The solution of Regenerative farmers to bring soil health across the continent and beyond.
At times overwhelming but ultimately hopeful, Joshua and Rebecca Harrell Tickell’s Common Ground is a vital piece of work, one that points the way towards a better future for ourselves and our planet through common sense land management. Looking at and attacking the climate crisis through a variety of perspectives, the documentary at times feels a bit scattered, as if the filmmakers felt obliged to appease every shareholder in the regenerative farming community. Still, their overriding message trumps any of the movie’s shortcomings, its ambitious agenda, admirable.
Inundated with a myriad of statistics during its first forty minutes, the Tickells paint a picture of an environment in trouble but not without hope. By visiting a variety of farmers throughout North America who have adapted regenerative farming practices – no tilling, no chemicals, the use of cover crops – and seeing the positive and profitable results that have occurred, they make the case that much of the damage we’ve done to the planet can be reversed. It’s an encouraging sight to see once barren fields now brimming with healthy top soil, which can be regenerated.
However, the Tickells also recount how we got into the state we’re in by chronicling the rise of industrial farming which began after World War II. The chemicals and machinery used to keep the world safe for democracy were modified to create a more organized and efficient farming system. We know now this process of mass tilling and the use of pesticides damaged everything it touched. Equally damning is their recounting of Monsanto’s development of genetically modified seeds that were designed to resist the pesticides they produced to be used upon them. Also daunting is their explanation of how farming corporations indoctrinated generations of farmers with knowledge and practices that were harmful, while generating billions in profits for them.
To be sure, the film is fascinating and informative. Using computer graphics and vivid charts, the directors effectively breakdown the systems of corporate corruption as well as ecological regeneration in a way that’s easy to grasp for even the most unaware of viewers. In this way, its an effective educational tool.
While the movie is a bit unwieldly at times, what with all the Tickells are intent on covering, the sheer number of positive examples of soil rehabilitation they show are encouraging. Farms from across the United States and into Mexico are visited to show how pieces of desert are being transformed into fertile ground, how grazing management is rejuvenating the environment and how urban oases are proving to be vital produce outposts within their communities.
Though the Tickells have corralled a group of big name celebrities to champion their cause and serve as rotating narrators, the presence of Jason Momoa, Laura Dern, Woody Harrelson and others comes off as self-serving and at times pretentious. The power of this film and its message lies in the numerous examples we see of everyday men and women saving and nurturing the common ground we all depend upon. Seeing the gains they’ve made through their efforts is the most effective way to convince us all that we too can help salvage our wounded but resilient home.
3 1/2 Stars