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Book Review of Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

More people are learning about the importance of effective agricultural practices to improve land health. But many of those people have yet to make the connection between the vital importance of improving the carbon cycle. There may still be people arguing about the levels of CO2 in the air and what we should do about it, but when you start talking about carbon in the soil, most people are in agreement that increasing soil carbon levels creates a host of benefits.

In Grass, Soil, and Hope, Courtney White looks at the major issues facing humanity, issues like global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, economic stability, and climate change in the context of soil health. As agricultural producers we know how important soil health is. This is still a new concept for many folks who see soil as dirt that just needs some chemicals and you are ready to grow plants. What Courtney does in his title, Grass, Soil, and Hope, is make the linkages very clear between the soil (as a living medium teeming with life) and the grass that can bring so many positive ecosystem services that can resolve the intractable issues we face.

You may recognize some of the stories in this book, but there are many you may not have heard before. If you are interested in case studies of producers who are excellent examples of people improving soil health through no-till farming, composting, and livestock practices that improve natural habitat and biodiversity, as well as other practices like induced meandering and creative marketing to take the food produced from these practices to market at a price that pays the producer well, then you will find this book a treasure trove of ideas.

If you are not a fan of climate change arguments, you may want to skip the prologue in which Courtney makes the case for why we should care about CO2 levels. The chapters that follow have information for everyone on either side of the climate change issue. If you care about improved soil function and agricultural practice, that is the heart of this book (and the hope it brings to a burgeoning world population that needs more healthy food).

Stories of holistically managed ranches like the Sidwell's JX Ranch and the work done by Gregg Simonds and Rick Danvir on the Deseret Ranch gives clear evidence of how improved livestock grazing practices can make a difference. Likewise stories about cover crop, no-till farming, and pasture cropping, as demonstrated by Dorn Cox, Gail Fuller, and Colin Seis, are all examples of how farming and ranching improves soil health and builds resilient landscapes.     


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