TV fans know him from “The Vampire Diaries” and Netflix’s “V Wars,” but now, thanks to his work in Washington, lawmakers know Ian Somerhalder as an advocate for sustainable farming.
The performer isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty as he works to break through the partisan gridlock with his new documentary touting the benefits of regenerative agriculture, “Common Ground.”
“You could almost argue that we are so divided that the only thing that we have in common is the ground: The soil is our common ground,” Somerhalder told ITK of the new film, which he executive produced and helped narrate.
“People say … what is this regenerative agriculture, and why should I care? And it’s so simple. Regenerative is the use of planned grazing methods and using living, growing plants at scale to sequester enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, to stick it back in the ground where it belongs.”
“When you do that, you’ve fed all those vital microorganisms in the soil — healthier soil, healthier plant, healthier people, healthier planet. It’s a really positive cascade of all the things that you can do when you build a regenerative agricultural economy.”
A sequel to 2020’s “Kiss the Ground,” the new film doesn’t mince words, warning viewers, “With much of the world’s soil turned to dust, we have found ourselves in a race towards extinction.”
“If the soil dies, we die,” a narrator says in the documentary, which won the Human/Nature award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
But, Somerhalder told ITK, seducing audiences with sod proved to be a muddy mission for him and directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell.
“One of the greatest challenges is making soil sexy,” said the Louisiana-born entertainer, who has stepped away from acting and moved to a farm outside Los Angeles with his wife, Nikki Reed.
“But when you really dive into it, you realize a couple of things,” he said.
“This isn’t about politics; this is about policy. This is about people, and people that can benefit from really good policies,” Somerhalder said, noting the film focuses on farmers, including rancher Gabe Brown and Rick Clark, who say regenerative practices have helped give their land an incredible environmental and financial boost.
“Lawmakers can come together over good policies,” Somerhalder said, urging Congress to reappropriate funds within the Farm Bill to pull “farmers off the drip” of the agricultural biotech companies. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) are among the officials who appear in the film.
“Most Americans are not really conscious of how our food system is creating a Category 5 hurricane of disaster in everything that we care about,” Booker says in it.
“We have a system that’s hurting consumers, that’s hurting our environment, that’s hurting independent family farmers, that’s hurting animals, that’s hurting farm workers — just a morally bankrupt system, and we have to change it,” he adds.
“I think when they go back to their districts,” Somerhalder continued of members of Congress, “they can look at the people in those districts and say, ‘Hey, listen I didn’t just go to Washington and yell at people about a bunch of stuff. I came back with an amazing way to build this community because that’s all I care about is right here.’”
Laura Dern, Woody Harrelson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Momoa and Donald Glover join Somerhalder in narrating portions of “Common Ground.” Asked what he might say to critics who could argue they don’t need a bunch of Hollywood-types lecturing them about farming practices, Somerhalder replied, “If you’re complaining about rich celebrities who think they have a mouthpiece, watch the film and you’ll see that we’re in a studio narrating. It’s the Rick Clarks and the Gabe Browns that are out in front of the camera doing the work.
“They’re the real caretakers. So we’re just an amplifier,” Somerhalder, a father of two, said.
The 44-year-old actor is trying to get the word out about the film, which is hitting select theaters nationwide, claiming that the “big major streamers” are censoring it by refusing to add it to their lineups.
Declining to name those media corporations, Somerhalder said they’re afraid “to go up against” major agrochemical firms. “If we have to literally release this film on my Facebook page, we’ll do it. If streamers and big companies are going to censor our film, then we will release it every way we can without them.”
With his intimate knowledge of the undead as Damon Salvatore on “The Vampire Diaries” and his experience on Capitol Hill, ITK had to know: Are there any vampires in Congress?
“I think they’re all drinking Vervain tea,” he quipped of the drink featured in the series that was toxic to vampires.
“They are unable to be persuaded by any of us who want to do the good stuff,” he added.
Fans often ask him what he’d do if he had the vampiric ability to control other people’s minds just by staring at them, what he’d do with it, Somerhalder said.
“I would go straight to Washington and I would sit and have some really significant meetings and I would get them to just make better decisions. And it would be such a great superpower,” he said.
“But for right now, the only superpower we have with ‘Kiss the Ground’ is building that movement, and the regeneration arm of ‘Kiss the Ground’ and building that out.”
“Honestly this is I think the most exciting time in history, particularly in agricultural history, in this country,” Somerhalder said. “And no one is going to stop us.”
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