsewhere. Needless to say, I am not eating the dirt in my yard (or anyone else’s, for that matter).

    Still, it would be interesting to see different types of soil compared — I have approximately two types in the garden beds, and I couldn’t really tell you much about either one in a comparative way because, having dealt mainly with the kind of soil that comes out of a plastic bag up until now, I’ve not seen many other varieties. (What? Perlite doesn’t occur naturally??)

  3. Oh, I get it… now… it’s a JOKE! They’re not actually TASTING dirt. It’s a “tasting”, but not literally. WHEW!

    Don’t get me wrong… I love dirt. I love being dirty. I often garden gloveless. I just thought, for a moment (pre-coffee, I might add) that they were actually tasting the dirt. As in eating it.

    I agree that a little dirt and dust is good for you as a child and that anti-bacterial products, from soap to cat litter– even baby toys!– are bad and actually promote the survival of SUPER-bad bacteria.

    Maybe I’m just a little hysterical after the whole spinach thing, not that soil is necessarily to blame. Could have been the irrigation water… might have been manure… guess we won’t know for awhile.

    Sooooooooo…. the tasting… they’re just sniffing it and attaching cute winemaking terms to the odor and texture… awwwww…

    I’ve heard a good wine has “legs”. That term could still be appropriate for soil, quite literally. Eek!

  4. I’m reading “Teaming with Microbes – A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web” these days. There’s a LOT in that soil, so it is good that this refers to a virtual tasting.

    In addition to the “soil bar”, I also like the “soil palette” on her website. It really shows the diversity of soil.

Comments are closed.