Kristin’s Ohlson’s The Soil Will Save Us offers hope in the face of the many environmental challenges facing us today. Ohlson introduces a range of inspiring visionaries—scientists, farmers, ranchers, and landscapers—figuring out how to build healthy soil that can solve myriad problems including drought, erosion, air and water pollution, food quality, as well as climate change.
According to Ohlson, thousands of years of poor farming and ranching practices have led to the loss of up to 80 percent of carbon from the world’s soils. That carbon is now floating in the atmosphere. Ohlson makes the case that we can heal the land and turn atmospheric carbon back into beneficial soil carbon and potentially reverse global warming. Further, better care of the soil means healthier crops and animals, fewer flash floods, greater drought resistance, fewer chemical inputs, fewer issues with run-off and – best of all – massive amounts of carbon sequestration. Supporting the science of healthy soil, planned adaptive grazing, no-till farming, and cover cropping are among the tools she explores in depth that can help us accomplish that shift.
In addition to exploration of the big picture, the book is also a great introduction to the complexity of the soil ecosystem. Frighteningly, it is pretty clear that humans don’t know a fraction of what we need to know about the soil that sustains us and our entire planet. For example, microbes (with help from other players like bugs, worms, and fungi) build aggregates in the soil, loosening it up so it can store water and serve as a home for beneficial organisms; they also make minerals available to the roots of plants that ultimately feeds the food we eat! Knowing of these complex dynamics helps explain why tilling, turning over, plowing, drying out, or otherwise disturbing soil, home to billions of microorganisms, deprives plants of their best allies and accelerates the degradation of our agricultural lands and reliance on chemical inputs.
Happily, The Soil Will Save Us offers many examples of where regenerative farming has carefully managed and helped restore the overworked land to rich earth, through use of crop rotation, green manuring, animal grazing, and companion planting aimed at “feeding the soil.” Scientists, foodies, and farmers harnessing and supporting the critical and beneficial partnerships between plants and microorganisms are the book’s heroes. It’s a book everyone should read since we all have a stake in making sure the earth’s soils are as healthy as they can be.