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Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life

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For centuries, agricultural practices have eroded the soil that farming depends on, stripping it of the organic matter vital to its productivity. Now conventional agriculture is threatening disaster for the world’s growing population. In Growing a Revolution, geologist David R. Montgomery travels the world, meeting farmers at the forefront of an agricultural movement to restore soil health. From Kansas to Ghana, he sees why adopting the three tenets of conservation agriculture—ditching the plow, planting cover crops, and growing a diversity of crops—is the solution. When farmers restore fertility to the land, this helps feed the world, cool the planet, reduce pollution, and return profitability to family farms.

320 pages, Paperback

First published May 9, 2017

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About the author

David R. Montgomery

14 books150 followers
David R. Montgomery is a MacArthur Fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington. He is an internationally recognized geologist who studies landscape evolution and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies. An author of award-winning popular-science books, he has been featured in documentary films, network and cable news, and on a wide variety of TV and radio programs, including NOVA, PBS NewsHour, Fox and Friends, and All Things Considered. When not writing or doing geology, he plays guitar and piano in the band Big Dirt. He lives in Seattle, with his wife Anne Biklé and their black lab guide-dog dropout Loki.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews
Profile Image for Cory Meeks.
4 reviews1 follower
June 19, 2017
Now I want to be a farmer.

I've been interested in gardening for a few years now. My dad gardened when I was young, but only recently have I owned land to garden.

I first heard of this book from an Urban Farming podcast, and I was intrigued. Soil science has been a new interest of mine, and I had never heard of most of the methods and practices in this book.

I'm not a true environmentalist, I don't fight for the whales, or boycott slaughtering animals, but anyone would want to be a good steward of the Earth. The philosophies in this book demonstrate that you don't need to sacrifice profits for 'going green' on the farm. In fact, it seems it might be more profitable. Shock, shock.

I'm inspired now to not only continue gardening, but to save up and buy some land! Hope my wife agrees with this whim.
4,754 reviews50 followers
March 27, 2017
I won an ARC of this book in a goodreads drawing.

An important book about returning fertility back to our soils, without becoming dependent on artificial fertilizers.

Two aspects elevate this above the usual book about environmental concerns.

First it isn't written in apocalyptic overtones. It doesn't feel like somebody is yelling "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!" in your face all the time. This is a refreshing change.

Second, while I don't believe all of the author's solutions are workable, at least they are all based on grass roots efforts, rather than the usual, "give more money and power to bureaucrats" solution most of these books favor.

