Optimism about scientific observations and what people can do to improve the environment makes this book inspiring.
In Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country, Courtney White provides a compelling and practical account of how carbon--an essential element and building block of life--may hold the answer to many pressing issues. Smart land use that captures carbon in the soil can enhance the climate, plant and animal diversity, our waterways, the quality of our food, and our quality of life in general. An engaging storyteller, White describes farmers, ranchers, scientists, artists, and many "everyday" people who are putting these ideas into action.
We all live in carbon country, White says, and we all make decisions that can have a positive impact on the health of our planet. White begins with an accessible overview of the chemistry of carbon molecules, photosynthesis, the carbon cycle, and factors that influence the amount of carbon fixed in the soil. Much of the book focuses on food production on farms and ranches, but it also considers individuals in suburban and urban settings using the same principles, including coastal ecologists studying the New Orleans river delta, a water architect creatively restoring creeks and watersheds in New Mexico, and a rooftop farmer in New York City pioneering urban agriculture.
White is a former activist who dropped out of the "conflict industry" to "build bridges" between ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists, and others. His optimism infuses this book. Noting that carbon is often cast as the "bad guy" in discussions about climate change and fossil fuels, White reframes the issue and suggests that the villain may actually be the hero.
In chapters on ranching and farming, White draws extensively--and convincingly--on research to demonstrate how informed land use improves soil quality by "sequestering" carbon. For instance, in promoting no-till farming, he cites emerging science on the symbiotic link between plant roots and a soil fungus known as mycorrhiza that helps to fix carbon and significantly improve soil fertility.
Elsewhere, chapters on urban farming, watershed management, and similar efforts are less quantitative and rely instead on observation and anecdote, but they are just as thought-provoking. He suggests the dramatic decline in beaver populations may be a key cause for dwindling water supplies in the West, and he profiles naturalists working to encourage beaver dams to improve the quality of waterways. White has crafted a challenging, engaging narrative that will compel many readers to reconsider the link between our soil and the future of our planet.© 2014 Foreword Magazine, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
White (Revolution on the Range) is the Santa Fe-based cofounder of the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes "land health." This title recounts the author's recent journeys around the United States and Australia to selected farms, ranches, parks, and gardens. There, innovative owners or managers are improving yields while regenerating soil and sequestering carbon. According to White, soil is the last major carbon sink available to help regulate rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. His subjects use successful but unusual practices that others are still reluctant to adopt. They include no-till farming with cover crops, targeted timed grazing, common fields for pastures and crops, combined sheep and cattle herds, removal of woody vegetation, reflooding of drained wetlands, protection of beaver colonies, careful stream bed restoration, and encouragement of wildlife. The author notes that young landowners are using social media and opensource software like Farm Hack to share ideas and resources. VERDICT White makes some digressions, but his easygoing style links the many enterprises he covers. This book should be a hit with farmers and ranchers who want to kick over established traces, rethink their operations, and build rich soils.--David R. Conn, formerly with Surrey Libs., BC[Page 125]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.