Posts Tagged ‘the soil will save us’

the soil will save us by KRISTIN OHLSON

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

I never thought I would get excited about the subject of dirt, but Kristin Olson’s book from Rodale Press, despite its lower case title, is the reason. As an amateur gardener, now reduced to a patio garden, I intellectually knew that good soil was good for gardens, but the extent of its importance escaped me. I always focused on the importance of water to feed my plants and assumed that rotating plants in my backyard plot using tilled soil would be enough. This book set me straight and because it is so important, I am posting it under Health Flashes & Special Reports instead of Book Reviews, and will probably need two postings to do so.

Here’s a quote about removing carbon dioxide from the air from p.14 that sets the tone:

No other natural process steadily removes such vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as photosynthesis, and no human scheme
to do so on such a vast scale with any guarantee of safety or without great expense. Photosynthesis is the most essential natural process for life on the planet, as it regulates the steady cycling of life-giving carbon into our soil and creates that other gas on which so many of us depend: oxygen.

The key words, “into our soil,” are what caught my eye, because without healthy soil we cannot grow healthy plants to eat. Also, there is a relationship between soil carbon and global warning or climate change that becomes part of the ongoing conversation of healthy soil in the book.  Even if you are a skeptic about global warming, the importance of soil is still a relevant issue.

Throughout the book, Ohlson shows her attention to studies and details that demonstrate her commitment to this issue. For example, she travels globally to interview soil experts such as Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestrian Center, who received funding from the EPA, the USDA and the US DOE. He learned that in parts of the world where cultivating the land has been ongoing, soil carbon depletion is 80 % or more. While erosion can be blamed for some of this, land misuse can still be held responsible for at least 30 % of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.

The book makes interesting reading, in large part I think, because the author brings in her conversations with men such as Lal, the “new” farmers and cattle raisers who are changing the way they operate because they see the importance of healthy soil for food for humans as well as grazing animals. Ohlson calls it an “agrarian renaissance,” There is a surge of interest in “wholesome, sustainable foods” on the part of farmers and cattle raisers that seems hopeful to me in the light of environmental issues plaguing our daily lives. The author writes on p. 19, “ The environmental community is also taking heed of the soil’s potential to address climate change.” Ohlson herself notes that for the first time in 25 years she feels hopeful that the soil will save us, which is also her book title.

The author then delves into the importance of soil bacteria with their aggregates 9small particles they gather which hold water) and other microorganisms play in creating healthy soil. She waxes somewhat scientific, but still in lay terms. She notes that healthy soil provides eco-services such as drought protection, flood protection and water purification.

In the next few chapters, Ohlson digs deeper.  (Pun intended!) She tells how we began to affect climate with our carbon releasing activities hundreds of years ago, only the planet did not have so many people as now, with the prediction of 9 million in the near future. However, humans have been disrupting Mother Nature for a long time. More recently, the author’s research shows that 75% of global deforestation took place before 1850!

The solution of saving our soil seems to point in the direction of a holistic view of managing the land. In Africa the author met a man named Allan Savory, whose holistic approach resonated with the author and me. Instead of the typical tools to manage large landscapes, which include burning large areas to clear them, plowing the earth under, and spraying chemicals to ward off predators, Savory (and others) are creating ways to save the soil that hark back to earlier times in some cases. One is no-till, planting using holes in the ground so as not to destroy helpful microorganisms. Second is cover-crop cocktails, that is, planting several crops in one spot instead of mono-culture. Third is mob grazing, in which large numbers of animals are allowed to graze for a limited time before being moved, which accomplishes several goals: lots of hooves to break up the lard soil surface, trampled grasses being bitten to put carbon sugars in the soil, and nutrients from the animals’ waste spread around for insects and microorganisms to flourish.

I found all of the author’s information, research, and interviews with farmers, soil specialists, microbiologists, and ranchers very interesting and a light at the end of the climate change tunnel. Conferences all over the world are looking at some of these innovations or perhaps re-inventions and the “renegade” farmers are beginning to gain attention. The last chapter is called Heroes of the Underground and I think the men and women who are in this book are heroes of the soil. As the author points out, change is frustratingly slow, and the research suggests that the soil can save us quicker than the stakeholders expected.

Excepts from the final paragraph of this groundbreaking book, literally and figuratively, is optimistic:

It appears to be in our power to reduce our legacy load of carbon dioxide, which has a physical presence as well as psychic weight….
We can only do it by working with plants and microorganisms, which have been carrying on the most wondrous dance since the early
morning of time….We need to stand back, pay close attention to the ways in which these partners need our help, and offer it with
the greatest respect. (P. 234)

This book has given me hope that we can feed the world without stripping the planet with the methods Kristin Ohlson describes in the soil will save us. It is published by Rodale Press and costs $23.99 in hard cover. Also available in Kindle and soft cover.