GARDINER — In their documentary film “Back to Eden,” Sarah Zentz and Dana Richardson tell the story of one man, one acre — and abundance.
For the past 32 years, Paul Gautschi has been growing a lush, prolific garden near Gardiner without artificial fertilizer and without irrigation, regardless of how dry a given summer was.
“Eden” is the story of how he does it. The picture makes its world premiere today at www.BacktoEdenFilm.com and is available free in high definition to anyone with an Internet connection.
For the viewer who wants his or her own DVD with added features, it’s a $15 donation.
Zentz and Richardson also hope DVD owners will plan screenings of the film in public venues.
Gautschi, who with his wife, Carol, has raised a family of seven on his five-acre property off Chicken Coop Road, regularly dazzles visitors with what’s called permaculture: the practice of growing food using all-natural materials and methods.
Gautschi, an arborist, uses wood chips — broken branches and leaves but no bark — to cover his growing grounds.
He seals in moisture and nutrients this way. He doesn’t water or use store-bought fertilizer.
He got the attention of Michael Barrett, a traveling pastor and film producer who then hired Zentz and Richardson, documentarians who live in Gettysburg, Pa.
“He told us about these carrots as big as his arm,” Zentz recalled.
They were just one of the crops from Gautschi’s sustainable-farming operation, which the pair got hungry to see for themselves.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to document this guy,’” Zentz added.
She and Richardson packed up their gear and headed for the North Olympic Peninsula in August of last year. They stayed 10 months, learning, shooting and editing.
Zentz and Richardson learned that Gautschi is a devout Christian who sees his garden as a collaboration with God.
He speaks, with ever-renewable enthusiasm, about his walk with Jesus and about the Earth’s divine gifts.
This posed “one of our greatest challenges,” Zentz said.
“We didn’t want to offend anyone . . . We tried to stay away from making it too religious. However, it is Paul.”
Gautschi “likes to talk about his faith as a relationship with God.
“To him, God and nature are the same thing.”
Likewise, “we’re trying to merge the boundaries between environmentalists and Christians.”
Above all, Zentz and Richardson hope “Back to Eden” will introduce people to permaculture and inspire gardeners to try it in their own backyards — and, on a larger scale, show farmers what’s possible.
Gautschi advises using whatever natural resources are nearby as soil covering: fallen leaves, grass clippings, wood chips if the gardener can get them from tree-care companies as he does.
This is composting: nourishing the soil with organic material.
And, Gautschi professes, it produces fruits and vegetables that nourish the grower in spades — and it has served him for more than three decades.
Zentz and Richardson are about to work on another film about making the most of what’s lying around.
They’re headed for the artistic community of Santa Fe, N.M., to shoot a movie whose working title is “Radical Jewelry Makeover.”
It’s about repurposing “byproducts” — this time old jewelry — to create something fresh, just like in Gautschi’s garden.
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.