Questions and Answers with Our ‘In-House’ Stars
By Ron Nichols, Understanding Ag
Kiss the Ground is a new, feature-length movie that explores key soil health and regenerative agricultural principles, and features interviews with a wide range of authors, experts, farmers, researchers and scientists.
Seven years in the making, “Kiss the Ground,” the movie offers a hope-filled examination of the transformative power of regenerative agriculture and features a wide range of experts, activists and farmers who are leading the movement to restore our ecosystems, farms, health and climate. (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
Seven years in the making, the movie’s thesis proposes that by regenerating the world’s soils, humans can rapidly stabilize Earth’s climate, restore lost ecosystems and create abundant food supplies. The film uses creative graphics and visuals, along with striking NASA and NOAA footage, and illustrates how, by drawing down atmospheric carbon many of humankind’s most pressing climate and environmental problems can be solved. Until recently, however, the roles of soil and grazing animals have been missing pieces of the climate puzzle.
The movie stars Woody Harrelson, David Arquette, Gisele Bundchen, Jason Mraz (and others) and three newly minted stars you may know personally: Understanding Ag’s Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown and Kris Nichols, Ph.D.
Two-time academy-award nominee, Woody Harrelson, headlines and narrates the 85-minute movie, “Kiss the Ground.” (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
Those of us who have been in the regenerative ag arena for some time, already know these three as soil health super-stars, but now a wider, world-wide audience will benefit from their experience, insight and wisdom, too. I asked Finian Makepeace, the co-founder of the Kiss the Ground organization, to tell me more about how he and the film’s producers and directors selected our trio of regenerative experts to appear in the movie. Here’s what he said:
“From the beginning stages of pre-production for the movie, Ray and Gabe were proposed because of their profound passion and dedication to soil health and their amazing ability to share it with others. They are both such impactful leaders in this movement because they are called to bring these concepts to farmers and ranchers everywhere. We knew the film would really embody the spirit of the regenerative agriculture movement if Ray and Gabe were in it.
“And from the first days that Kiss the Ground the organization started, the work and research of Kris Nichols were fundamental to grasping why rebuilding soil was not only possible but the biggest solution to the climate, water, and food crises. Kris Nichols is such a key person in this film because her discoveries have allowed for this movement to be built on cutting edge science that changes how we think about soil and landscape function.”
Soil health researcher and scientist, Kris Nichols, Ph.D., rounds out the trio of Understanding Ag experts who appear in the star-studded movie “Kiss the Ground.” According to the movie’s producers, Nichols’ work and research in soil microbiology were fundamental to grasping why rebuilding soil is not only possible but the biggest solution to the climate, water, and food crises. (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
Since it’s not every day I get a chance to interview real-live movie stars, I shamelessly asked Gabe, Kris and Ray if they would answer some of my “Inside Hollywood” questions about their movie-making experiences and what impact they believe the new movie may have on the regenerative ag movement moving forward. They agreed and here’s what they told me…
How and why did you become involved the movie, “Kiss the Ground?”
Gabe: I agreed to become involved because when Josh explained to me that the purpose of the documentary was to highlight how farming organically could improve our planet, I knew I needed to help bring his understanding of soil health and ecosystem function to a higher level.
Kris: When I was working as the Chief Scientist with the Rodale Institute, I was asked to be interviewed by the Kiss the Ground team who were also interviewing Maria Rodale. While I was attending the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015, I was again contacted by Josh Tickell and participated in a follow-up interview regarding the 4per1000 Initiative.
Ray: I met the Kiss the Ground group in 2015. I was in California at a meeting and met Finnian Makepeace, who is the group’s co-founder. Josh Tickell, the director of the movie, was associated with Kiss the Ground and was making a film on organic farming when I met him. He also heard about the NRCS soil health effort and my role in encouraging the agency to bring more resources to support the regenerative ag movement.
Gabe Brown (left) and Ray Archuleta are prominently featured in “Kiss the Ground,” a feature-length movie which focuses on regenerative agriculture as a solution to ecosystem, health and climate problems. Seen here in the early morning hours at a restaurant discussing soil health, the movie’s filmmakers followed the pair from their farms to the Soil Health Academies where they instruct their fellow farmers on the principles and practices of regenerative agriculture. (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
Did you have any reservations about appearing in it?
Gabe: I was assured by Josh that the information I presented would not be taken out of context and he agreed to run edits by me first. That was good enough for me.
Kris: I’m always excited by the opportunities to discuss Regenerative Agriculture. However, I was slightly apprehensive that the documentary may be too focused on California and Hollywood and not be relevant to farmers and ranchers across the U.S. and the globe. However, after spending time with the Kiss the Ground team particularly in Paris, I understood how passionate the filmmakers are about the soil solution.
Ray: Initially, when I first met the Kiss the Ground group, I told them that I was really concerned about how they should approach the landowners. In the past, I did not like how certain environmental groups portrayed farmers. But I also experienced the same misleading paradigms from the conservative groups like Farm Bureau and other commodities groups. I wanted the filmmakers to first understand—to let the soil speak and to let nature teach us. Also, I must confess that I did not fully understand the implications of a film crew following me all over the country. I thought it would be just another news release or another interview. No big deal. It turned out to be more involved than I imagined.
