Let me start off by saying that we are not your typical group of geography students. We do learn much about physical geography but the larger portion of our studies revolve around geotechnologies and their applications (hence, Geographic Analysis). Two graduate students from Wageningen University and Research Centre, Jasper and Marjin, brought us right back down to earth (both literally and figuratively) when we spent the day exploring soil quality in Wageningen, an hour southeast of Amsterdam.
The bus ride from Amsterdam to Wageningen put into perspective the development frenzy that is happening throughout the Greater Toronto Area. You could tell how much the Dutch valued preserving their green space, but to be fair they also have a much lower population density than the GTA and therefore a smaller demand for space. Trees, forests, and water lined the highways rather than homes and noise barriers.
The first stop was Arboretum Belmonte Park, where Jasper and Marjin showed us a stunning view of the natural landscape and gave us a general overview of the geological history of the area. They opened up a detailed but tattered map to show us where along the moraine we would be travelling, and like true GIS students the first question we asked was “When was the last time you updated that map?”
Less than 10 minutes after witnessing that beautiful landscape, I found myself standing among tall oak trees off the side of the road with soil in my hands and Marjin telling me to taste it. We were all gathered around a hole they had dug out, showing a very fertile soil horizon.
The more stops we made, the more clay-content the soil had, the less fertile it became and lower in elevation we went. Starting in the Middle Ages, the Celtic fields were fertilized using a mixture of heather sods and cow manure. For centuries these man-made soils were worked on and grazed by sheep, creating an increase in height by a few millimetres per year. Today, there is over a metre of dark, enriched soil over the lighter soil created by the farmers dedicated to their land.