I grabbed this book— The Soil Will Save Us: How Farmers, Scientists, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet by Kristin Ohlson— off the library shelf on a whim, and nearly stopped reading after the introduction, which made the book sound like it was going to be some sort of lame woman-learning-to-find-herself-through-gardening memoir. However, I kept reading, and I’m so glad I did!
After the introduction’s philosophical musings, this book shifts gears to a more journalistic perspective, introducing the topic of soil. What is it? Why is it important? How can it save the world? Ohlson spends a chapter on the elements of soil and the way it works, the incredible intricacies of trillions upon trillions of life forms working together in ecosystems more varied than anything on the macro scale.
Once you begin to grasp the staggering complexity and importance of healthy soil, Ohlson moves on to stories about her travels around the world to interview all sorts of soil-related people: land managers working on erosion-resistant techniques in Kenya, farmers growing corn in large-scale no-till polycultures in North Dakota, scientists investigating ways that healthy soil can lock up carbon to mitigate climate change, and everything in between. Her writing is detailed but accessible, drawing you into the stories of these pioneer’s lives as well as their work and the impact it could have (and is having) on the world.
Reading this book gives me a lot of hope for the future of food. People are making medium-to-large scale agriculture work in ways that actually heal the land rather than degrade it. Not only that, but these techniques are often cheaper than industrial methods! They require more skill and knowledge than mainstream agriculture, and a willingness to plant multiple crops (which is something that the government, with its extremely limited subsidies, discourages), but the potential is exciting. Although these techniques aren’t even close to mainstream, the methods are being developed, tested, and refined, getting them ready for when the world finally realizes that we can’t continue to pump the ground full of fossil-fuel-derived poisons to keep feeding people.
Anyone who’s interested in food issues, or wants to understand soil in a deeper way, should definitely read this book. Zach and I both blazed through it and had many animated conversations about the stories and ideas in it. You will never look at dirt the same way again!