If you're at all interested in soil, even the soil in your garden, it's well worth reading.
Profile Image for Stephen.
644 reviews15 followers
April 14, 2019
Nearly everything that nourishes terrestrial biota grows in a micro-thin layer of the earth’s surface that is fast running out -- topsoil. Yet while people of good will march by the many thousands for clean air or clean water, no one marches about the ongoing loss and impending disappearance of a resource (sustainably fertile soil) as important to higher forms of life on earth as are clean air and drinkable water. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2015 that at the current rate of soil depletion, the world has only about sixty harvests left. https://www.sej.org/headlines/only-60... While I disagree with George Monbiot on some things, everyone should study his 2015 blog post https://www.theguardian.com/commentis... Click on the link and read it now.
The scarcely-noticed state of the soil is as bad as the more palpable breakdown of the climate. The world needs a “man on the moon” project or a WWII type mobilization to reverse greenhouse gas buildup, and needs a parallel effort, no less important, to save our soils. “Regenerative agriculture” (RA) with its congeners (e.g. “conservation agriculture,” “permaculture”, “sustainable agriculture” ) is the best road map to that end.
What a blessing, then, that RA also has a potential role in reversing the rapid buildup of atmospheric CO2 and consequent global heating that now threatens the globe. See http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-report... RA builds and heals soils by removing (“drawing down”) CO2 from the atmosphere. Because this role, even all-out, seems second fiddle to ending GHG emissions, it is downplayed or outright ignored by many climate salvors who are preoccupied with fossil fuel flux.
Suppose, though, that to save our soil (SOS) were called as important to the living earth as to prevent an additional half -degree C of temperature anomaly. You could argue this either way. If it isn’t equally important, or is not so recognized, we still have nothing to lose and much to gain by committing to regenerative agriculture.
Discussion of RA focuses more on soil than on atmosphere, though the two interact intimately. Among the many good books in this field I have not found one better than Growing A Revolution. Compared to Call of the Reed Warbler, which I recently reviewed, it has more American figures and accounts, e.g. regenerative rancher icon Gabe Brown of North Dakota , Punjab-born Ohio State Professor Rattan Lal and Franklin B. King (d. 1911) on whose long-neglected work Jerome Rodale later drew heavily. Wes Jackson deservedly gets highlighted in both. Montgomery’s chapter “Closing the Loop” has a touching coda to the work of Justus von Liebig, known to most of us as the father of NPK chemical fertilizers. In his later writings, von Liebig espoused returning organic matter to the soil ; sad to say, by then his acolytes and the industries they worked for had stolen the show.
Growing a Revolution makes a very strong case that most farmers and ranchers, including smallholders, will benefit fiscally by shifting to RA. Its lower input costs mean more profit; its lower cultivation needs mean more discretionary time. Regenerated soil will better endure the ravages of drought and flood in a breaking climate while growing more nutrient-dense food. Biodiversity of plants, animals and insects will improve. Yields may at first go down, but so do input costs; mass of yield, in any case, should not be the marker of interest. That should be (say) yield adjusted for quality/input + labor costs. For that matter, yields can go up greatly once RA is in the saddle.
Near the end comes the best treatment I have found on the vexing question of why, if it’s such a good idea, regenerative agriculture has so few followers still. Reasons include (a) crop insurance policies (b) funding of most academic research and teaching by mono-culture and chemical oriented businesses (c) low availability of capital to support the first couple of years of transition (d) the agri-business lobby (e) too few inspiring examples close to home, easy to visit (f) ordinary human risk aversion. Denial of “climate change” –this is significant--does not make the list.
I learned a lot from both books, this and Reed Warbler. If an American only has time for one, she or he might go first for the less discursive, less lyrical, more USA-based one that Prof Montgomery has written. . . . _ _ _ . . . . . . _ _ _ . . . . . . _ _ _ . . . SOS SOS SOS SAVE OUR SOILS
Profile Image for Grace.
203 reviews5 followers
November 7, 2017
I heard an interview with the author on one of my favorite podcasts, You Bet Your Garden, a few months back and I was so fascinated by what he was proposing that I had to read this book.

Well, I'm convinced. The health of our soil directly impacts how we all live and how we will continue to live in the future. Without soil full of organic matter, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides leach and run off fields, contaminating water and creating algal blooms far downstream. Soil stripped of organic matter through plowing and high chemical inputs literally blows away, has a decreased capacity to take in and store water and carbon, is more susceptible to the ravages of droughts and floods, and won't produce high crop yields for the farmers who work it.

This isn't a book about organic versus conventional agriculture. It's about how conservation agriculture can literally bring life back into the soil, thereby increasing the soil's capacity to store water, carbon, and deliver nutrients to plants. Conservation agriculture can be practiced by both organic and conventional farmers-- over time, BOTH farmers will have less need of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, whether chemical or organic, as long as they follow the three steps of conservation agriculture: minimal disturbance of the soil (no plowing or tilling the soil, which exposes and kills all kinds of beneficial soil microbes and fungi), covering/mulching the soil (with both crop residue and a diversity of cover crops) and a diverse rotation of crops. It is a low-input way of farming that, if all three of these things are done and done correctly, will increase yields, and drastically reduce the need for chemical inputs.

This book made me realize that organic is not the end-all of sustainable agriculture. We can do even better than organic. If organic farmers do not follow all the tenants of conservation agriculture to put organic matter back into the soil, they are destroying the land and soil just as much as conventional farmers.

