Shifting to Regenerative Agriculture with Kiss the Ground’s Ryland Engelhart and Finian Makepeace

September 19, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Ryan Engelhart and Finian Makepeace, the co-founders of Kiss the Ground. Welcome to Green is Good, Ryan and Finian. RYLAND AND FINIAN: Thank you for having us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, this is an honor. We’ve never talked about the subject. You have a wonderful, beautiful website that I’m on right now called TheSoilStory.com and I urge our listeners to go to TheSoilStory.com and learn more about all the great work you’re doing, but before we get talking about Kiss the Ground and all the wonderful information on TheSoilStory.com, I want you first to share a little bit about both of your own personal stories and journeys leading up to the formation of Kiss the Ground. RYLAND ENGELHART: Yeah, so my name is Ryland Engelhart and besides the co-founder of Kiss the Ground, I’m also one of the co-owners and creators of Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre, which is a vegan organic chain of restaurants started in the Bay Area about 10 years ago and now we’re here in Los Angeles, and yeah, it’s really been a phenomenon in shifting consciousness around food and about using the workplace to cultivate positivity, transformation and consciousness and you know, it’s a family business. My father and stepmom created Café Gratitude 10 years ago in The Bay Area, and I’ve been working within that organization for the last 10 years and really, inside the business is really one that demonstrates sustainability. I’ve always been a lover of nature, a lover of the earth, and a lover of people, and really how can my life be of greatest service to people and the planet and kind of where I came across this revelation around soil was I was in New Zealand about two years ago and I came across at a healthy living conference, there was a guy by the name of Graham State speaking on a panel, “Can Human Beings Sustain Themselves on Planet Earth?” and I’ve heard a lot of environmentalists talk before and it’s often times kind of boring and overwhelming and you kind of feel like there’s just nothing to do about the problems at hand and what was unique about this experience was Graham State really made this beautiful connection, connected the dots between how soil health connects to plant health, which connects to animal and human health, which connects to planetary health. Very simplistic idea that I never knew, which was, I knew that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was one of the things causing global warming but I didn’t really get that what became revealed was that two-thirds of the carbon in the atmosphere that’s human generated actually came from the loss of soil. The carbon actually came from the degradation of soil because of agriculture and when I learned that, it was like wow, two-thirds came from the soil and then the beautiful turnaround was that farming and agriculture, being that it’s been one of the most destructive systems on the planet actually has the potentiality of becoming the greatest turnaround process, that regenerative agriculture could actually turn the tides and sequester and it is the quickest way to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere back into the soil, and so just seeing that potentiality and feeling that opportunity in my heart, I was moved and compelled to start sharing this idea and hence, Kiss the Ground was born. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Finian, how about you? FINIAN MAKEPEACE: My name is Finian Makepeace. I’m a very passionate person and I’ve been involved with a lot of organizations and activist groups throughout my whole life and have always just been doing what I can do to spread messages of how powerful people are and what we can do to make a difference individually and collectively. I am an artist as a profession in a group with my brother, Kiran Makepeace, right now. We’re actually on America’s Got Talent if anyone wants to check us out this season, but yeah, I’m a musician. I’ve been for the past 15 years and I do a lot of touring around and that kind of stuff, and, like I said, I’ve been very heavily involved with some organizations and done some green things as well as social justice issues for pretty much my whole life and the unique that happens with this organization, Ryland kind of invited me to join where we had the first event. The speaker that he’s referring to came when he was in Los Angeles and we set up an event for him to speak at and it was really a unique experience because for one of the first times in terms of issues that I’ve been working on, this was something that was so massive in terms of its scale of what it means for the world but it was also ultimately all positively driven things and a lot of the organizations I’ve been a part of have been a don’t do this, less of this, less of this, and this whole organization, the amazing thing about it that Ryland shared is that once we learned and really the deeper you go and the more you learn the science and the more you get into it, the more true it becomes about how our agriculture, unbeknownst, like Ryland said, to most of us, including ourselves, we have been shrinking our soil so much so that we’ve taken huge amounts of carbon out of it and that carbon has gone directly into the atmosphere and spilling into the oceans as well, but the great thing was that we have a solution, which is rebuilding it, and that’s where regenerative agriculture as opposed to a conventional industrial agriculture, which is taking and stripping and removing, there are scientific ways to rebuild this soil, which, like Ryland said, is the