The Need to Grow – Film review

I thought this was a film long on promise but short on delivery. It tells the interwoven stories of three American individuals: an 8-year-old “Food activist”, an urban food grower and a polymath inventor searching for the ultimate food system.

The child – and her mother – is campaigning to persuade the Girl Scouts to stop sending packs of GMO cookies to all their members. She draws posters, talks to friends, sets up a petition and flies (!) across the country to New York to the Girl Scouts HQ. They refuse to see her. Disgraceful – but not a huge story to my mind. I’m not sure that a child of that age can fully understand the complexities of the GMO topic.

The urban food farmer is doing a great job, growing fruit and veg in long geotextile “socks” filled with compost on the concrete bed of an empty industrial site. He also uses vertical growing systems. More detail on where the compost came from, what the socks were made from and how he distributed the produce would’ve been interesting.

Now the inventor – former computer games nerd Michael Smith – is a great character. Eccentric but clearly vulnerable, he gave up his Silicon Valley career and built a “Green Power House” in Montana, where it gets pretty cold in winter. His idea – manifest in the GPH – is to link together different energy-producing units into a single “closed loop” system. The first unit is a pyrolysis chamber burning waste wood to produce biochar. Then there is a pyramid-shaped greenhouse where algae grow in tanks. And there are vermiculture beds where worms create compost. All this was said to be set to change the world, doing what nature takes 400 years to do and managing it in 4 days! Wow!

Maybe I missed it but there didn’t seem to be much detail here on where the inputs came from (water, waste wood, waste food) and where the outputs went. The GPH was said to power 100 homes but there was no mention of cabling. Where did the compost go? How was the biochar used? What food was produced? How could this be called a closed loop system? I had so many questions.

All in all I’d give this film 5 out of 10 for effort. Its heart is in the right place, it uses a lot of good words about carbon, regenerative agriculture, the importance of soil, systems thinking, but fails to convince that the particular examples it champions are the world-beating innovative projects the hype promises. It also, curiously, completely fails to mention the massive impact of the industrial meat industry.

Harriet Stewart-Jones

On Wednesday 18th November 2020, Transition Bournemouth are hosting a discussion of the film as part of their Green Film Club: https://transitionbournemouth.wordpress.com/green-film-club/

The film has limited release and is available to view on https://grow.foodrevolution.org

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