Montgomery doesn't visit universities and talk with academics about CA. He visits farmers in both the U.S. and Africa who actually farm this way, and have been doing so for decades, in many instances. Reading about the results he actually sees in the farms and test fields is seriously amazing. I can't imagine why anyone, after visiting these farms, wouldn't go back and farm this way and never look back. Of course, as Montgomery points out, this low-tech way of farming, that eventually reduces reliance on chemical inputs, is not a lucrative idea for agro-chemical companies to promote, since they are making their money on those with no organic matter or nutrients in their soil.

Also-- there are many ways of building healthy soil. Montgomery discusses grazing, biochar, biosolids. The wonderful thing about conservation agriculture is that it can be adapted for specific areas and what is available to the farmers there.

I found this book absolutely fascinating. I also feel like somewhat of a convert! I enjoy gardening, and do not use any kind of chemicals on my lawn or garden, since I want to encourage bees and other insects, and wildlife into my suburban yard. I am always open to better ways of doing things. I intend on following the ideas of conservation agriculture on a much smaller scale in my backyard to build up my dry, sandy soil.
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,238 reviews163 followers
August 8, 2017
It’s safe to say that something is wrong with our agricultural system when neighbors collectively sue those who feed them for poisoning their water.
In its own way as damning as Dark Money. The agricultural business is in trouble because so many farmers are in debt to the companies like Koch Industries and Monsanto who supply farmers, who want to keep selling farmers chemical fertilizers even though we now know chemical fertilizers are bad for soil health.

What it all comes down to is this, conservation agriculture improves soil health, sequesters carbon in the ground, and saves farmers money. It revolves around three practices:
- minimum disturbance of the soil (no-tilling)
- growing cover crops
- complex, diverse crop rotation

Not quite as compelling a narrative as Dirt, but still good.


Learning about roots:


Manure in Asia:

We basically wouldn't need chemical fertilizers anymore:

Longterm restructuring of our agricultural system:


Crop insurance and farm subsidies are a problem:

One solution to get young people to start farming (landbanking and homesteading 2.0):
Profile Image for Adina.
19 reviews23 followers
December 9, 2018
was inspiring Thanksgiving holiday reading. Written by MacArthur Fellowship recipient David Montgomery of the University of Washington, the book reports on global examples of farmers adopting practices of “conservation agriculture” which restore soil as a renewable resource, instead of degrading soil over time.

By avoiding plowing, using cover crops, and employing crop rotation, farmers are able to use much lower levels of fertilizers, pesticides and fuel and make higher profits, with less vulnerability to drought and storms. These practices result in less polluting runoff, better habitat for biodiversity, and – not least – store increasing amounts of carbon in the soil.

The book explains how relatively recent scientific progress in soil ecology and microbiology has provided greater understanding of the systems that build up productive soil – plants have symbiotic relationships whereby they feed sugars to fungi that deliver nutrients to plants and emit proteins that hold soil together; the fungi have symbiotic relationships with bacteria that metabolize nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals. Earthworms, termites, ants, other invertebrates and their micro-symbionts help digest compost, recycle nutrients and structure soils to retain water.

This mutualistic ecosystem is much more complex than simplistic equations that calculate the amount of fertilizer and water inputs needed to grow plants for harvest. Input-based agriculture can deliver high crop yields in the short term, but degrades the soil leading to lower productivity over time.

The practice of plowing breaks the connections between plants and the fungi that feed them; plants well-fed with synthetic fertilizers don’t provide nutrition to symbionts; and pesticides also kill the beneficial organisms that enable soils to hold moisture. So dry soils and extra fertilizers are washed away by irrigation and rainstorms. Fields that are plowed and treated with fertilizers and pesticides gradually lose soil, require even more fertilizer, are more vulnerable to drought and storms, and shed carbon into the atmosphere.

Healthy soil practices are extremely promising for climate protection. Scientific estimates differ, but it is clear that the broad use of agricultural practices that restore soil carbon instead of mining it could go a long way toward pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. And the book shows how farmers adopting healthy soil practices can start regenerating soil and improving farm economics within a few years – potentially leading to relatively rapid carbon drawdown.

