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10 Books to Celebrate the International Year of Soils

Beneath our feet lies a resource that is critical to our future. It’s the first thing we think about when it comes to farming and gardening – and yet, one of the last things considered when thinking about the long-term preservation of our earth. It’s the basis for healthy food production, is a crucial tool in maintaing resilience to floods and droughts, and is host to a quarter of our planet’s total biodiversity.

This wonderful natural resource is soil.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined global partners in declaring 2015 to be the International Year of Soils. In the face of mounting challenges such as climate change, a shrinking agricultural land base, increasing global populations, and extreme weather events, many maintain that healthy soil is the key to our future. In order to ensure the sustainability of this vital resource, organizations far and wide are working to increase awareness of soil’s role in everything from agriculture and food security to urban living and infrastructure development.

We here at Chelsea Green are eager to join the cause for healthy soil, though our authors have already been championing its importance for years—whether it’s seeing soil as the solution to confronting climate change, the foundation for a nourishing homestead, or an integral part of sustainable cattle ranching.

Dive into one of these recommended books and help spread the word about the importance of protecting our planet’s soils.

Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White Courtney White tackles a crucial question: What can we do about the seemingly uncontrollable challenges faced by humanity, including climate change, global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, and economic instability? Soil, he says, is the answer! A mere 2-percent increase in the carbon content of the earth’s soils could offset a huge portion of the greenhouse-gases that are going into the atmosphere. If we can increase the amount of CO2 drawn safely into the soil – through practices such as composting, sustainable livestock, no-till farming, and more – we can address many of the challenges that appear so impossible to overcome.

 Cows Save the Planet by Judith D. Schwartz The idea of cows saving the planet might sound preposterous at first glance. But take a soil’s-eye view of our current ecological situation and the notion starts to make sense. In Cows Save the Planet, Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for overlapping environmental, ecological, and social crises. Our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends squarely on how we treat soil, and cows – when properly managed – can restore land and help build healthy soil. Cows Save the Planet both explains soil’s vital role in our ecology and economy and provides an important call to action on behalf of soil and all of those who benefit from it.

Defending Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman For years there has been a stigma among environmentalists and health experts that cattle and beef are the enemy. But the matter is not so clear-cut. In Defending Beef, environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman argues that properly managed cattle can actually play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems and improving soil health by functioning as surrogates for the wild ruminants that once covered our earth.

The Nourishing Homestead by Ben Hewitt The Nourishing Homestead tells the story of how we can create truly satisfying, permanent, nourished relationships to the land, nature, and one another. The Hewitts offer practical ways to grow nutrient-dense food on a small plot of land using vibrant, mineralized soils. Ben Hewitt uses the term “practiculture” to describe a philosophy and skills his family embodies to create a thriving homestead, including soil remediation, agroforestry, permaculture, and much more.

Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon In Holy Shit, Managing Manure to Save Mankind, farmer Gene Logsdon gives the inside story of what he deems our greatest, yet most misunderstood natural resource: manure. Logsdon laments the fact that our modern society not only throws away human and animal manure, but spends a great deal of money to do so. Worth billions of dollars as fertilizer, this waste could and should be used to help keep food production in line with an increasing population.

Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening by Will Bonsall In his book, homesteader and Maine farmer Will Bonsall provides a vision that extends from the finer points of soil fertility and seed saving to how we can transform civilization and make the world a more resilient place. It all starts, he maintains, with first understanding the economy of the land and adapting a greater self-reliance. Bonsall has learned to practice a purely plant-based agriculture by avoiding any off-farm inputs such as fertilizers, minerals, and animal manures and instead turns to plant materials including compost, perennial grasses, green manure, and more.

Paradise Lot By Eric Toensmeier When Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates moved into a duplex in a run-down part of Holyoke, Massachusetts, the tenth-of-an-acre lot was barren ground and bad soil. The two friends got to work designing what would become not just another urban farm, but a “permaculture paradise” replete with perennial broccoli, paw paws, bananas, and moringa—all told, more than two hundred low-maintenance edible plants in an innovative food forest on a small city lot.

Stay tuned – we have more books on the topic of soil on the way!

  Two Percent Solutions for the Planet by Courtney White Available 9/9 In Grass, Soil, Hope, Courtney White explains that we may reap a wide variety of economic and ecological benefits from simply increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in our earth’s soils by two percent. In Two Percent Solutions for the Planet, he shows how it can be done.White not only touches on a variety of proven practices for putting carbon back into the soil, but expands what he refers to as the “regenerative toolbox” to include edible forests, food co-ops, holistic grazing, rainwater harvesting, and much more.

One-Straw Revolutionary by Larry Korn Available 8/31 The late Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka is considered to be natural farming’s most influential practitioner. In One-Straw Revolutionary, Larry Korn distills his experience of more than thirty-five years of study with Mr. Fukuoka and takes a deep look at natural farming and how it may be used in areas other than agriculture.

Arid Agriculture: How to Reduce Heat Stress in Crops and Livestock

Regardless of where you stand on the climate change issue, there’s one reality few can deny. During the summer, many places in North America are now regularly suffering temperatures above 100˚F, whereas they rarely did in the past. It’s also widely known that such high temperatures put heat stress on crops that are not very […] Read More..

When it Comes to Invasive Species, Just Say NO to Eradication

What if we looked beyond the notion of invasive species as enemies, and instead harnessed them for beneficial uses? Beyond the War on Invasive Species offers just such a bold alternative to the chemical and intensive eradication efforts, one that is holistic and inspired by permaculture principles. First-time author Tao Orion makes a compelling case […] Read More..

A Conversation with Medicinal Herb Farmers Jeff and Melanie Carpenter

In their new book, The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, Jeff and Melanie Carpenter offer a business guide and farming manual on how to successfully grow and market organic medicinal herbs. The Carpenters cover the basic practical information any grower needs to get an organic herb farm up and running, including size and scale considerations, soil […] Read More..

How to Plan Your First Foray into Seed Saving

Whether you’re a home gardener or a more seasoned horticulturist, saving seeds is a time-honored tradition vital to the preservation of important varieties of vegetables and herbs. A follow up to Seed to Seed, The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving provides straightforward instruction on collecting seed that is true-to-type and ready […] Read More..

The New Farmers’ Almanac: A Collection of Essays for Beginners

What agrarian future can we realistically build together? This is a question the Greenhorns hope to answer in their latest book, The New Farmers’ Almanac 2015. Greenhorns is an organization for young farmers—a non-traditional grassroots network with the mission to promote, recruit and support the entering generation of new farmers. It exists to celebrate young […] Read More..
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