The Need to Grow
Directed by Rob Herring and Ryan Wirick
Executive Producer Rosario Dawson
We have lost a massive amount of farm-able soil. Industrial farming doesn’t work. For most of our readers, these statements will sound like yet another newsflash from Captain Obvious. From this starting point, The Need to Grow looks at a few possible solutions. One is hydroponics. I have dabbled with hydroponics a little, and I have my doubts. I’m not totally sold on the idea that hydroponics can really replace old-fashioned soil-based agriculture. But I’m not an expert.
Jeffrey Smith is an expert on the subject of GMOs, and he explains how World War II chemical warfare was repurposed to produce pesticides and fertilizers. He thinks that might be a bad idea. I agree.
One of the film’s subplots focuses on Girl Scout cookies with GMO ingredients. Yes I am going to be a mean old man and give the Girl Scout organization a hard time. A seven-year-old collected over twenty thousand signatures in a petition to remove GMOs from the cookies. She went to their headquarters to deliver the petitions and meet with a representative as previously scheduled. The representative canceled at the last minute for very lame reasons. Now that is mean. In addition, because the girl and her mom were already there, they wanted to go see the “shop.” Although the film isn’t extremely clear about what the shop is, it is apparent that under ordinary circumstances, Girl Scouts are routinely granted access to it. In this case, after a lengthy runaround, the girl was not granted access. That’s not just mean; that is ice cold. In fairness, a representative eventually came down briefly to take the petitions in person, but I’m willing to bet those petitions promptly hit the bottom of the nearest dumpster as soon as the girl was out of sight. The Girl Scouts eventually came out with a GMO-free cookie. I’m sure we’ll never know why it took them four years to do that.
The most intriguing thing we see in this film is the Green Powerhouse. Designed and built by inventor Michael Smith, it is a unique combination of greenhouse and power generator that uses trash and very little else as input; its outputs are power for one hundred homes as well as biochar, which greatly enhances soil fertility. Inside temperatures are maintained at tropical levels sufficient to grow bananas and pineapples in the middle of Montana. Tragically, it burned to the ground in 2015 under suspicious circumstances. It has since been rebuilt.
I’m giving this film a thumbs UP, but I will probably set a new personal record for qualifications and criticisms attached to the thumb. First, though The Need to Grow does not explicitly promote vegetarianism, one could read that implication into some of what is said. Except for a mention of how industrial animal farming is destructive (another newsflash from Captain Obvious), there is no sign of animals anywhere in this film.
Don’t get me wrong. The Green Powerhouse is very cool, and I like the potential it offers to generate energy, dispose of trash and improve soil fertility all in one neat package. It may solve a lot of problems and change a lot of things. However, I don’t think it is a complete solution by itself. I like the idea of solving concerns about the power grid going down by getting rid of the grid and replacing it with lots of smaller power plants, but I would like it even better if it could be scaled down to be cheap and small enough to fit in a typical backyard. As things currently stand, the Green Powerhouse is apparently quite expensive and took a government grant to build. The filmmakers do not explain where the money came from to rebuild it after it burned down.
There is also too much fretting about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. No doubt we are dumping bad stuff into our environment, but carbon dioxide is the least of our worries. Plants need it. We need small amounts, too. Any good greenhouse operator knows that it greatly increases plant growth and productivity when they add more of it. Any good scientist knows that historically we have had more than twice as much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere as we do now. There was no disaster back then, so why would there be now? Completely removing it from the atmosphere is a really bad idea. This film does not go that far, and it makes many good points, so it narrowly escapes the thumb of death.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2020🖨️ Print post