The focus of “conservation agriculture” on building up soil health is different from the focus of “organic agriculture” on refraining from all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Farms can practice conservation agriculture, use much lower levels of pesticides and fertilizers, and increase soil carbon, but still not qualify as organic. By contrast, a farm could be certified “organic”, but use frequent plowing that breaks up soil ecosystem, and use monoculture practices that depend on “organic fertilizers”, while still eroding soil and losing carbon over time.

But “healthy soil” practices aren’t yet visible to consumers. While “organic” has become a mainstream brand allowing consumers to choose foods produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, there isn’t yet a certification system and brand allowing consumers to choose food that was grown with practices that maintain soil and climate health. The book identifies this as a potential opportunity to engage consumer power in promoting healthy soil practices.

The book identifies other institutional barriers hampering broad-scale adoption of conservation agriculture. In the US and many places around the world, agricultural education and farm support programs are largely geared toward promoting high-input monoculture. The major corporate purveyors of fertilizers and pesticides have lobbied for policies and incentives to keep the system of input-dependent monoculture well-entrenched. “Crop insurance” programs help insure farmers against drought and storms, but don’t support “preventive care” investments to help farmers get started with practices that make farms more resilient to drought and storms.

Most of the US-based farmers in the book were in red states, and had conservative, conservationist beliefs as well as economic self-interest motivating their soil health practices. Hopefully there is some combination of rural local politics and “green new deal” climate advocacy that can break the logjam and accelerate the spread of healthy soil practices.

The potential is great. “Growing a Revolution” makes a strong case that practices to reverse long-term soil damage are relatively simple, cost-effective, and transformative for farmers, ecosystems, and climate. With climate change evident in the fires burning California, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Profile Image for Riddhwaj.
14 reviews
March 25, 2019
There are good books and then there are books that change that way you see the world.

If you're into agriculture - Read it.

This is basically a collection of tales and tricks by successful farmers. And not just tricks this often talks about their distilled path to success in depth. The magic for me happened when everyone they talk about uses slightly different techniques and this made me understand the range within which I can work with, what I really must do and what I can plan for future.
Profile Image for Nicole.
51 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2021
Very well written that made the scientific content easy to understand. The idea that we have the power and knowledge to reverse the effects of soil degradation is both encouraging and frustrating if we don’t do anything about it.
Please keep in mind this book was written with the general public in mind. It may be “basic” for people with science or microbiology education but the point is to get the general public on board with thinking in these terms.

I am hooked on this topic now.
Profile Image for Tim Knutson.
8 reviews2 followers
April 17, 2021
I’ve heard people talk recently about things like vertical farming and automation as the future of agriculture. They tend to go along with other techno-solutions to humanity’s problems, like ditching earth entirely and living on Mars.

Instead this book argues that we don’t have to cut nature or soil out of the picture, that actually they are our most important resources in helping make sure we have good food and a good planet in the future. Instead of focusing on automation and technology, yields, chemical inputs, genetic modification to protect against pests and disease, organic vs conventional we can focus on what drives agriculture which is a rich soil ecosystem.

The point isn’t that technology or organic farming or any of these other areas aren’t important but that they are only insofar as they drive soil health and actually there are more effective ways of building and maintaining soil health.

The benefits of which are that healthy soil acts as a carbon sink by potentially storing large amounts of organic carbon, it retains water and keeps ground temperatures lower because of it’s spongy texture which protect crops against drought. It prevents large scale runoff that can cause erosion of arable land, flooding, and leads to fertilizer and chemicals leeching into waterways causing ecosystem destruction in rivers and oceans. It recycles nutrients and greatly reduces agricultural inputs including herbicides for weed control, insecticides, and energy intensive chemical fertilizers. It also has the potential to outproduce conventional industrial agriculture which I found counterintuitive. Working the land less also means farming takes much less time.