Model, businesswoman and activist Gisele Bundchen highlights the health and nutrition benefits of regenerative agriculture in “Kiss the Ground.” (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
Does the movie miss the mark in any way, or would you have liked to have seen particular topics covered that were not?
Gabe: I would have liked the movie to highlight the importance of grazing animals. It was better than most but could have hit that point harder. Consumers need to do their part by supporting pastured proteins.
Kris: The time and effort that the team put into the interviews and edits as well as probably debating and refining the perspective the film takes should be commended. Although I would have liked more with real life farmers and ranchers, it is hard to put together a documentary that will appeal across the spectrum from rural to urban communities, young and old, and everyday people to activists. The filmmakers were able to discuss organic and regenerative agriculture, livestock production and veganism, and climate change in a manner that made no individuals or groups either heroes or villains but rather made the soil the hero which is the appropriate focus in my opinion.
Ray: As they say, “He who has the gold makes the rules,” so there was a lot of pressure to have Josh, the director, slant this movie towards veganism, messaging “cows are bad, eat less meat, carbon footprint, and organic farming will save the world,” kind of stuff. The movie funders wanted to make this movie all about organic farming, but Gabe and I worked on him and showed him that organic farming can be as destructive as conventional farming—and to his credit, Josh learned what regenerative farming was all about. He did several versions of this movie. Every version got better, and the last version was the best one. We told him that you need to leave the audience with hope, which I believe he did. It’s a story about hope and solutions.
Actor Ian Somerhalder is among an all-star list of celebrities who are featured in “Kiss the Ground,” which is scheduled for streaming on Netflix Sept. 22. (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
What do you hope viewers will take away from the movie?
Gabe: That each and every person needs to step up and make a difference—that they can make a difference by purchasing from farmers and ranchers who practice regenerative ag. This will not only better their own wellbeing because they will be consuming foods higher in nutrient density, but they will also support those who are making a positive impact on the environment.
Kris: We are facing a catastrophic cascade in Earth’s ecosystems impacting human health and the global economy which fundamentally rests in pressures stemming from changes in the economic and ecological agricultural landscape due to climate change and escalating worldwide competition for natural resources and commodities, including petroleum, natural gas, grains, oilseeds, and proteins. Soil is the solution and we have numerous options and opportunities to actualize this solution as consumers, farmers, ranchers, and environmentalists by focusing on the integration of biological processes.
Ray: Hope. Also that we can fix this and the fix is quite simple. This movie will also counterbalance the “cowspiracy” environmentalists and others with incorrect understanding of cows. are needed to help heal the earth. The fix is simple: Mimic nature, cover the soil and understand how soil is intended to function.
Grammy Award-winning artist, Jason Mraz, operates his orchard using soil health-focused regenerative ag principles, is among the cast appearing in “Kiss the Ground.” (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
What do you hope will be an outcome from the movie?
Gabe: An increased awareness as to how and why all society should come together to work on the 80% of the things we can agree on such as loss of biodiversity, water quality and quantity issues, poor farm profitability, the decline of rural America, climate change and human health. All of these issues and more can be addressed, at least partially, by regenerative ag.
Kris: There has never been a time when the potential to fundamentally change global agriculture, food quality, and economic viability for small and large farmers by regenerating the soil to restore and revitalize ecosystem services is as great is it is now. My hope is that this film will give consumers, farmers, and ranchers – all of us – the hope, courage and knowledge to choose biologically-based practices and tools to regenerate soil.
Ray: That a large audience will come away with a basic awareness about the transformative power of our living and life-giving soil. This movie has given soil a voice to say, “I am not dirt! I am alive!”
The movie has an optimistic tone, do you share that optimism?
Gabe: Yes, I am very optimistic about our future if regenerative practices are widely adopted. As someone who has spent the past 25-plus years working to educate anyone who will listen as to the benefits of regenerative ag, I can say with certainty that the snowball is finally rolling downhill! I am very optimistic.
Kris: Yes. I am optimistic because the major issues we are currently facing – economic stress, climate change, and food quality – are all addressed by the same solution – regenerating soil.
Ray: Yes, absolutely. I started trying to teach about soil health with my little plastic jars and my co-workers at the tech center would often laugh and make fun of me. They thought I had lost my mind, but through hard work and perseverance we’ve been able to open many eyes through the years. Hopefully, this movie will help open many more.
Do you or your families and friends have a special watch party planned when it streams on Netflix?
Gabe: No, but only because I am on to the next project, bringing society together in supporting regenerative ag.
Kris: No, but I am working on creating a virtual party with friends and family as we are scattered throughout the U.S.
Ray: I will have a few people over.
“Ray Archuleta and Gabe Brown’s real-world experience and their ability to teach comes through on camera,” said “Kiss the Ground” directors Josh (right) and Rebecca Tickell. The husband-wife directing couple spent seven years producing the film that focuses on regenerative agriculture as a solution to ecosystem, health and climate problems. (Photo courtesy “Kiss the Ground.”)
Any plans to hire an agent or move to L.A?
Gabe: HaHa! There is not enough money in the world to get me to move from God’s country, North Dakota!
Kris: I see the soil as the real star of the movie and have said many times ‘I am honored to be able to speak on behalf of the soil’. My greatest hope is for me to continue to do this and any chances I have to do so, I will take. I doubt this will require an agent or a move – haha!
Ray: Not at the moment, but if Steven Spielberg calls, I WILL answer. HaHa!