Meet Ryland Engelhart: Co-founder and Chief Mission Officer of Kiss the Ground

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Ryland Engelhart
Ryland Engelhart. Photo Courtesy of Ryland Engelhart

Ryland Engelhart, the co-founder and Chief Mission Officer of Kiss the Ground, chatted with #Powerjournalist Markos Papadatos about his nonprofit organization, which raises awareness on the regenerative agriculture movement.

Kiss the Ground movement

On his inspiration to serve as a co-founder for the Kiss the Ground nonprofit movement, he said, “My family built a small chain of unique plant-based restaurants called Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre. We were on a mission to serve healthy whole food as medicine in a restaurant environment with the intention of awakening love and gratitude into the world through our food, menu, and service. This experiment led to the opening of 15 restaurants over 15 years and serving millions of organic wholesome plant-based meals.” 

He continued, “The moment that changed my life forever, came because of so much time promoting healthy living. I traveled to New Zealand for a healthy living conference. I was invited to speak at the conference, and I went with some informational arrogance and a sense of ‘I already know’ about sustainability, health, and wellness, and what were the most essential solutions to saving the planet. I sat in the audience of a panel discussion called “Can Humans Sustain Life on Planet Earth?” Four of the five experts said ‘No, it’s too late,’ and we were going into the 6th mass extinction. The 5th expert, Graeme Sait, confirmed we were heading towards ecological collapse, but there is a blind spot in the climate conversation. He introduced hope into the conversation. Agriculture could go from the most destructive system on the planet to the great redeemer. We could take the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere via photosynthesis by plants, trees, and grasses and store that carbon in the soil. We could heal our broken soil, while responsibly sinking the excess carbon that is contributing to climate change.” 

“As a food entrepreneur, I saw a big idea and solution,” he admitted. “Everyone who eats could play a role in healing the planet by supporting Regenerative Agriculture. This was when I began to deeply understand what Wendell Barry meant when he said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” We can eat to regenerate our health and planet, or eat to degenerate our health and the planet. At that moment, I could see the choice humanity had to make.”

“This moment was a spiritual awakening where I felt an explosion of energy and profound truth for my own life, but I also could envision this awakening happening worldwide. I felt another whisper calling me to serve mother earth and help bring this message of regeneration into the hearts and minds of humanity. So, we started the non-profit organization in my garage in Venice, California,” he said.

“The same garage that filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell had occupied as their film studio for the prior decade making environmental films. The Tickells eventually making the Kiss The Ground film is one of the many miracles that have felt like confirmation from the universe that we are on our right path,” he added.

‘Kiss the Ground’ documentary

“The movie came to fruition after seven years in the making,” he admitted. “It was a massive collective effort and deep partnership with the Director / Producer duo Josh and Rebecca Tickell. The non-profit brought an energized growing movement to support and contribute to the making of the Kiss the Ground film. While the process of making anything “in community” is difficult, the spirit of a movement, committed to progress over perfection, led us to a finished film that struck fire. When the film was released on Netflix, and millions of people started to have their own “regenerative awakening” (the same that I had experienced eight years before in NZ) it was a dream coming true.” 

“Kiss The Ground’s mission is to awaken people to the possibilities of regeneration,” he said. “This was now happening all over the world in 26 languages and 40 countries. Some of the largest food companies in the world are starting to use film as a tool to communicate and share language and the aspirational direction for the future of their companies. The film’s success still blows my mind and may be the most significant contribution of my life to the world (besides co-creating my two beautiful sons). High praise to Josh and Rebecca Tickell for their artistry, storytelling, and human ingenuity in making this story come to life. What inspires me every day is that I get to serve a mission bigger than myself to champion and connect the growing regenerative movement.” 

The digital age

On being a part of the digital age, now with streaming and technology being so prevalent, he said, “It is incredible to have infinite information at our fingertips. I am super grateful for streaming technology so that people worldwide have access to powerful and transformative film content like Kiss The Ground and now the Common Ground Film. But honestly, I feel we are mistaken when assuming that technology and digital information can replace our deep need for intimate human and nature connection.” 

Career-defining moments

On his career-defining moments, he shared, “One defining moment came a couple of years ago when I decided to step down as the Executive Director of Kiss the Ground. I had to grapple with feeling like a failure or incapable of being the leader of an organization I had co-created.” 

He continued, “The Rumi poem, from where the term Kiss the Ground name originates is a poem that says we must ‘kneel’ before we can Kiss the Ground. Letting go of my ED title was a moment of kneeling to my inner being to re-up my commitment to humility over my Ego’s grip of being ‘the one in control.’ That decision led to us hiring of a new CEO for Kiss The Ground, Evan Harrison, which has springboarded our organization for an incredible next wave.”

“This shift has allowed me to step into the new role of Chief Mission Officer, focused on strategic partnerships, fundraising, and a high-level vision for the future. As a defining distinction, do what you love and learn from there,” he added.

Ryland Engelhart
Ryland Engelhart. Photo Courtesy of Ryland Engelhart

Serving as a producer on the new documentary ‘Common Ground’

He opened up about serving as a producer for the new documentary movie “Common Ground,” which was also directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell.

“I feel great about playing the role as an EP in ‘Common Ground’,” he said. “I love the film, and its message is aligned with the mission put on my heart. My favorite part is sharing my heartfelt enthusiasm for this project and how many people have come to the table to support it. Particularly inspiring for me is the sequence that my co-founder Finian Makepeace coordinated as part of KTG advocacy work in DC that featured Rick Clark Testifying before Congress.”

“Woody’s narration and willingness to also show up in DC, and getting both sides of the political aisle represented in a film called “common ground” is something that is definitive for the movement. Finding our common ground and going beyond divisive political narratives is so important at this time. As Gabe Brown said, ‘Finding common ground for a common good’.”

Success

On his definition of the word success, Engelhart remarked, “Success is playing full out for a mission or purpose bigger than myself. I feel alive, willing to sacrifice my comforts for the joy of a collective victory, and where my efforts lead to other people experiencing more love, connection, and healing.”  

Closing thoughts on the new film ‘Common Ground

Engelhart concluded about “Common Ground,” “There is a horizon of hope, beauty, unity, and abundance for the future of life on planet Earth and it starts with us loving the soil beneath our feet. When we love the earth, our actions can create cascading positive effects. This is called regeneration. And it takes each of us being willing to take that on. Tag, you’re it.”

To learn more about Kiss the Ground, check out its official website.