From Soil to Stomach, and the contents therein… Updated October 2022.
While working at the farm, I’ve listened to a handful of books that link up well together and wanted to share here.
It may seem a little curious to have the first book on a recommended list for farmers to be about systems thinking, but once you read this book, it won’t seem curious, however, you will likely be more curious about the world (and farming). You will discover some hidden, basic truths about life which we don’t always keep in mind, but when brought up to us, we say ‘of course’! The complex ‘ecosystem services’ which make it possible for us to survive on this beautiful planet are interdependent, complex systems with multiple types of feedback loops. Most of them rarely respond to stimuli in a linear manner. Tickling those systems with minuscule manipulations can cause large changes, sometimes beneficial, sometimes unintentional. Once we realize that we are part of the complex, interdependent systems of life on this planet, and that our intentional manipulation of some of these systems to grow food are better done with the larger planetary systems in mind, we start to head down the path of regenerative agriculture. We can utilize regenerative agriculture as a means to undo the unintentional damage done by our previous, narrowly focused quest for higher productivity from farms by implementing a greater focus on holistic management and especially, energetic efficiency. If you enjoy this book half as much as I have (I’m re-reading it now) you won’t go wrong putting it before any of the others on this list. Learn better how to be part of the system before attempting to manipulate it to grow food.
“Thinking in Systems” –Meadows
The Montgomery/Bikle team are at it again with their latest book, “What Your Food Ate.” This makes the third book from their collective plume to make it on my list of ‘must read’ books if you hope to understand the farming world around you. I’ve now listened to this book twice, and am looking forward to reading the hard copy to let the more intricate topics sink in. It’s clearly the culmination of decades of research, writing, understanding, and hard work. In efficient, thoughtful prose, they’ve put into perspective and integrated many distantly related topics into a concise yet informative and insanely well referenced work of non-fiction that I simply couldn’t put down. More ‘big picture’ than ‘how to’, “What Your Food Ate” gives you the birds eye view and systems understanding to guide your farm (or garden) practices toward reduced inputs, greater efficiency, active soil life and therefore climate mitigation–a real regenerative agriculture primer.
“What Your Food Ate” –Montgomery/Bikle
Hands down, the best book on growing under cover I’ve read, “The winter harvest” comes from the man who pioneered, small, intensive agriculture in America with great historical context of how growers around Paris in the 19th century created one of the most productive, intensive, urban agriculture systems in the world. Incredibly detailed with everything you need to have on your radar from techniques to philosophy. It’s a fantastic, concise, well written book.
“The Winter Harvest” –Coleman
Natural Ecosystems have multiple feedback loops and in most cases, are self-supporting. Figuring out how to incorporate farming into a natural system, instead of against it, can result in productive agricultural systems where a great deal of the work is taken care of for us by the natural system. “Teaming with Microbes” reminds us that a vast portion of that ecosystem, with billions of organisms per teaspoon we can’t even see, are there to aid the gardener by closing the loop and finding balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ critters, from the microscopic to insects and by extension in my practical experience, all the way up to the interaction between voles and snakes/bobcats. If you don’t have enough voles, you won’t have predators around to control them for you. The same thing is true on the microscopic level. Everything has a place, and finding our place in nature is critical for a balanced, productive, sustainable, farm.
“Teaming with Microbes” –Lowenfels/Lewis
The most salient image from “One Size Fits None” is that of dead cattle on the side of the road after a cattle truck highway accident which no wild animals would eat, as they came from feedlots… Just down the road, the grass fed animals who die on the range are reduced to bones by scavengers in under two weeks.
“One Size Fits None” –Anderson
“The Hidden Half of Nature” takes us into the soil and into our guts and ties together/reveals many of the political wranglings that have contributed to the massively broken and unhealthy food system in the USA, as well as a fantastic review of the science and scientists who discovered microbes. This really got my science nerd side going.
“The Hidden Half of Nature” –Montgomery/Bikle
Nicole Masters, with her fantastic New Zealand Accent, takes us on her own personal journey to health after pesticide poisoning as a child (which took a decade to diagnose) but primarily talks about soil, and the remarkable neglect of the life that it can sustain. She lays out, as plane as day, that biocides (any chemical intended to destroy life, I. E. pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and even/especially chemical fertilizers) do just that–destroy life, perpetuating a dependent, downward spiral of costly chemical inputs that deplete the natural landscape and farmer’s bank accounts. Why exactly would we choose this path when we now have the science to prove, which she expertly explains in no-nonsense language, that farms and ranches are healthier and more productive when we work with nature instead of against it? A fantastic read (I listened to it twice!). UPDATE 2022. Since this addition to my book list, I’ve had the privilidge to call Nicole my mentor and friend after being accepted into, and graduating from her first CREATE training course. See integrity-soils.com for more on her programs.
