CYRUS SUTTON: Independent Filmmaker Speaks Out on Hawaii’s Food Crisis

Island Earth


“The threat of nuclear weapons and man’s ability to destroy the environment are really alarming. And yet there are other almost imperceptible changes – I am thinking of the exhaustion of our natural resources, and especially of soil erosion – and these are perhaps more dangerous still, because once we begin to feel their repercussions it will be too late.” -The Dalai Lama

Cyrus Sutton’s film work initially caught my eye with his first feature “Riding Waves” and I quickly became a devout follower.  Sutton has built an impressive, eclectic, and inspiring body of work since his first offering in 2003, with the release of award winning feature films and the creation of . Straying far beyond the generic surf film model, Sutton draws his audience into the deeper realms of the surfing and human experience.

Most recently Cyrus has been in Hawaii working on his new documentary film entitled “Island Earth”, a powerful project focusing on the current grassroots movement of young Hawaiians taking back their access to healthy food through localized organic farming and agriculture. With a food supply that is infested with the destructive parasite of corporate corruption and greed, locals are taking the power back by reconnecting with the land and their food cultivation.

From GMOs, to poisonous pesticides, to the slow grinding halt of the age of fossil fuels, and the right for every human being to grow his own food without the crippling vice of the corporate pleonexia, “Island Earth” is a film that must be seen by everyone who cares about life.

“Island Earth” is being funded in large part by it’s Kickstarter campaign. Today (11/16/2014) is the final day to donate  and become part of a profound and much needed film of our time.

I caught up Cyrus Sutton over the weekend to get more details on “Island Earth”

Your new film project “Island Earth” focuses on the sustainable farming movement in Hawaii and the perils of GMOs, pesticides, and industrial farming in general. The dilemma of industrial farming humanity is facing is a worldwide threat and it is not only unique to Hawaii. Why did you choose Hawaii as your location of choice to confront this monolithic beast?

Hawaii is one of the most geographically isolated landmasses in the world and whenever you have large populations of people sharing very finite resources the effects of our modern lifestyles are felt more drastically. Hawaii is considered a paradise, the environment hasn’t been as ravaged as most other populated places in the world. Logistically for food to get to the Islands it takes thousands of miles of sea transport making their food prices some of the highest in the United States. Because of these things people are fighting for the health of their lands and their own ability to afford a quality life. A self-reliant mindset has been adopted where people are growing food and bartering for services within their community. This is reaction to being forced to buy inferior quality, increasingly unaffordable food and goods. By spending less money on imported things, people aren’t supporting the people who aren’t taking care of their land and people. It’s much more powerful than protesting. This movement is infecting the population at a rate I haven’t heard of anywhere else in the country. I wanted to share their passion for independence and the lessons they are learning while they push up against corporate and policy barriers.

It seems there is split opinion among farmers in Hawaii on the detrimental impact of GMO seeds and the benefits of natural organic farming. This said, it seems all parties agree the pesticides used in industrial agriculture are toxic to the food being grown and to those who live in a distance to experience pesticide blow off. What have been the unarguable downfalls of the use of pesticides in Hawaii?

The chemicals used in agriculture are indisputably toxic to environmental and public health but even more insidious is the issue of soil erosion. Soil erosion is caused by the way we grow a lot our our food both in conventional and organic farming. Many Western Nations rely primarily on industrial farming which is depleting our topsoils about 30 times faster than they can replenish themselves. The resulting dirt and chemicals get washed into waterways and carried into our oceans.

Can you explain to our readers who may not be versed in the industrialization of food what it actually means and why it is such a dangerous path for humanity to continue to tread?

Industrial agriculture is a method of farming which attempts to employ economies of scale to produce food more efficiently. Farmers use large machines and fewer people to minimize their costs while maximizing their yields with assembly-line like efficiency by designing large, flat grid-like agricultural systems made to accommodate mechanized seeding, maintenance, harvest and transport of one kind of crop. This works in the short term, but as soils deplete and pests and weeds move in, greater inputs of fertilizer and pesticides are required. These inputs do nothing to help the physical structure of the soil from eroding. A perennial (year round) root network of plants and fungus are what hold dirt together to form healthy soil. When these are stripped away, far reaching problems occur not only from the chemical inputs, but from the dirt itself as it spreads and accumulates to places in the ecosystem that aren’t equipped to handle them. In healthy soil, carbon is captured in the ground by fungi. When we destroy this fungi by tiling and the planting of annual crops for seasonal harvest, we stunt the ability for fungi’s mycelial network to form. In simple terms, the carbon which used to be held in the ground is now bleeding into our water and air causing heightened carbon levels in the oceans and atmosphere. Carbon can only be held in three places, the earth, the water and the air. Industrial agriculture along with the mining and burning of fossil fuels are the two main culprits.

