5 Dec 2020

The Soil Your Undies Challenge

From Country Life, 12:28 pm on 5 December 2020
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Soiling your undies isn't normally encouraged, unless it's for the good of science.
Students from six North Otago schools are undertaking a number of activities to assess soil health in their schools.

One of the activities is burying cotton undies for six weeks to see how much they degrade. The more degraded the healthier the soil.

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A box of underwear from Thunderpants was donated to the soil project. The students also buried their own homemade undies.

The 'Soil Your Undies' project is being led by Otago's regional Enviroschools co-ordinator Robyn Zink.

"One aim is to get children excited about soil, the other is to get them to go home and talk about this project with their parents and families to raise awareness about soil and soil health," she says.

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Students have made predictions about soil health based on what they know has happened in the area in the past. They are also assessing the biological content, soil type and are undertaking earthworm surveys.  

Michelle Cox, an organic gardening and permaculture instructor, is co-ordinating the student learning modules and was on hand when the students dug up the underpants.

"We all tend to think soil is pretty boring. It's just dirt," she says. "But it's a fascinating realm that we are just starting to discover. We know a lot about the stars and systems outside the planet, but when it comes to looking at the earth and what's under our feet we don't notice as much."

Bridget McNally, Michelle Cox and Robyn Zinc

Bridget McNally, Michelle Cox and Robyn Zinc Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

North Otago Sustainable Land Management (NOSLAM), East Otago Catchment Group and Beef & Lamb are key partners in the project.

Maheno dairy farmer Bridget McNally is the engagement officer for NOSLAM, a farmer-driven group keen to improve water quality and promote good pastoral management and she is hoping the project will have a long-lasting impact on the rural community.

"It's about intergenerational change, it's about promoting on-farm good management practices, looking at what we can do better and celebrating the successes of our farmers that are doing a great job and there are lots of them."

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The project held a community day in late November at the memorial hall in Maheno, where the students presented their findings and ran a range of soil assessment activities.

Otago's Participatory Science Platform (PSP) funded the 'Soil Your Undies' project to the tune of nearly $20,000. Fund co-ordinator Claire Concannon was at the community day to judge which school had the most informative soil science display and who had the dirtiest undies.

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"I'm learning a lot and these students have some really good knowledge, and you know, there are some really deteriorated looking underpants here which is great!"