fastest way to not only sequester carbon, but to rebuild this layer of soil that holds huge amounts of water and saves during times of drought, for California especially, saves enormous amounts of water when you transform the soil and regrow it. It’s a living organism. It really is full of life and we’ve taken the life out of it so I learned this piece of information and it really blew my mind because it was something that I couldn’t shake and since the moment, since the day, we basically watched him present his ideas and he, along with a few others of us, went back to Ryland’s house and pretty much that same night, we kind of committed to doing all we can to spread this message and what we found soon, and was actually within that night, is we are in Los Angeles, which is kind of the media capital of the world, and our responsibility here, therefore, is to use our faculty of being in Los Angeles, which is to get messages across to the world through media and other forms and so that’s what we took on. We really took on that our organization — there’s so many of the scientific groups and other groups that are championing this and doing the research and doing the development behind it but our greatest good we can do is spread this message to the world and that’s what we’ve been working on and dedicating to and so that’s how Kiss the Ground was started. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, for our listeners out there that want to follow along as we speak today with Ryland and with Finian, you should go to www.thesoilstory.com. It’s a beautiful, very informative website, so in short guys, what is the mission of Kiss the Ground? And, then explain your programming and the steps that you’re taking to achieve your mission and your goals. FINIAN MAKEPEACE: The general mission that we have is to primarily, the first thing to do is without knowledge — knowledge is power — without knowledge of some sort on this level, there won’t be an ability for change to happen so with that in mind, we’re looking at a situation. Like I said, I’ve felt like I had my ear to the ground for most of my life on so many of the key environmental issues, researching and learning as much as I can, but this one somehow escaped us. We kind of refer to it as the iceberg effect of under our feet, there is this thing that’s been going on. We’ve been walking on the earth. We’ve been looking at the stars and learning about the galaxies and all that but we had done very little of learning about the soil that is right underneath us and there’s so much to know and there’s so little that has been shared and so the primary thing is to share very simplistically. Why we call it The Soil Story and why it’s called TheSoilStory.com, the website, is that we are dedicated to sharing with people on a mass scale. We are currently making an animated video that’s about three to four minutes long that a 5-year-old to a 7-year-old can really understand and digest the concepts that this soil has a story and what’s happened to it, where it’s been shrunken and degraded and how it can be rebuilt. It’s a beautiful story and so that’s the number one thing we are dedicated to doing is sharing that story and then on top of that is our general big mission is to change agriculture or industrial conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture and there are many farmers who are taking these practices on because it’s not just organic farming, which is awesome. Organic farming is great but regenerative agriculture or regenerative farming, and some people call it regenerative organic farming or organic regenerative farming, the difference is it’s not a list of don’ts. It’s a list of things you can do to regrow and enliven your soil, which has so many benefits, so the primary goal is to get the message out through a video. We’re working with Bobby Bailey, the creator of “Kony 2012,” which is one of the most viral videos in history at this point, and he’s working with us on this video of the soil story. We’re getting that out and then the big mission is, like I said, to transform agriculture to regenerative agriculture so that, like Ryland mentioned earlier, the same industry that- We’re not angry at farmers or anybody really. It just happened along the way that we’ve discovered things that helped us with the green ability for food to produce more but over time, it’s cost us where we’re at today and the same industry that was the most destructive industry can be the industry that reverses it so it’s kind of an amazing story in that sense, that the same industry that destroyed so much is the same industry that can be the same industry with a few tweaks that can actually save the day in some semblance of the word and so the big, big mission is converting agriculture to regenerative agriculture and there’s so much power in that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that just joined us, we are so honored to have with us today Ryland Engelhart and Finian Makepeace, and they have a wonderful company called Kiss the Ground and you can check out all the important work they’re doing right now to saving the soil at www.thesoilstory.com. Ryland, who has been some of the strongest supporters of your work and Finian’s work and who are some of the people working against you as you try to get out there and get your mission and get your programming achieved? RYLAND ENGELHART: You know, as Finian said, the mission really is to inspire, inform and educate a culture that would understand the importance of shifting from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture and so really, one of the missions is inspiring a young generation of farmers. Farmers, for most of our history, have been highly overworked and