The Thin Layer

The soil beneath our feet is at the center of some of the most important stories of our time.

Hosted ByDan Crane

This is a podcast about dirt.

Soil is at the center of many of the most important stories of our time. It’s where we grow our food. It’s where we find our medicines. The microbes in soil outnumber the stars in the galaxy, and without them life above ground would be impossible. Climate change, desertification, colonizing Mars, the biggest pandemic you’ve never heard of—soil’s the unsung hero, or the villain hiding in plain sight.

There’s a saying: “Man has only a thin layer between himself and starvation.” It’s true, and it’s also about much more than that. Let us guide you on this journey through dirt.

Presented by Dan Crane. Written by Ian Steadman and Eli Lee. Sound design by Laura Irving. Made with the support of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

All Episodes

Episode 05: Beyond Soil

In basements and skyscrapers, urban hydroponic farms produce food without soil at all; meanwhile, exobiologists are inventing ways to grow food among the stars.

Episode 04: Regrowth

When we talk about soil — and about trying to “fix” soil —taking action can mean breaking or disrespecting our connections to the land, good intentions or not.

Episode 03: Getting Dirty

Are our lives too clean? Soil’s role in the biggest pandemic you’ve never heard of, and soil as a source of miraculous medicines.

Episode 02: The New Dust Bowl?

In this episode, we dive into the story of the Dust Bowl, which decimated 250,000 square miles of land in the United States in the 1930s —and Hugh Bennett, the man who saw it coming.

Episode 01: Look Down

Life depends on a thin layer of soil, wrapped around the planet like the skin of an apple.