How can we reimagine sustainable agriculture?
In his documentary film, “Island Earth”, professional surfer, filmmaker, and activist Cyrus Sutton visits Hawai’i to explore corporate food production and consumption. “Island Earth” takes a whole system approach to a complex issue, illuminating the ecological impact of GMO farming and highlighting solutions for change. In the following interview, adapted from Loam: Permaculture in Practice, we connect with Cyrus to talk about GMO technology, homesteading, and food justice.
In “Island Earth”, you explore the intricacies of corporate-controlled food production in Hawai’i. What did you discover during the process of filmmaking about our current foodscape?
I went into it not knowing much and feeling open to whatever I was going to learn. In fact, I’m not sure if you read that recent article about the Nobel laureates coming out against Greenpeace for their [uncompromising] stance against GMOs? Look, I’m no scientist, but I have come to learn that GMOs are a technology. They are powerful. And technologies can make our world better or worse. Technologies in general are humans expanding their consciousness and understanding the workings of nature better. I don’t think inherently GMOs are bad, but I question whether or not we as a society have the natural literacy to deploy this technology in an healthfully regenerative way. Our recent track record has been one of destruction. What my film “Island Earth” deals with specifically is the problem of GMOs being used almost exclusively by the largest chemical companies in the world. It’s the way it’s being used that’s the issue. It’s not the technology itself. Everything runs on a quarterly profit motive and right now, GMOs fit into that by helping chemical companies to sell more of their chemicals.
The truth is, working with nature creates a lot more abundance. But there’s not a profit motive there [for most companies].
What simple solutions can we take to support sustainable agriculture?
Support local farmers, know where your food comes from, grow your own. Those are the biggest things we can do to impact not only the quality of our food, but also to create stronger, local economies in a world that is becoming globalized. In some ways, globalization is good. But in many ways, it’s not. Supporting and voting for people in the political sphere who understand food policy is essential too.
Other than that, get involved in the Farm Bill to support and subsidize organic farming and smaller-scale agriculture. Lobby for tax credits for local farmers so that the government will extend to them the same advantages that we give to these large livestock and monoculture corporations.
How do you live your values?
I try to empower myself. When I was in Hawai’i and learning about that culture during the making of my film, someone told me about this radiating circle idea—about these ripples of attention that you pay to yourself and the earth
Everything starts with the pikau, the self. It’s about empowering yourself first and sharing that power with your family and then your community and then your environment.
To all of us who were born into a system that’s divorced from the elements that sustain us, living your values is going to look very different than someone in the country. Wherever we’re at, it’s about taking the steps to educate yourself on a holistic mindset and then direct that power in a way that is going to create more resiliency in our own lives. Two good ways to start are to redefine the terms “wealth” and “selfishness.” Words have a lot of power and if we view these things in a negative light then we will continue down our road of increased dependency on systems that have proven themselves to be dysfunctional. By redefining “wealth” and “selfishness” as words which embody empowerment in the context of holistic frameworks that simultaneously help others and yourself at the same time, we can start shifting the course of our sinking ship. Right now, the pattern is to feel used and objectified and complain about it. And it works because it’s much easier to do, but that doesn’t have to be our destiny. We have agency.