After another long winter this year, spring has arrived in Denmark and I have been longing for the outdoors more than usual. Spending time outdoors with sprouting plants, digging in the soil and making things grow are some of the best things I can think of to occupy my free time. I think that is one of the reasons this documentary, Sustainable, really spoke to me and my growing interest in nature and the power of the soil. The quote below really rings a bell somewhere inside me:
“We have pretty much for the modern era been treating soil like dirt” David Montgomery, Author, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization.
Sustainable is a documentary on we should take care of the soil and treat it well, since it is where almost all of our food comes from. It’s a documentary about how food has gone from being produced locally to being flown around the world. It also focuses on how we have distanced ourselves from food production and see food more as a commodity than something from the ground - a plant or from an animal.
How we have distanced ourselves from food production
Nowadays, we very often have no idea who produced our foods. Who cared for those tomatoes on your pizza? and who harvested the durum in your pizza dough? We have no idea where some of our food originates from. If we are really determined to find out, we will almost have to be a private detective or at least a very good researcher.
One of the main characters in the film is Marty Travis, who produces food for “us”, consumers like you and me. Alongside his wife and son, they run a family farm in the state of Illinois, in the United States, that dates back to 1830. Marty is the kind of farmer that is no way as efficient as a conventional farm because he grows so many different crops instead of only one or two. He experiments with a variety of vegetables, fruits and berries that nature can bring to our plates, and he avoids pesticides which is an integrated part of conventional farming. Marty is a bit of an entrepreneur too in his way of farming and selling his products. He has made a community almost a cooperative with other small farms in the area, that connects them with buyers like restaurants and local shops.
They experiment with new species and different sorts of of vegetables and fruits, berries and herbs that are in high demand among a lot of Chicago’s restaurants and shops. Every week he writes an email to the the restaurants to let them know what kinds of vegetables he can deliver the coming week. He also delivers all the goods himself so that he can stay in touch with the chefs and the restaurants. This brings the soil closer to the table and the restaurants know the exact story of the carrot and it’s farmer - it can’t get anymore transparent than that. Imagine if it could be somewhat closer to that in our daily supermarkets.
Sustainable is a documentary on we should take care of the soil and treat it well
Soil is one of the main topics of this film, yet it is something that I believe most of us don’t think about in our daily lives. At least for me, it has offered quite a few new things to think about, like treating the soil right so it does not get depleted or poisoned.
If our soil is completely depleted and all of the nourishment in it has disappeared, the food we grow on a field like that will also be lacking nourishment- if food can be grown like that at all. That is why we have to respect the ways and life of the soil, and not make too great of a demand on it’s productivity. If we moderate our demand for the soil’s productivity and work with the soil we can use it in the long run.
Conventional farming as described in the documentary and many other places, are too focused on monocultures, which means only growing one or two crops on a farm. So if a season is harsh on one of those crops, the farmer is doomed. The seeds that are often used in conventional farming is modified to grow as fast as possible and to yield the biggest output. Pesticides are also used, which harm the soil and are poisonous to humans, animals and insects and can be a link in extinction of biodiversity.
It’s a documentary about how food has gone from being produced locally to being flown around the world
Today we have been used to eating whatever we want whenever we what. That is a luxury that did not exist fifty or a hundred years ago. If you live in North Europe and want an avocado for lunch you can go to the supermarket and buy it. This is indeed a great luxury and something we should treasure. But going those fifty or hundred years back, people probably grew their own vegetables and fruits and if not they probably knew the farmer who produced it for them. Today we have no idea where that avocado comes from other than somewhere in South America. This distance us from our food. We have no idea how much work goes into producing an avocado or even what the plant looks like.
My call-on with the readers is that we should try and eat more locally and organic for the sake of the planet and ourselves. If we want our bodies and the planet to be healthy we need to stop using so many dangerous chemicals out on the fields and in the stables. The general way of farming at the moment is not sustainable for the future because the soil is not working on its own terms but are being exploited to meet demands and be as efficient as possible. I am not saying that we should all go back to being farmers, but maybe just try to grow something yourself in your garden, at your balcony or in your windowsill or maybe go visit a local farm, to come to the understanding of how plants grow and what can be grown where.
The documentary is from 2016 and can be watched on Netflix.