During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Netflix debuted Kiss the Ground. This documentary sheds light on regenerative agriculture, a practice that combines indigenous knowledge, holistic management, and science to rebuild healthy soil and landscape function. It’s an “aha” moment type of film that converts “I had no clue” into action. Sometimes that action is as simple as putting kitchen scraps in a green bin.
Or something far more—like influencing the United States Farm Bill.
In a congressional hearing on September 14, 2022, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Congressman David Scott said, “[the film] opened my eyes to much of what I was only dimly aware.” This common reaction is one that Kiss the Ground, the nonprofit of the same name, and the bipartisan coalition it stewards, called Regenerate America, hope to harness to ensure robust support for regenerative agriculture in the next Farm Bill and beyond.
Every five years, Congress analyzes funds put toward national agriculture, food aid, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. Of the $867 billion allocated in 2018, only about 1% of that currently subsidizes educational, renewable, and regenerative solutions. And as the renewal and revision approaches next year, Kiss the Ground’s board wants to increase those subsidies to 3-5%, which can be done by reprioritizing current funding.
“We believe that would make an insane difference in what the landscape of this country is, and then the trajectory of how many more farmers will be supported to take this on,” says Finian Makepeace, cofounder of Kiss the Ground. “It’s a starting point that’s absolutely essential.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the second largest budget behind the Department of Defense. “When you analyze the funding of $856 billion, spent over a 10-year period, that is a lot of money currently going to continue our problem,” Makepeace says, adding that traditional farmland generates upwards of 5.6 tons of wasted topsoil per acre, per year. On the other hand, regenerative soil stays put to complement the ecosystem. “If we’re going to reverse it, let alone stop it, we have to help farmers and ranchers employ regenerative practices.”
Backed by a diverse board of directors, like restaurant owners, entrepreneurs, farmers, civil rights and indigenous leaders, and more, Kiss the Ground educates farmers and everyday consumers on the value of rebuilding healthy soil, specifically related to regenerative farming techniques. This is how indigenous cultures around the world have cultivated farmland for generations, but by and large, big industry, feed lots, and conventional farming dominate U.S. agriculture.
When looking on Google Earth, millions of acres of land are no longer in production. Soil that is left bare can’t absorb rainfall, which leads to flooding; it’s nutrient deficient, which leads to fewer nutrients in our food; and it lacks the means to sequester carbon, to name just a few outcomes. Regenerative agriculture changes that. Rather than tilling up the ground and starting anew, a regenerative farmer keeps building functioning soil through practices like cover cropping, planned grazing, and, in general, helping the coexisting ecosystems of nature. With the Farm Bill, they aspire to scale regenerative farming and use this land to limit carbon in the atmosphere and benefit the food system, ecosystem, and watersheds.
RJ Jain, founder and CEO of Price.com, has been on the board for a year. He learned about regenerative agriculture after reading the book, Kiss the Ground. “I had no idea at that time and didn’t know much about soil,” he says regarding his revelation. Now, he helps marketing and fundraising campaigns for the organization, both of which have accelerated with the looming Farm Bill. In addition, the board and Regenerate America is building its business network—which includes Applegate, Ben and Jerry’s, and Timberland—to help the Farm Bill push.
Average agricultural debt is increasing by 4% annually. However, Kiss the Ground has witnessed farmers’ input costs decrease drastically with regeneration. For example, Rick Clark, a fifth-generation farmer, began transforming his 7,000-acre row crop farm in Indiana 13 years ago. He is now saving nearly $860,000 every year on input alone.
Since the movie launched, Clark and stars of the film, like Gabe Brown’s company Understanding Ag, are inspiring and helping transition over 34 million acres nationally. Organic farming, in contrast, only covers 1.5 million acres, which has been on a trajectory for the past 20 years. Kiss the Ground’s Farmland Program helps farmers in this type of transition through scholarships for education. The Farm Bill can speed up this education and aid those who want to make the change.
The thing is, small to medium-scale family farmers want to be engaged as stewards and caretakers. Still, a lot of the conservation programs and practices that are currently in place are geared toward industrial agriculture. With 3-5% of funding going to regenerative practices and training, it could be possible to bring small-scale farmers into the fold and scale regenerative farming.
In July 2022, Kara Boyd, a member of the Lumbee tribe, Kiss the Ground board member, and founder and president of the Association of American Indian Farmers, testified in front of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. She explained the standard principles and importance of regeneration and the significance of supporting scale. Her testimony stated that farmers, ranchers, and those transitioning to these methods, need greater access to scale-appropriate processing infrastructure.
“We know that by practicing regenerative agriculture we can use nature’s proven, time-tested principles to not just take massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, but we can use it to build back our soils for farms, families and futures,” Boyd said in a phone interview with Fortune. Her interpretation of regenerating is multigenerational and regenerates into future generations. “And I hope that will be the effect of Kiss the Ground and Regenerate America: that it keeps growing and growing and growing into more generations of farmers, students, and caretakers.”
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