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Dirty Business: The Best Books to Read on Regenerative Farming

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Dirty Business: The Best Books to Read on Regenerative Farming

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The solution to climate change, sustainable food and good health may be under our feet (literally).

Regenerative farming provides the whole world with possible sustainable approaches to living.

Romally Coverdale

Fri 21 Jan 2022

close up of a wildlflower meadow

What is regenerative farming?

Regenerative farming can be defined as a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food, grazing and farming systems.

It focuses on soil topsoil regeneration, biodiversity, water quality and other benefits.

It also aims to reverse climate change through restoring degraded soils.

family in a field with fresh produce
Contemporary farming strategies heavily rely on chemicals, fertilisers and is the key driver to environmental degradation on the planet

Why is our soil degraded?

Contemporary farming strategies heavily rely on chemicals, fertilisers and is the key driver to environmental degradation on the planet.

A report by IPES highlights that the transition away from these destructive measures are not, in fact, what is stopping the farming industry.

Instead, it is entrenched thinking, vested interests and destructive cycles that are the key preventers.

It is thought that “because almost half the land that can support plant life on Earth has been converted to croplands, pastures and rangelands, soils have actually lost 50% to 70% of the carbon they once held.”

This is a pressing issue, as within 50 years we will not have enough arable topsoil to feed everyone, and the food that will be produced will be degraded due to the loss of important minerals.

Likewise, as temperatures rise to global warming, soil will release more carbon (more than originally thought) escalating the climate crisis.

Alongside agricultural practices, deforestation, thawing permafrost and the draining of peatlands also causes soil to release carbon.

  • Read our explainer piece: What Is Soil Health? Why We Shouldn't Treat It Like Dirt

Yet, this is not irreversible.

Regenerative farming has the power to, not only maintain and improve public health by the quality and quantity of produce compared to standardised farming, but also to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Benefits of regenerative farming

A study in 2017 estimated that global croplands have the potential to store an additional 1.85 gigatons of carbon each year - which would neutralise emissions made from transport around the world.

Soil has the potential of reversing climate change, if treated properly.

Soil releases carbon through microbial decomposition so, if the microbes are protected, soil has the potential to store more carbon.

This can be done through regenerative farming.

Some methods, like crop rotations and diversifying crops, adds more varied biomass that can hold more carbon.

Likewise, rotational grazing helps keep carbon in the soil as it allows old crops to regrow, with additional carbon from manure.

Regenerative farming also has the potential to provide global food security, due to higher yields and nutrient dense foods.

Scientists at the University of California warn that soil is by no means the only solution to climate change, and highlight it is a long term strategy - as carbon absorption depends on the age of the soil (the older the better).

pebble's Best Books on Regenerative Farming

1. Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree

In the inspiring and multiple award-winning Wilding, renowned author Isabella Tree speaks about her pioneering rewilding project, the now-famous Knepp in West Sussex in which free-roaming grazing animals are used to create new habitats for wildlife.

A combination of memoir and ecological account of the British countryside, Tree presents a narrative of hope: that degraded land can be refilled with flourishing ecosystems.

An amazingly well-written and informative read that everyone should have on their bookshelf.

2. Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming: Biodynamic Principles and Perspectives by Frank Holzman

Aimed primarily at gardeners and farmers, Frank Holzman divulges into the nature of balanced ecosystems and how to recreate them on land in Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming.

This book holds a spiritual and thoughtful outlook to the land, prioritising healthy approaches to the land backed by years of research.

This book aims to rekindle the relationship between gardeners and the land, promoting a deeper connection.

By treating the land as a living being, perhaps more sustainable modes of farming could be produced.

3. English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks

James Rebanks’s Sunday Times Nature Book of the Year English Pastoral is a story of family and the changing landscape.

He details how rural landscapes around the world collapsed, the notions of work, weather, the wild and community - and how these things were lost.

In a breathtakingly beautiful prose centres on a farmer attempting to salvage the natural world, to leave a legacy for the future.

An engrossing read for anyone interested in time’s effect on land and people.

4. The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security by Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toesnmeier wrote this intensely researched book with the intention of it being used as a tool guide.

Due to the complexities of carbon farming, Toensmeier details everything we know on carbon farming in The Carbon Farming Solution.

This book is great for those seeking to start a carbon farm of their own, or seek to improve their own. But, you don’t have to be a farmer to find this book useful as it also explores climate change.

5. Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David R. Montgomery

Growing a Revolution is a fantastic resource on learning the history of agriculture, as well as an exploration of the possible futures of farming.

Geologist David R. Montgomery recounts histories and the potential collapse of civilisation we could repeat if not careful. The tone is not bleak, but hopeful and informative.

We need a new agricultural revolution and that it may prove more profitable than current methods, and Montgomery takes everything into consideration. A great read for everyone.

6. One Size Fits None: A Farm Girl’s Search for the Promise of Regenerative Agriculture by Stephanie Anderson

Stephanie Anderson in her award-winning book, One Size Fits None, documents her search for regenerative farming in America.

She follows diverse farmers across the country, documenting the multitude of ‘untraditional’ agricultural techniques that prevent the degradation of the earth.

Anderson argues that to solve the lack of nutrient-rich food available and combat climate change, regenerative agriculture is the key.

This book will resonate with anyone concerned about the future of food, farming and creating a sustainable future.

7. For the Love of Soil: Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems by Nicole Master

Nicole Master makes the often highly technical complexities of soil more accessible; in For the Love of Soil through the use of case studies of farmers, growers and ranchers in Australasia and North America, Master creates a roadmap to healthy soil and regenerated food systems.

Highlighting the era of challenge we are currently facing, Master passionately remains optimistic and informs the reader of the science behind natural cycles and how to restore them.

An incredibly engaging introduction and engagement with soil, great for anyone.

8. The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet by Kristin Ohlson

Kristin Ohlson speaks of thousands of years of poor farming and ranching practices, and how they have resulted in losing 80% of carbon from the world’s soils.

Yet, she also speaks of how we can turn the air’s carbon into soil carbon - potentially reversing global warming.

The Soil Will Save Us comprises an ecological approach yet remains easy to read.

From lab to soil, Ohlson speaks of a myriad of problems and their potential solutions.

9. What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health by David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

What Your Food Ate is to be released June 2022.

Montgomery and Bikle uncover scientific and historical evidence of farming-practices’ disruptive nature on a microscopic scale.

Focusing on the soil, they detail the connections and implications for what we eat and how we grow it.

Both looking into the past and the future, they draw attention to how good health starts with how we grow food.

Will be a great read for anyone interested in health, produce and soil.

10. Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth by Charles Massy

Charles Massy’s Call of the Reed Warbler has gained attention over its unique style.

Described as being part lyrical nature writing, storytelling, memoir, scholarly research and scientific evidence, it is impressively written.

Massy calls for a global transformation with respect to agriculture, and speaks of innovative farmers who are finding a new way.

Starting as a chemical-dependent farming and his transition to more sustainable methods, Massy recounts his experiences and what’s at stake for the future of humanity.

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