'Kiss the Ground' film on regenerative farming is neither regenerative nor groundbreaking

A critical review of the new, widely praised environmental Netflix documentary

Have you watched the new environmental documentary Kiss the Ground? I was really excited about watching it but was… quite disappointed. Civil Eats recently published a critical commentary on it, and A Growing Culture has been discussing similar concerns on Instagram as well. Below is my constructive review.

In short… Kiss the Ground is neither regenerative nor groundbreaking—just another whitewashed film made to engage and comfort a privileged audience.

In attempting to highlight regenerative solutions to climate change, Kiss the Ground ends up reflecting the same environmental injustices that contribute to ecological degradation—missing an opportunity to challenge those injustices and offer an alternative path forward.

The first obvious problem with the film is its lack of representation of farmers and experts of color. The speaking time for featured non-white thought leaders adds up to barely five minutes altogether—out of an 84-minute documentary.

Half-way in, ecologist Allan Savory remarks: "Poor land leads to poor people; poor people lead to social breakdown. Poor land leads to increasing frequencies of floods and droughts..." Savory probably knows it's more complex than that, but the statement, taken out of context, sums up the film's overall message quite well—that degenerative farming practices are major, underlying causes of the climate crisis and various social issues. Therefore, the key to addressing them lies in rebuilding healthy soil.

It is not untrue that degraded lands disrupt water and carbon cycles, contributing to global warming. It's also not untrue that degraded lands aggravate economic poverty and social conflicts. But how about the persisting impacts of colonialism, land theft, imperialism, slavery, racist legislation like Alien Land Laws which prevented undesirable immigrants from owning agricultural land, and extractive systems hell-bent on achieving endless growth at all costs?

A documentary can't possibly cover every problem in the world that led to poor people and poor lands, but the filmmakers, with a million-dollar budget and seven years of time filming, are remiss in their failure to at least seek out more voices of color and highlight the human cost of the exploitative practices, policies, and systems that concurrently degrade our lands and oppress marginalized peoples.

As a result of our history, non-white people make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population, but we own and operate less than 5% of the nation's farms [1]. At the same time, low-income communities and Black and Hispanic households disproportionately face greater food insecurity [2].

Even still, unbeknownst to many, more than half of the nation's 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented immigrants without proper labor rights and protection [3].

When discussing the health harms of the pesticides often used in conventional agriculture such as cancer and various children's conditions, the film shows, as examples, a white mother and her infant, a white cancer patient, and a white toddler as victims. Could they have at least also mentioned the related issue of farmworker justice? After all, farmworkers of color and low-income agricultural workers are the ones on the frontlines exposed to the highest quantities of health-threatening agrochemicals. Without directly pointing this out, the film ends up implicitly portraying the disenfranchised farmworkers as the bad guys—spraying the pesticides demonized in the narration while the white consumers suffer the consequences.

Kiss the Ground continues on to further the white-savior-complex [4], following Patricia Arquette and her white-led nonprofit to Haiti as they trained adults and children to compost human poop after their devastating 2010 earthquake. Were there no other educators in Haiti or from any other community of color that could have talked about this age-old technology of composting humanure for the documentary?

As Farmer Rishi, former Lead Gardening Educator at the nonprofit Kiss the Ground [5], notes: "People of color are presented a few times throughout the film, primarily as receivers of the benefits of regenerative agriculture as practiced by white people—mostly white celebrities and white landowners."

(You can read Rishi's recently published critical review of the film linked here.)

The larger issue with the lack of diversity of voices featured is that the very practices of regenerative land stewardship, which Kiss the Ground calls a 'new breakthrough' in a graphic [6], are in fact... not new, but rooted in many Indigenous cultures around the globe that see the soil, land, and water as sacred and alive. It is only in recent decades that Western science has validated for itself some of these practices—such as through the finding that there are more living microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are humans on Earth [7].

This raises a deeper question: Why do Indigenous science and knowledge, built upon and accumulated over millennia, need to be proven by Western scientists in order to be deemed legitimate?

Electric fences used in holistic livestock management, as shown in the film, are indeed a relatively new innovation. But as Rishi points out, "they are used to mitigate the issues created by private property—largely the result of colonization."

Rishi continues, "Regenerative agriculture as presented in the film is a limited version of Indigenous practices—cut down to fit into the Western worldview, culture, and economic systems."

