A still frame from the film "Food, Earth, Happiness," directed by Patrick M. Lydon and Suhee Kang
In the Winter of 2011, I spent the night in a rustic mountainside ‘hanook’ home on a small South Korean natural farm. The next morning my partner Suhee and I walked through the fields and helped spread rye seed, while asking questions to the farmer about the nature of sustainability. The seeds planted on that morning bore more fruit than we could have ever imagined. The next seven years saw us traveling through East Asia, Europe, and the Western United States while producing, filming, and touring the documentary, Final Straw: Food, Earth, Happiness.
Today, many of us know well that real food is in deep trouble. A growing number are also aware that the way we grow food has become one of the largest threats to the environment—and to the very survival of our species. Yet for all of the technical, capital-intensive ways we attempt to solve the issue, the world’s small natural farms have held a simple answer for millennia:
Grow food with nature, instead of against it.
If anything, the above statement is at the root of what we learned in taking to and working with natural farmers, chefs, academics, monks, and other ecologically-minded folks these years.
This root has many branches, and yet it curiously goes against everything that the current ‘industrial’ way of growing food represents.
Relationships and Regeneration
Natural farming is known in scientific and academic circles as regenerative and agroecologicalfarming. This way of growing food with nature shows the promise of meeting all of our social, economic, and ecological needs in ways that are healthy for human beings and the larger ecological sphere we are a part of.
In the past few years, The United Nations and the Union of Concerned Scientists have begun backing up this claim too. They should. When you take into account the ecological reality, it is overwhelmingly clear that we really need to question why we are using the industrial system to produce something as critical as our food.
What is the alternative?
It is something rooted in the small; in cultivating relationship between producer, consumer, and the land; in re-connecting what, why, and how we do things, back to the reality of the world in which we dwell.
Natural farming—and all other regenerative ways of thinking—asks us not just to approach farming differently, but to approach everything differently. It asks us to reconsider how we go about buying, transporting, cooking, and consuming food, and even how we go about building and inhabiting our cities. It asks us to rethink how we get from place to place, how we produce all of the things we produce, and in many cases, whether or not we even need to produce so many “things” at all.
The real secret of natural farming is not in a method, but in a way of thinking about ourselves and our relationship with this Earth.
This secret is found amply in practice on small community farms, cooperative associations and businesses, and locally-focused efforts for sustainability and social justice around the world.
It is also a secret that all of us can know, because it is inside each of us.
There are as many ways and roles within this movement as there are people on the Earth. For our part, Suhee and I have spent the past seven years trying our best to uncover the philosophy of this unique way of producing food, and we continue to work with these themes in our writing and our community-engaged artworks; this is our small role.
Today as part of this role, we are offering all of the things we’ve learned in a nutshell to the world, by way of a twenty-minute, freely available documentary called Food, Earth, Happiness; you can watch the film here at Films for Action.
We hope this film might inspire the same awe, excitement, and love for this nature and this Earth that we found during our journey of making it, and that it might plant more seeds that will grow into the kinds of solutions for social and environmental justice that we need now, more than ever.