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Handmade jewelry tells the story of Manitoba’s provincial soil

For the past five years members of Manitoba Soil Science Society have created the unique pendant/keychains, earrings, bracelets and rings with the distinct tricoloured soil of Newdale Clay Loam

Soil is sometimes called the earth’s skin. Why not wear a little of it next to our own and tell others about it?

That was the idea that came to Manitoba agronomist and then Manitoba Soil Science Society (MSSS) president Kim Brown-Livingston around the time Manitoba declared its own provincial soil — Newdale Clay Loam (NCL) — in 2010.

Brown-Livingston started to talk with MSSS colleagues about this not-to-be-missed chance to raise awareness and pique interest in soil and soil science.

They set to work to create jewelry made with the tricoloured NCL, purchasing metal jewelry forms to fill with tiny scoopfuls of each of the soil’s distinctive black, dark-brown and lighter-coloured soil horizons to encase in resin.

Today several hundred of the tiny monoliths now dangle from necks, ears and keychains, or encircle fingers and wrists of proud wearers around the world.

The first pendants debuted at an MSSS annual general meeting in 2011 but word soon spread of the unique conversation-starting agricultural accessories.

“We’ve had a lot of groups that have asked for these as speaker gifts,” says Marla Riekman, treasurer of the MSSS who continues to team up with colleague John Heard, incoming president of MSSS, to make a few dozen bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants each year.

Each piece of the stylish jewelry is also unique, depending on how the aggregates show up in each one.

“I have to say some of my favourites are actually the ones that have some of the little stones and rocks left in them,” says Riekman. “When you’re making a mini-monolith the ones that are most authentic are the ones with some stones left in it.”

The jewelry proved very popular as a gift to give to conference speakers, they’ve likely made about 500 of the different items over the past years, says Riekman.

Distinctive and stylish rings, earrings, pendants (which double as keychains) and bracelets made from Newdale Clay Loam.

Distinctive and stylish rings, earrings, pendants (which double as keychains) and bracelets made from Newdale Clay Loam.
photo: Lorraine Stevenson

“We’ve had a few different big orders come in which has been really great.”

Most recently, the 2015 Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference organizers found the items a perfect fit for their event which was themed around International Year of Soils.

Over 100 agricultural journalists visiting Manitoba in 2012 to attend the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation conference also received the pendants.

Possibly the greatest exposure at any one single event was during the 2014 World Congress on Conservation Agriculture which was attended by nearly 400 international visitors from over 50 countries.

“A couple of hundred were given away there,” recalls Riekman. “It means that there’s a little bit of Manitoba soil all over the world.”

This is quintessentially made in Manitoba, adds Heard.

“They can’t be made in Japan,” he quips.

NCL was laid down with the last glaciers grinding its parent materials of granite, limestone and shale, then leaving it its wake a hummocky landscape, where 10,000 to 12,000 years more of growing grass and grazing bison established the soil.

The unique flora and fauna of that ancient Prairie landscape produced this soil’s characteristic colours, said Heard.

The main characteristic of Prairie soil is its dark-black top layer, which is found under land that’s been covered by grasslands.

“If it were a forested area it would be much more brown,” he said.

The soil used for making this one-of-a-kind jewelry comes from just north of Brandon at the site of the former Manitoba Zero Till Research Farm at the heart of the some 1.3 million acres covered in NCL typifying the clay loam soils across western Manitoba.

Riekman, who is also the land management specialist (landscapes) with Manitoba Agriculture and Heard, the provincial soil fertility specialist continue to make batches of jewelry as need arises.

All proceeds from sales of the jewelry, which can also be purchased directly ($20 per item) support the ongoing work of the MSSS’s research, outreach and educational programming.

2015 was declared International Year of Soils by the United Nations to remind the world of soil’s centrality in ensuring a productive food system and healthy environment, while at the same time the earth’s skin is at risk from climate change, expanding urbanization, pollution, overgrazing, and unsustainable soil and land management practices.

For more information about the Manitoba Soil Science Society log on to manitoba-soils.ca.

To inquire about the jewelry please contact [email protected].

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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