Dig It! The Secrets of Soil will settle down in St. Louis, MO, opening 22 Apr. 2017. This final home for Dig It! at the Saint Louis Science Center comes after years of traveling around the country, informing the general public about soil science. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History developed the display in 2006, and SSSA was its founding sponsor. Several SSSA members served on the developing committee and published articles in the Soil Science Society of America Journal about the exhibit.1
Ross Braun, retired from USDA-NRCS, was a key person to get Dig It! into the Saint Louis Science Center. Braun was one of the original docents for Dig It! during its 19-month stay in Washington, DC. “I’d go there on Friday afternoons, sometimes weekends, and teach people about soil science with an activity cart,” Braun recalls. Even after Dig It! left the Smithsonian, Braun continued these same activities for a year because the cart was so popular. Only his retirement and subsequent move back to Missouri could stop his volunteering at the Smithsonian!
When Braun was settled in Missouri, he started looking for a way to volunteer. In addition to speaking at master gardener and naturalist groups, he joined the Saint Louis Science Center’s advisory committee for its GROW exhibit, which opened in June 2016. GROW is a 1-acre, permanent exhibit that tells the story of food, from farm to fork.
“At the time, I was hoping that Dig It! could be part of the GROW exhibit, but getting GROW completed and running was such a large endeavor itself, it would not have worked,” Braun says. But now that the center has experience with GROW, Braun saw an opportunity to meld the two exhibits.
A Good Fit
SSSA’s CEO Ellen Bergfeld saw that opportunity, too. She had been talking with the Science Center about Dig It! for several years. “The GROW exhibit educates people about food production and the land,” Bergfeld says. “The Saint Louis Science Center was established as a Smithsonian affiliate museum in 2016 and does an excellent job of attracting large and diverse audiences. The fit with the GROW gallery is phenomenal. Being in the center of the United States—in the ‘heartland’ so to speak—also makes a lot of sense for Dig It!”
Saint Louis Science Center executives concurred. Part of Dig It! will be integrated into the GROW exhibit itself: the soil monoliths and two dioramas, according to Cindy Encarnación, Senior Director of Science. “Educational content about soil fits very well into our GROW exhibit. We cover topics from the seeds that are planted in the ground, to the food we enjoy in our lunchbox or plates. GROW is about food, plant biology, and farming—so many topics that connect with soil science well.”
“When we introduce Dig It!, the soil monoliths (a row of “All-American Soils,” as they’re called) will be highlighted in our GROW Pavilion,” Encarnación says. “The ‘At Home in the World of Soil’ and ‘Underneath It All’ dioramas also fit and will become permanent parts of GROW.”
Maxine Levin, who has been reconditioning the soil monoliths from museum to museum, led a team of soil scientists to refurbish the monoliths for GROW in March. “It was terrific and exciting to open up the crates with the monoliths and find them in really good shape,” Levin says. “Considering they were in storage for a year and a half and had two cross-country moves to get to St. Louis, that’s amazing! The St. Louis location will be stunning in the pavilion in the GROW exhibition. The reconditioning went very fast this time with our large and enthusiastic crew of volunteers from NRCS working with the Saint Louis Science Center professionals. The collaboration doesn’t get better than this between SSSA, NRCS, and the center. Congratulations to Ross Braun …whose persistence and coordination made the new location and venue a reality.”
In a few months, the Science Center plans to have a reception to celebrate the integration of Dig It! into the GROW exhibit. Other parts of Dig It! will be placed in their Ecology and Environment gallery and the Life Sciences Lab.
S. Fisk, director of science and public communications