A positive-oriented documentary shows us the potential of regenerative farming
By Alberto Sclaverano
The film focuses on regenerative agriculture and its positive consequences. Together with alarming data that we are accustomed to hearing, it also shows us that other agricultural development models can be highly profitable and successful on a purely economic dimension, if we act together.
The 2020 documentary Kiss the Ground offers a unique insight into regenerative agriculture’s prospects and its positive impacts on the Earth. It is directed by Josh Tickell, author of four books and environmental activist who started as a science journalist, and then has become a filmmaker specializing in movies aimed at sensitizing about social problems, alongside his wife Rebecca Harrell Tickell, who is a director and producer that focused on environmental-related movies too, and has closely followed and documented the consequences of the BP 2010 oil spill.
Several scientists, authors, farmers, and conservationists appear in the movie, while famous Hollywood actor, and longtime environmentalist, Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flynt, No Country for Old Men) narrates it and also appears in some footage.
Released by Netflix, this documentary distinguishes itself among the many others that deal with similar subjects for at least two reasons. First, its explicit, maybe even a bit naïve, optimistic approach to environmental issues, and second its effective montage and use of beautiful images that aim to give us a fascinating, even attractive, perception of regenerative agriculture.
While they start by depicting the negative consequences of the current situation, particularly concerning the use of pesticides and the excessive Earth’s exploitation, the Tickells are immediately clear in declaring how they want to preceed. The film recollects the 1930s “Dust Bowl”, America’s worst man-made environmental disaster ever. It consisted of heavy dust storms that devastated agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies, as a consequence of farmers’ intense use of mid-west areas that eroded the soil and left it exposed.
But after reporting this forgotten tragedy the film cuts to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response at the end of the decade. Roosevelt saw the destruction caused by human errors and thus created the “Soil Conservation Service” to save and protect the nation’s soil, which still exists today and is now incorporated into the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This “New Deal” approach will be at the core of the movie. After listening to Roosevelt’s powerful speech, we are taken back to today’s new soil crisis, and this time is global and very dangerous for the whole Earth’s ecosystem. So, the directors and Harrelson try to explain to us that a different approach to agriculture exists, and can be very successful in terms of productivity without damaging the soil. Regenerative farming, as explained in the film by both scientists who have studied it, and farmers who are implementing it, can restore degraded land. There are methods of choosing plants and doing agriculture that help the soil to regenerate its carbon content, and by doing so, to reduce the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, which helps fight climate change too.
The film focuses on the complex reality that is regenerative agriculture, and its positive consequences for the planet and our health. While Kiss the Ground does not avoid giving us all the alarming data that we are accustomed to hearing, it presents also several positive human models, showing the work of people who have committed themselves to this sustainable form of agriculture and are trying to change the trajectory of Earth’s resources crisis. And it also shows us that regenerative agriculture can be highly profitable and successful on a purely economic dimension. There are several beautiful images in Kiss the Ground and more sad ones related to the soil destruction and the excessive waste production of today’s agricultural system.
But the authors remain faithful till the end to their “Rooseveltian” approach, in which every man can make a difference through hard work. So, we can save our planet and change our development model if we act together. I believe that a positive, proactive message in the struggle to deal with the climate crisis is sometimes more important than simply denouncing the extension of the threat, due to the fact that what we need the most now is fighting back against the “negationist” narrative, and rallying together as soon as possible to win this vital XXI century challenge.