Sunday, May 2, 2010

Getting Dirty With The Tree People

I found the most down to earth place in Los Angeles and ironically it is high in the sky.

TreePeople, located on a 44-acre park situated at Coldwater Canyon Road and Mulholland Drive above Beverly Hills, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees, retaining rain water and generally making L.A. a more sustainable and greener city. 

On Saturday night, their LEED platinum certified conference center hosted a screening of the new PBS documentary "Dirt!" followed by a panel discussion with the film's co-director and co-producer Gene Rosow and TreePeople founder and president Andy Lipkis.

The film, narrated by Jaime Lee Curtis, tells the fascinating history of dirt and soil, and explains how it is alive and is the protective skin of the earth and inevitably how our bad industrial agricultural and mining practices are destroying this vital element and threatening the earth's, and our, survival.

The appeal of learning the importance of dirt and soil is universal, as Rosow noted, the film played as well when it was shown to very conservative farmers in Iowa and junior high students in Utah as it did when it unspooled at the Sundance Film Festival.

Perhaps that is because "Dirt!" contains more hope than pessimism, as Rosow explains.

"'Avatar' is phenomenal because it talks about the interconnectedness of all beings, but at the same time it sort of writes off earth, and that's not a position that I would be willing to accept. I think we can evolve through educational outreach and public engagement," said Rosow at the Q&A following the screening.

Added Lipkis:

"If you take a city like Los Angeles, one of the biggest cities on the planet and one of the most destructive to the planet, and literally follow the recipe that was on the screen and engage the entire population through education, inspiration and support, and that's our mission is to have millions of people get engaged and bring the land back to life, the water back to life, the dirt back to life, the implications that has around the planet to accelerate change is huge because we are still the world's media capital," said Lipkis. "So what we do here touches people like nothing else around the world. This community has the most hope, the most power to effect change around the world."

Here are a few more excerpts from Rosow and Lipkis followed by a trailer of "Dirt!" and photos from the event.

Rosow: "What's a curriculum based on dirt? What's a curriculum based on soil? if you start to change universities so you're not preparing English majors for jobs that don't exist, but you're developing people to study soil from the perspective of science, economics, philosophy, religion, literature, then you begin to develop the sense of a living matrix that informs your policy decisions."

Lipkis: "The problem with energy is not nearly as big as everybody keeps saying. You met (Land Institute founder and president) Wes Jackson and he says the way we do agriculture is wrong because we consume a major amount of energy and we have to go to war to get the fuel, to get the materials for the fertilizers and to run the tractors. All that stuff drains out into the Gulf of Mexico and creates a huge dead zone. He documents that if we started doing the right agriculture we could drop gasoline used towards agriculture by 50%, just by flipping it and doing it right. It would save so much energy that we wouldn't have to worry about biofuels, worry about importing oil or even offshore drilling. Those changes can happen if we get aware and start participating." 

Rosow: "We need a vision of cities as urban forests, instead of thinking of cities as concrete. If we stop looking at cities as concrete and asphalt and start looking at cities as forests in which you manage the asphalt rather than worrying about managing the dirt. It's that kind of shift of perspective that we need."


  1. Many farmers in the U.S. have adopted "no-till" farming techniques reducing the need for soil amendmends like fertilizer. No-till farming helps soil retain carbon. Healthy topsoil contains carbon-enriched humus – decaying organic matter that provides nutrients to plants. Soils low in humus can't maintain the carbon-dependent nutrients essential to healthy crop production, resulting in the need to use more fertilizers.
    The effort is being supported by the United States Department of Agriculture.

  2. Thank you for attending Josh! Great Blog.

    Lisa Sotelo
    Park Events Manager


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