Book Review: Growing the Revolution by David R Montgomery

So the season of book reading has already begun!  Tomatoes said their sianaro early, warm temperatures sent roots crops flying into Oct. and our last Full Season CSA share has left the building!  The temptation to read books is strong, if it weren’t for all those darn side projects popping wanting to be finished.  Endulging in some spare time though, I couldn’t hellp grabbin Growing The Revolution at the local library.  Being a very recent publication, I supposed it had some interesting thoughts on current events and a point of view of the most vital structure we all depend on; the soil beneath feet.
It’s easy to scroll through our technological wonders, decry all this political buffoonery or environmental justices and other things, and not quite realize the slow dying our soils face.  Its certainly easy to get in the car and drive past the corn/soy fields and take it for granted.  A living ecosystem that every terrestrial thing depends on, taking thousands of years to make normally,  was literally burned up in a matter of decades through industrial farming.  When people use the term “plow” for instances of crashing into something, that was a apt term and describes what had/is happening.  Debated since 1940s, plowing is the technique of “turning” the soil to prepare it for planting and also to help eliminate weed competition.  With every turn of the plow, the giant flywheel of organic matter in our soil, was literally being burned up!  Pictures of yore were organic fields producing enourmous yields, but with enormous costs.   Like any bank account, when you take out more than you put in, you’re going to eventually feel the burn.  Yes, our fields “look” green, but if you removed all the expensive fertilizer (not the same as organic matter) you’d quickly see how far we’ve gotten into DEBT!  Whoever inherits this, what will they say??
{Pre-winter tillage in the neighborhood}
Growing The Revolution quickly gets wrapped up in this conundrum, swiftly moving across US soils and soils across the world examining where this Green Revolution is going to leave us.  And he’s pinning it on the next move we need to make as humans tied to their agriculture, he’ll argue we need to make soil and fasst!  Many civilizations before usually rode their way to close to the carrying capacity of their landbase and ruined soils brought their demise.  And ours is not far away.  But many people are finding the call to do better, to redefine what it means to be involved in agriculture and to “work the land.”  Mavericks are creating organic matter, the lifeforce of healthy soil, in a matter of decades instead of milleniums and growing the crops we need!  Through new and old techniques, small and large, they all had  these three tenets in common:  1) Reducing or eliminating plowing(ie. no-till), 2) Planting cover crops and ) Planting a diversity of crops.
It was easy to read this book and feel an ounce of hope.  A hope for our soil and our children’s soil.  A hope for agricultural communities that are driven to the brink of debt and forced to “get big or get out”.  And perhaps a hope to rekindle and restore that  which was stolen so quickly from Native Americans and squandered to unhealthy ends.   It’s also easy to read this book and apply to things we’re working on here or in your lives.  And to envision paths to take to initiate this process.  I kept asking myself, are our techniques building soil up?  Are we attaining some of these goals?  And I found in many cases yes.  
Growing vegetables can be quite an intensive soil working activity.  But our living aisles create un-tilled ecosystems amongst our tilled strips allowing microbiota to flourish, spread and develop.  The tilled strips often host manny differing crops and cover crops through-out their life.   And every few years we move the entire garden to a new spot, allowing a long break for fungi, covercrop roots and bacteria to work their magic and restore that topsoil.  Ample rest for the land and also an opportunity for other ideas.  Thoughts are abuzz with concepts of integrating grazers like cattle into rotations.  The action of intense grazers triggering plants to store carbon in the soil even faster and their manure feeding back into the system too.   We’re eagerly watching how the rotating rabbits change the soil.   Studying our perennial plants, which employ almost no tillage, has been a tough project when making ends meet on the farm.  We are spurred on though as we had our largest hazelnut harvest yet this year and look forward to more research and possibilities.
{Aisles between aronia plants as another opportunity for intercropping}
Land stewardship can be an exciting place to be!  And we’re glad to be a part of it.  Bad time to be investing in fertilizers folks!  Watch out as these new farmers make their moves to start the Brown Revolution!
~ Clint, October 26th, 2017