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Learning to Kiss The Ground with Finian Makepeace

When Kiss The Ground isn't consulting on private and state run projects around composting and regenerative agriculture, co-authoring composting legislation, or recommending zero-waste franchise systems to the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, they're finding a meaningful way to educate the world about why soil can single-handedly save us from our prominent environmental impact.

Their website reads, "We can balance the climate and feed the world by building healthy soil." We affirm their mission and take special interest in soil, as seeds are only as good as the soil they sprout from.  Kiss The Ground continues to inspire us as they change the dialogue we have surrounding soil. We're excited to share an interview we conducted with co-founder, Finian Makepeace about how it all began. 

Amborella Organics: When did you first have that aha moment that soil is life? 

Finian Makepeace: I had an amazing biology teacher when I was 17. I began doing research on Mycorrhizal Fungi with Cornell graduate students. It was some of the first documentation of oak groves sending messages to each other through the fungal networks in the soil. I think this was the initial aha. Then, my lifelong friend Ryland, co-founder of Kiss the Ground brought Graeme Sait to Los Angeles to present about soil.  

AO: What was your relationship with soil and nature like before this? 

FM: I’m a big science geek and hearing this lecture about what makes up soil, made that interest or love return. Graeme was referencing things I was privy to and putting them into a much bigger context. He gave a birds eye view about soil being the essence of life. He put into perspective that we are looking at 500 million years of research and development that has occurred so that ecosystems can function and proliferate. I was grasping what Graeme was talking about-- the planet's carbon cycle was balanced to begin with because of the development of soil-- and this was initial "Aha" behind the founding of Kiss The Ground. 

AO: How has forming Kiss The Ground enabled you to accomplish your mission of soil education? 

FM: Kiss The Ground is designed to spread the word about this mostly unknown idea. All terrestrial life revolves around soil, people can understand that. In regard to climate change we’ve all been looking at how to reduce our emission, but not upholding this ancient system of carbon balance. By educating, we're providing a new solution. We can get the system back into balance by building back healthy carbon filled soil. 

AO: What was the movement like in the beginning? Were there puzzled faces when you explained the significance of our soil or do you think there was a collective awareness shared? 

FM: When we first shared people were excited but generally confused. It's a new subject and an idea that is generally not talked about throughout our education system. The initial strategy was to interact with a lot of people, and try not to push people away. For those with a background in science and the connection to soil and compost, it easier to grasp. But when we deconstruct the common view, it's not that surprising where we are in terms of comprehension. So, we try to start where people left off. For example, when talking about carbon, which is commonly thought of as the enemy today, we say everything that's alive is built from carbon. The substance or mass of a tree is carbon. Where did that carbon come from? It came from the air. So the tree came from "nothing". If they understand this, you can then ask, "where does soil come from?"

In school learned that soil is formed from the erosion of rock into sand silt and clay and the addition of organic material from decay of leaves and other things that fall to the ground. But that organic matter of the soil accounts for only 8-10% of it. The majority of the organic matter that makes up healthy soil comes from the same place that the tree comes from. THE AIR. How? The tree or plant uses photosynthesis to create carbohydrates from CO2 in the air and water.  Then, it shares up to 80% of the carbohydrates (sugars/sap) by pushing it out of their roots and into soil. This feeds the soil organisms like fungi and bacteria. Why do trees give away their sugar? Because the soil microbes are helping to pull in minerals and water for the plant. This is a process nature invented, to pump carbon into the ground to make life on land possible. It creates soil aggregates which allows for water and air to infiltrate the ground for all soil life and plants to prosper.  The carbon filled soil aggregates can remain for 50 to 100 years. That means carbon underground. Then there's compost, which increases the biological function of soil. This is a probiotic for the soil. 

AO: How do you personally lead a sustainable or regenerative life? 

FM: By making the decision to get involve and not waiting on the sidelines for someone to tell you to start playing. One day I realized, "why are we waiting for someone in a field to share information with us?" There is so much information and expert people available on the web. Read! Watch youtube videos, call the experts! They will talk to you. The world needs you.  We need unusual suspects to get involved. And not just holding signs at a rally but starting projects in their community, writing legislation, and spreading the word of whats possible. People need to say "I will be the one who does that".  

AO: You are a recording artist in addition to being the co-founder of Kiss The Ground. Which takes precedence? Do you inject your work with Kiss The Ground into your music or do you keep the two separate? 

FM: I have two or three songs that are connected to Kiss the Ground and/or soil. The Garden Song and 2060. 2060 is a dream I had about a Brazilian refugee camp. I was an old man and my granddaughter walked me to the edge of the city, which had been destroyed due to climate change. She said, why didn't you do anything? That had a profound impact on me and got me off my ass to start helping. I generally try to keep my music world on its on track but these days it might make sense to bring them together. 

AO: What are your thoughts on indoor farming vs. outdoor? 

FM: In terms of hydroponics, few people combine soil which gets good results. We're at the tip of the ice-burg of understanding the benefits of soil. In a forest we have trees that are 200 feet high. Why do we think that controlling it helps? What if we mimic nature? Bio-mimicry. If we remove our old baggage of how things go and admit that our whole framework with outdoor farming is flawed, then we begin to reframe it. Cuba has done an incredible job with hyper local farming. We need another victory garden/hyper local farming movement here in the US. Victory garden's came about in World War II and the whole premise is invest in people to farm by teaching them how to grow food at home. Victory Garden Movement was actually the name before we were an official organization called Kiss the Ground. 

AO: Our mantra at Amborella is Eat, Plant, Love. If you could attach one word to this what would it be? 

FM: I would change plant to grow, and include learn and share. If we look at the history of communication with humans, in the last 100 years you have a major decline of agriculture and sustainability and an upward curve of human connection. We can't assume people know (because they have access to more information), we have to educate. 

What's next for Kiss The Ground? They just finished their campaign for The Compost Story (www.thecompoststory.com) featuring Rosario Dawson, Adrian Grenier, Amy Smart, Paul Blackthorne and Kendrick Sampson. This September, they're slated to release a curriculum for middle school students featuring five lessons on the carbon cycle, photosynthesis, soil, regenerative agriculture, and taking community action. A free download will be available online. In November they will be releasing the book "Kiss The Ground" available for pre-order on amazon. In 2018 their future length documentary "Kiss The Ground" will be coming out. For now, subscribe to their newsletter and visit their website for more information.