underpaid for being the ones that feed humanity and the opportunity that we have right now to be able to rebrand and recontextualize that farmer’s role not only is the one who is producing us nourishment that we can feed our families and communities, but they actually now have the role of building soil, which our mission is to communicate and get the collective understanding that that’s the most important activism on the planet right now is to sequester carbon and the quickest way to do that is through building soil and so as the platform of Café Gratitude, which has become kind of a health food positivity phenomenon in Los Angeles, and really all around the world there have been restaurants that have taken aspects of our menu and our mission all around the world and really the way that we kind of spin it and just said Café Gratitude is gonna be this really positive, community-oriented, loving, vegan, organic restaurant and we’re gonna ask funny questions like, what are you grateful for? Because we’ve taken such a stand for that, I feel like being here in Los Angeles, that culture has been adopted and started to integrate, whereas maybe three years ago, cynicism and negativity was so in. It’s so much more common to diminish things and now, I feel like there’s more of a positivity that is naturally ingrained in culture and I feel like we’ve been an advocate for that to happen and somebody by the name of Jason Mraz, a pretty amazing musician, he’s been traveling around. Actually, one of his last tours was called the Gratitude Café Tour and he actually took our whole ethos and philosophy and took it on the road. Actually, Finian toured with him as one of his musicians as well and he’s actually one our complete advocates and supporters of Café Gratitude but also, regenerative agriculture. He got to meet Graham and see his presentation and he’s actually written a song called “Back to the Earth” where it’s all about inviting a new generation of people to step up to the plate and seeing the importance of the role of the farmer in modern day society because if you look, one of our issues and one of the things that we’re faced with is that the average age of the farmer today is 65 years old and they’re pretty much stuck in their ways so we really need a complete new generation of farmers who are lovers of the earth or people who actually, their sensibility is they want to kiss the ground. They want their life to be meaningful and to take care of the next generations to come and they see that agriculture and growing food can actually be a complete embodiment of that mission and so the advocating thing within what we’re up against, it really is — JOHN SHEGERIAN: The status quo. You’re up against the status quo. RYLAND ENGELHART: Yeah, we’re up against long-term built-in systems that don’t want to change, but what we believe is that things like, for instance, Graham State has had some massive success stories where he led his four day certificate course where he communicates this presentation that we saw and the head of the Woolworth Corporation was there and overnight he called basically all his heads of stores and said, ‘We need to change what we’re doing,’ and basically, he’s been over the last, I think, five years, he’s been having Graham train all the growers that have been growing for these 300 stores in South Africa and now South Africa has become kind of a hub for regenerative agriculture. It’s one of the most progressive agricultural zones in the world and Graham has kind of pioneered that. Another win is that the Dole Corporation — this is not yet public. He’s been working with — FINIAN MAKEPEACE: Are we allowed to share this yet or is this — RYLAND ENGELHART: I don’t know. I may have just put the cat out. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Don’t worry about it. RYLAND ENGELHART: What’s that? Yeah. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Don’t worry. We can take that out. Don’t even sweat it. FINIAN MAKEPEACE: I don’t think it’s not public. I think it’s okay. I think it’s all right. RYLAND ENGELHART: Anyway, so huge agricultural company that has made their money off of basically chemical agriculture are seeing that basically, human beings are waking up that healthy food means healthy body and what we want to make the connection with that healthy food needs to come from healthy soil and when we have the mass consciousness getting that they want their soil to be healthy and make healthy food and the people are organic and green, the fact that this radio show even exists is a testament to people want to know about how to live healthy, happy lives and this is such a literally a baseline level information that it’s so simple. What we eat comes from the soil and the toxicity of the soil is dead, what our food is gonna be is gonna be toxic and dead and chemical laden and so once there’s a critical mass that gets the importance of this and starts saying we want to make sure that our food is grown by regenerative farmers, that is so powerful. That’s the reason Walmart going to Dole and saying, ‘Look, we need more organic food. We need food that tells people that we’re thinking about the future,’ is the very reason Dole went to find out who is the leader in the regenerative agriculture moment and Dole found Graham and now Graham is consulting and guiding them in making that transition. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, we’re gonna have you guys back on to continue the journey of Kiss the Ground. For our listeners out there that want to support Kiss the Ground, go to www.thesoilstory.com. Thank you, Ryland and Finian, for inspiring an agricultural revolution with Kiss the Ground. You both are truly living proof that green is good.