The Ground Rules is an action-research model created by ecologist Nance Klehm that understands soil as a tool for knowledge building, engaging the public, and shaping new policy.
Our urban experience is just as much biologically determined as it is socio-culturally determined. Soil is a living sponge that filters our water and air, and is both decomposition engine and support network for all living things. Soil allows for the stability of our constructions; the resilience to flooding and drought; and the health of our food, water, and air. It is manipulated, engineered, cultivated and remediated by engineers, agronomists, biologists, farmers and activists.
The Ground Rules is a highly visible model that is largely shaped by the specific social context in which it functions. The project trains a team of people in organic waste stream management and a variety of composting technologies, as well as in sustainable cooperative business formation. The Ground Rules model posits a reorientation to systems of waste and biological infrastructure within a city. It decentralizes organic waste streams to better fuel local economies and nurture social ecologies. It is a process-focused, biologically transformative, community project that demonstrates commitment to observation, cultivation, and distribution of safe and nutrient rich compost, in which to grow food and build our urban habitats.
Waste collection and compost production is maintained to form a self-sustaining soil-making cooperative. The continual service of weekly pickups from residences and businesses, the public performance of well-identified composters, carts, and labelled buckets, and the location of the Soil Centers in highly visible area allows for many points of interaction. Interactions are varied and wide-reaching in nature and include: ongoing personal contact made with organic waste providers (residential, institutional and commercial); informal conversations with curious neighbors, passersby, and business people; public educational workshops; community forums and celebrations.
This social practice activates a dialogue that reorients a communal ecology to an idea of waste streams. The Ground Rules reinvigorates this dialogue, providing a platform for social connectivity and personal responsibility through observance and relationship with the natural processes of composting.
Nance Klehm is a process-oriented ecologist with proven experience in restructuring existing situations into more functional systems with a strong social dynamic. She is the Founder and Director of Social Ecologies, which creates durational projects that aim to build healthy habitat and interaction through direct engagement of place with those who dwell there. Social Ecologies seeks to encourage holistic, systematic thinking through varying levels and degrees of project participation. Projects such as The Ground Rules, for example, are typically birthed and supported for several years for substantial research, learning and dialogue to develop and for ideas to emerge and become embodied in continued action.
Nance Klehm and her work have been reported on in over 60 national and international media outlets including radio, print and 17 books. She has formally exhibited her work internationally in galleries and museums. She was named a 2012 Utne Visionary and has twice been a finalist for the Curry Stone Design Prize. She is currently at work on a book on soil.