Less than two centuries ago, Hawaii was home to one of the most sustainable agricultures in human history, now Hawaii imports nearly 90% of its food. What happened to destroy Hawaii’s natural food production and how are the people of Hawaii trying to restore their sustainable food production practices?

Plantation barons saw Hawaii as a great place to grow sugar and pineapple for export, so they, along with US military interests, overthrew the indigenous leadership and created a cultural shift on the island that was beneficial to their large operations. It’s a proven method for exploiting the resources of third-world people and is accomplished by outlawing traditional language, religions and customs, and replacing them with value systems which depend on outside inputs. This consumer culture was adopted around the world by indigenous peoples because they were enticed by the convenience of it all. What they didn’t see was that our Western wealth has been largely built through practices which exploit our environment and are not sustainable. So short-term gains in exchange for long-term scarcity right? Today, all over the world, we are feeling the environmental repercussions of instant gratification, and these original indigenous traditions which provided a sustainable roadmap for their societies are being reevaluated. People are recognizing just how advanced and environmentally harmonious native peoples were. This is what’s happening in Hawaii. Traditional Hawaiian culture has only been conquered and supplanted for about 150 years and the plants and the Polynesian agricultural systems are not completely forgotten. The prospect of a self-sustaining Hawaii is a growing reality for those getting their hands dirty and realizing just how many calories they can harvest in small spaces.

In relation to agriculture and food production, what realistic solutions do you see that can be implemented in the near future to save Hawaii from the path it is headed down at the moment?

The Hawaiian Ahupua’a system was used to grow food for their 300,000 to 1 million sized population (total pop. at peak civilization is disputed). It’s a top down system of food security which acknowledges the rain-creating ability of a healthy forest and preserves the mountainous forest’s ecosystems in order to ensure a steady water supply. This water was channeled through what they called the Kula, which is where they intensively farmed their perennial root crops of taro, sweet potato and cassava mixed with other plants and fruit trees to mimic an ecosystem. They concentrated their villages in this zone so that they were close to their daily work of planting, tending and harvesting. At the base of this system was the ocean. They found the areas where their nutrient rich agricultural runoff, which was a moderated byproduct of their food system, ran into the sea and attracted sea life and fish. Because of this they set up rock walls in the shallows of the intertidal zones to trap fish at low tide. All of their customs addressed working cooperatively and respecting the land which gave them life. Today most of our values promote competition and environmental disregard or destruction.

In order for your film to be produced in the most efficient and high-quality way possible you chose to use Kickstarter as a platform to raise the funds needed. What benefits do you see in the Kickstarter model for independent film makers?

There’s been a few avenues for financing for this project but Kickstarter is great because it gets the word out about the film early. It allows the right people to connect with the film early on to create a little community of people all passionate about the same issues. It’s a perfect time for Island Earth because we are almost finished with shooting, and this money will help us wrap up production and hire a great, award-wining documentary editor to help make this film its very best.

I imagine you’ve put much of your heart and soul into the creation of this film, why is it important that this film is completed and reaches as many people as possible?

There is nothing more vital to our survival than healthy food and the way that food is grown has an unparalleled ability to heal or hurt the Earth. Now that I know how corrupt our food system is and how much it is affecting the health of everything, I’ve felt it’s been my duty to educate myself and share these lessons through the medium I know best.

What is your greatest hope for the this film?

70% of the world’s food is grown by peasant farmers who are using less than 30% of the agricultural resources. And they are being pushed out of the most fertile lands all over the world by industrial farming interests. If we lose this method of farming then we, as a society, are doomed. I want this film to show people that we’ve been duped into thinking that we must rely on industrial agriculture and all of the chemicals that go along with it to make our food, and I want to show people that with a community of like-minded people and hard work can create a better world for our kids. I hope to make a film that will be a beautiful and informative example for people to share.

“Island Earth” Trailer

inDUSTrial Agriculture Video

Please donated here: ISLAND EARTH

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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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