Today, while Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of our global population, they steward 80% of the planet's biodiversity [8]. Neglecting to honor, let alone center, the leadership of Indigenous peoples in a film about land restoration feels like yet another instance where their voices and vital contributions to sustainability are ignored.

Let's not forget that in the name of conservation, intentional burns—practiced by the Yurok, Karuk, Hupa, Miwok, Chumash, and other native tribes across California to 'renew local food... and resources, create habitat for animals, and reduce the risk of larger, more dangerous wildfires' [9]—have been suppressed by settler ‘environmentalists’ for centuries, contributing to the increase of destructive wildfires rampant in the state today. As the catastrophic impacts of climate change worsen, people are finally starting to see the wisdom in native, place-based traditions. But after a history of oppressing Indigenous peoples, it's ignorant to take and portray their practices as novel discoveries without centering their voices, acknowledging the historical context, paying homage, and also supporting their reparations, food sovereignty, and land repatriation.

As Sanjay Rawal, the James Beard Award-winning filmmaker of Food Chains, remarks, "Institutionalized racism, driven by colonial economics, has put us in the predicament we're in as a species. There is no sustainable solution that doesn't involve Black, Indigenous, and people of color."

Kiss the Ground set out to inspire hope in the midst of doom-and-gloom climate reporting. With beautiful footage of lush, restored land, reaffirming insights shared by various thought leaders, and animated data graphics, it did accomplish that goal.

"The basic value of this film is people knowing that there is a way out of where we are," says Rishi. But in trying to present an easy solution to the daunting climate crisis, Kiss the Ground may have oversimplified both the problem and the solution. "To focus on soil carbon sequestration alone is to leave the real causes of [our ecological breakdown] unexamined and let off the hook a culture of rape and racism that created the problems," says Rishi.

Regenerative agriculture may be a critical counter to conventional agriculture. But with the way Kiss the Ground proposes carbon farming as the ‘cure to climate change’, the film falls short of addressing the deeper extractive systems and culture of supremacy that birthed the destructive land practices in the first place.

As Rawal's new film Gather—which shows the growing movement of Native Americans reclaiming their food sovereignty—movingly depicts, decolonizing the food system, building community, cultivating indigenized connections to the land, and relearning place-based biocultural knowledge are all critical (among other things like reparations and land repatriation) if we truly wanted to heal ourselves and our shared planet.

I don't fault the various experts featured—many of whom I've gratefully learned from in the past. But the star-studded Netflix film is disappointing, as it could have been the groundbreaking documentary to not only inspire shifts in how we think about carbon drawdown but also challenge whose perspectives we center in conversations on climate change and land restoration.

In the end, Kiss the Ground is neither regenerative nor groundbreaking—just another whitewashed film made to engage and comfort a privileged audience.

I invite the documentary's producers and nonprofit leaders to do better—while I continue to introspect, learn, and focus my work more deeply on Earth justice myself.

Meanwhile, I recommend watching Gather and Tending the Wild instead. Some more initiatives to check out and support include Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), Native Conservancy, Acres of Ancestry, Sylvanaqua Farms, Soul Fire Farm, Healing Gardens, Sarvodaya Institute, No White Saviors, and Terralingua. I will also continue to critically cover these topics on Green Dreamer Podcast and in this independent Substack newsletter.


Linked resources:
[1] People of color make up less than 5% of farmers in the U.S.
[2] Black and Hispanic households disproportionately face food insecurity
[3] Over half of the U.S.'s 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented immigrants.
[4] A resource on White Saviorism
[5] Farmer Rishi, former Lead Gardening Educator at Kiss the Ground
[6] Kiss the Ground calls their soil solution a 'new breakthrough'
[7] There are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are humans on Earth
[8] Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the global population but steward 80% of the planet's biodiversity
[9] Regenerative, intentional fires were practiced by Native American tribes in California but suppressed in the name of conservation

Disclaimer: I am an alumna of the nonprofit Kiss the Ground's soil advocacy training and gardening course that I paid for and appreciated learning from. I'm aware that the nonprofit, a co-producer of the film, did not have sole control over its resulting storyline. Regardless, I do hope all of the producers and the nonprofit, which lent its trademarked name to the documentary, are open to having these discussions and including Indigenous rights and environmental justice in their regenerative mission going forward.

xx kamea