If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. On Wednesday evening, the Pequot Library screened the documentary Dirt! The Movie with a homemade pie auction and an awards ceremony celebrating local environmentalists afterward.
The event was sponsored by The Fairfield Organic Teaching Farm and emceed by Fairfield Green Food Guide’s Analiese Paik. The film, pardon the pun, digs in deep about all the things that happen to dirt—how we often disregard it, abuse it, ruin it, and fight over it. Produced and directed by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow and narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, it illustrates that what could be our most valuable resource is our most under-appreciated one.
While random cartoonish graphics were a bit of a distraction, the film has an important message: Everything we do has something to do with dirt. From the food we eat to the backyard our children play in, dirt nurtures us in one way or another. If nothing else, it is home to one of the largest environments for microorganisms.
“With the amount of species that live in a teaspoon of dirt, I think it’s very obvious dirt might be more alive than we are,” said Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV. In the film, Vaynerchuck is shown actually tasting the dirt when he visits a vineyard. From his point of view, you can tell a lot more about the wine when you know more about the dirt it grows in.
Whether it’s grapes or a garden full of organic vegetables, one thing is very clear: There is a direct correlation between the soil and us. From drought comes crop failure and, ultimately, starvation. When the soil is fertile, we live. When it is unhealthy, we don’t.
“Africa is not poor,” said Pierre Rabhi, an African farmer and agroecologist turned philosopher. “Ethiopia alone, if properly cultivated, could feed the entire African continent.”
While growing things in fertile soil is a major component to dirt, it’s not the reason we’re affected by it. Whole countries go to war over who claims which piece of dirt. Africa. Asia. The Middle East. And only a few hundred years ago, our own Civil War split our country down the middle and shed blood on either side of the line drawn in the sand.
We have to take care of our dirt, and so far we’re not doing such a great job.
“If we don’t take care of the soil which is just the first five centimeter layer of life that is on the earth, our future is totally condemned,” said Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Industrial agriculture in just a few decades has completely decimated the health and viability of the soil. Using the example of the 1930s Dust Bowl, monoculture farms growing vast crops for the nation’s consumption dried up and disappeared because, for one thing, there wasn’t enough biodiversity. Drought killed the crops. Lack of proper crop rotation killed the dirt. Just in the last 100 years, we have lost one third of our natural topsoil from industrialized farming.
“The Dust Bowl was an event, not quite on the same scale, but comparable to what happened after the last Ice Age,” said Bill Logan, an urban arborist and the author of “Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth.” “We made a really big change in the landscape just by bad farming.”
So how long do we plan to continue killing our dirt? How many more wars, how many more famines?
“Clothe the earth—put on the skin, a dress. A green dress, like trees, like vegetation,” said Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement. “And then, when the earth is covered with green, with vegetation, it looks very beautiful. And in this age of climate change, can you imagine how happy the planet would be?”
For more information or to host your own screening of the film, visit their web site at www.dirtthemovie.org.