“For the Love of Soil” –Masters
Though I read this next book at least a year ago now, it’s ease of reading (well listening as I used an audio book version while hoeing at the farm) and scientific referenced examples still sticks with me. A book to eliminate the ‘germophobe’ in you.
“I Contain Multitudes:The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life” –Young
Though not quite as much of a delight to listen to as Nicole Master’s book above, Gabe Brown’s determination, practical approach, and no-nonsense revelatory process as he discovered, then transitioned from ‘conventional’ to regenerative agriculture is nothing short of inspirational. Gabe’s documentation of the operational processes on his farm, including the hardships and the blessings, is something every farmer can appreciate and learn from, regardless of your context.
“Dirt to Soil, One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture” –Brown
Discovery of inter-species plant support systems took a long time to get on the radar, and it took a female perspective to get it through our heads–inspite of a great deal of mysognystic resistance, but Simard made it happen. This book, a journey into the masculine world of dominance and control in the forest industry in Canada, and one womans recognition of a new perspective is a breath of fresh air.
“Finding the Mother Tree” –Simard
Kimmerer brings together new perspectives, reflection on language, breaking down the scientific, reductionist paradigm, and acknowledgement of how a colonial mindset has left us with a legacy of degrations rife with opportunities for regeneration–both personally and in the material world. This book is a ‘must read’.
“Braiding Sweetgrass” –Kimmerer
Dr. Anika Molesworth had done a pretty incredible job laying out the cold hard facts facing humanity as we face the devastating consequences of climate change and how that directly impacts farmers as well as society. Thankfully, she also presents a wide range of both realistic and imaginative ways we can come together to mitigate the consequences of our abuse of fossil fuels, now and in the future. She reads the book herself if you chose the audiobook, and her generous, positive spirit shines through. I find myself ever grateful for this book and am looking forward to listening to it again.
“Our Sunburnt Country” — Dr. Anika Molesworth
Didi Pershouse has written a delightful book, integrating life, health, healthcare, agriculture, and environmental stewardship into one intriguing, incredibly well referenced, page turning work of non-fiction. Getting to know Didi personally as an educator and coach of the 2021 class of Nicole Master’s CREATE course by Integrity Soils was a highlight of the program. Always insightful, and willing to do the hard work to get to the root of social challenges to affect transformative change–I’m ever grateful for her guidance and commitment to ecological and societal improvement on both a personal and global level.
“The Ecology of Care” –Didi Pershouse
If you thought you knew just how dangerous glyphosate (Roundup) is…think again. Not only has the chemical industry done a great job with propaganda, their mega profits have allowed a lobbying effort that has been incredibly effective at creating legislation preventing local communities from limiting their own pesticide exposure, as well as publishing junk science that creates doubt about the toxicity of their products. After watching a slick, monsanto produced video at a future farmers of america breakfast years ago, even I was half convinced that it’s not only ok, but maybe a good idea to pour poison into the well…New research, however, produced by true researchers, not industry shills, shows glyphosate as a root cause of so many debilitating diseases, exponentially increasing in the global North, that its fair to ask what ailments of modern society aren’t caused or exacerbated by exposure to this herbicide. Thankfully, Dr. Stephanie Seneff has done a remarkable job of breaking down the very complex interactions, now understood in molecular detail, between glyphosate and biological systems. She maes a convincing case for the global ban of this herbicide, and a shift to regenerative agriculture. The introduction and first two chapters are worth the price of the book alone.
“Toxic Legacy, how the weedkiller glyphosate is destroying our health and the environment”
–Dr. Stephanie Seneff
A historical synopsis pacted with information, Dirt wasn’t my favorite book to listen to, but I found myself bringing up, over and over again, things I had learned from listening to it in conversations with friends and colleagues. A bit of a slow start, but with significant pay off as you get deeper into the book–there’s a lot to take in and learn from this author’s work.
“Dirt:The Erosion of Civilizations” –David R. Montgomery
And finally, a non-judgmental, non-dogmatic, fact based book on nutrition that ties into the related themes mentioned in all three books above regarding the detrimental consequences of politics and greed on our food system and how we can make choices to combat that systems negative grip on our health. Dr Greger’s sometimes over-enthusiastic delivery of his own work in audio format leaves no doubt in my mind that we can radically improve our health through our own food choices (spoiler alert: eat plants–brightly colored and spicy ones–fresh, organic , whole, un-refined plants, lots of them!).
“How Not to Die” –Greger