Soil sweeter than gold – it’s true

Rachel Faber

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been subjected to the schmaltzy melodrama that is the time-delayed Millennial Olympiad. If I didn’t feel such a bond of camaraderie with the athletes, I may have detested all the marathon-length human interest stories, the silly side dramas of accusations and performance-enhancing drugs. However, as a member of the ISU Millennial Soil Judging Team, I could feel nothing but empathy for my peers in Sydney. Sure, we don’t have lycra wear for competitions yet, but the stress of training for soil glory must be akin to all those laps on the track, all those strokes in the water, all those hours making the human body achieve more than was possible before. We were studying, digging and sifting our little hearts out. The road to a spot as a soil judger is rocky. Some of us aren’t agronomy majors. Some of us weren’t in Future Farmers of America. Some of us didn’t even grow up on a farm. Despite all these early setbacks, coupled with our fair share of personal sob stories, we finally made the cut. We were varsity soil judgers. This life of glory is not all that easy. There is the pressure to keep your mind sharp to determine landforms. You must hone your hand muscles to discern the amount of clay in a sample of soil. And you have to learn to deal with the price of fame. Like many varsity competitors, we have to balance academics with the extra-curricular. We need to obey the law and stay eligible to compete. We have to deal with the hordes of obsessed soil groupies who only want to elevate us to soil-deity status. Add these factors to the overwhelming desire to improve our skills and basically leave other teams in our dust, and you know that we are one tough group. Fortunately, we are allowed performance-enhancing substances. In most cases, this involves caffeine and possibly beer. While we were in Missouri for a week of competition, performance-enhancing substances involved biscuits and gravy as well as any triglyceride-laden food served by a seedy waitress in a hole-in-the-wall diner. Another activity that buoyed our spirits was to create soil cheers and parodies on pop music. “Texture one, texture all, classify that Ultisol!” became our rallying cry. We tried to fit soil-related words into songs on the radio, which produced such gems as “Mollic is Dark Tonight,” and “Down to That Hard Rock Fragipan of Your Heart.” I also pioneered the first attempt at corporate sponsorship of soil judging. I transformed my black rubber boots by tastefully applying duct tape swooshes on the side. Air Dirt. Soil judging is a combination of individual performance and group consensus. In our individual soil pits, we were dependent solely upon our own confidence in our subject and steely determination to out-judge the competition. In the team judging pits, we became reliant on consensus, which is not always easy. In the Olympic spirit we devised a method of permanently mediating all conflicts by Greco-Roman wrestling. The application goes something like this: “You think this is a sandy clay loam and I think this is a silt!” “Ha! Wrestle-off!” And the rest of the team would calmly proceed through the profile while the dirt nemeses battled it out for bragging rights to call the sample whatever they pleased. Albeit no crowning ceremony of medals and anthems occurs at soil judging competitions, a moment nearly as poignant did. We were all relieved to escape the land of double-wide trailers and lawn gnomes. As we crossed the Iowa line, we noticed the magic transformation. Soil able to sustain life besides grass. As the cornfields spread out before us, we got as sentimental as those Olympians with the stars and stripes. The first thing I did when I hopped out of the van in Iowa was pick out a chunk of a lawn and enjoy the thick, black, rock-free Iowa soil. For some Olympians, that is sweeter than gold.