Regeneration & Food Futures

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A view of wheat grown on Meaker Farm, Montrose, Colorado. Photo © Ken Geiger/TNC

While on the topic of food, thanks to Dustin Solberg and Cool Green Science for this:

Dirt to Soil: A Farmer’s Tell-all Puts Soil First

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Circle irrigation tire tracks remain in the challenging soil conditions on a wheat farm in Colorado. Photo © Ken Geiger/TNC

Quite a few years back, while working the wheat harvest in the middle of Oklahoma, I met a leathery skinned farmer. He lived through the dusty, hardscrabble, droughty years of the Great Depression, and experience had taught him plenty. I still recall his silver belt buckle, his straw cowboy hat, and the funny joke he told me about the buffalo on a buffalo nickel, which I can’t repeat here. He wanted me to know, and so told me in no uncertain terms, that there’s one way, and one way only, to plow a field.

We were standing then in the fresh golden stubble of a wheat field. It was hot. We’d just finished combining and after a day of steady motion we were finally still, the diesel engines at rest. I can still recall the animated force in his muscly hands – he made his fingers into the tines of a chisel plow – to make his point as vividly as I recall what he said: “You’ve got to set the plow deep.”

The trouble was, he was wrong.

It’s not that there was anything unusual about his thinking. Back then, only a relative few farmers, widely regarded as kooks, strayed from the conventional farming practices of the day. That would include work the soil intensively, leave the soil exposed and unprotected, and replace lost nutrients with chemical fertilizers. Today, this remains true wherever the short-term promise of the Green Revolution has become an article of faith. It’s the current model of industrial agriculture, producing most of the world’s food commodities – namely, soybeans and grains like maize and wheat – and it’s taking a toll on our soil.

But thanks to advances in our understanding of soil biology and a powerful movement led by farmers and scientists, the way we treat our soil is getting a fresh makeover.

One of these revolutionaries, a North Dakota farmer named Gabe Brown, has written a book that retraces his decades-long quest to run his 5,500-acre farm profitably. Titled Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, it’s part manifesto, and other parts autobiography, technical journal, how-to, testimonial and tell-all.

It’s the latter that makes this a surprisingly enjoyable read. Brown’s experience is hard-won. His stories lend insight into farming’s hardships and uncertainties. There were hail storms, crop failures and false starts at trying something new. All took their toll. Off-farm work paid the bills when farming couldn’t. He comes clean about just how grim farm life can be…

Read the whole story here.

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