“Part of the Problem is that policy makers and scientists alike gravitate to silver-bullet fixes and high-tech solutions”. Instead we should recognize the ecological value all around us and work with nature instead of against it.
Profile Image for Ricky.
430 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2020
Never has so little been said in so many pages. Tilling is evil because it leads to erosion, cover crops are good because they add organic matter. There - that's the entire book. The author just rambles on about that, saying it in three hundred different ways. Instead of actual data, there are lengthy anecdotes about people who agree with this basic philosophy. Any science mentioned is at the third-grade level. "No-till" is nothing new, so its not even like this book is introducing a revolutionary new concept. There may be good reasons to till, or situations which require it, but they certainly aren't mentioned.
I may be particularly hard on this book because I really care about farming and wanted to learn about improving soil. But I also think I've developed a pretty reasonable test for non-fiction books (which is a pretty low bar): follow the book by reading the wikipedia page on the same subject. Was the wikipedia page more thorough/informative, unbiased, and/or entertaining? In this case, Wikipedia wins all three hands down.
Profile Image for Carl.
56 reviews4 followers
March 10, 2017
I received this book from the Goodreads Giveaway.

Wonderful book with a mixture of history, environmental science, agriculture, and memoir. Enjoyable narrative and facts. The author really captured no-till agriculture from various perspectives without sounding arrogant or condescending. Recommended reading for anybody interested in the sciences.
Profile Image for Nzcgzmt.
87 reviews3 followers
November 23, 2020
My grandparents were peasants. My mother lived in the rural area before adulthood but moved to the city where she found a job and a man (my dad). I have seen the preservation of manure that would be returned to the fields, but aside from that my knowledge of agriculture - let alone conservation agriculture - is as limited as a typical urban laborer. I am embarrassingly naive when it comes to the basics of field practice. That said, I keep telling myself that I should learn more. My encounter with this book was accidental - and I misunderstood its topic when I made the purchase. But at the end, I am glad that I made an effort to learn an unexpected topic - and learned quite a bit.

Topsoil is the basis of agriculture. It takes 200 - 400 years to form one centimeter of topsoil. In order to make the soil fertile, it takes about 3,000 years. Topsoil across the world is typically 13 - 25cm deep, but globally, soil loss from plowed fields averages about one millimeter a year. The introduction of heavy farming machinery and large scale monoculture is particularly disastrous to topsoil. Thus in about 200 years, we could lose all of our topsoil if aggressive farming practices continue. Historically, the duration of civilizations has some correlation to the duration of its topsoil - hence we could indeed be facing drastic consequences.

In this sequel to Dirt (which I am yet to read), David Montgomery chronicles the practice of conservation agriculture across the world. Conservation agriculture, if correctly practiced, restores the natural ecology to topsoil and rebuilds organic matter. For example, in Ghana, where the heat from tropical weather makes the natural composition of organic matter relatively low - at about 4%, aggressive farming practices have reduced the percentage to as low as 1%. But conservation agriculture can gradually restore it to its natural level over a few years.

There are three key tenets in conservation agriculture and none should be omitted: no-tillage, cover crops, and complex crop rotation. Throughout the book, Montgomery explained each concept again and again by his tours of those farming practices around the world. Other practices, such as intensive grazing, usage of biosolids, benefits of mulch, were also explained.

Montgomery is a proponent of organic farming, so his views on the effectiveness of conservation agriculture on organic farms should be taken with a grain of salt. Despite his passionate views on organic farming, he referred to a 2015 meta-analysis found that organic production averages 19% less yield than conventional methods. Buried in the data though, is that organic farms that use cover crops and rotations yield only 8% to 9% less. Montgomery further pointed out that conservation agriculture - in combination with organic farming - improves profitability (despite lower or equal yield than conventional methods) and substantially increases the organic matter in topsoil. It is interesting that the hurdle for conventional farmers to transition to organic farming is partly because of drought insurance. Drought insurance incentivizes farmers to take risks without having to worry about wipeouts.

It is interesting that 30% - 40% of all crops are lost to pests and disease before harvest (despite heavy use of pesticides). 25% of all food produced worldwide gets lost after harvest or wasted between production and consumption. Small scale local productions, rather than industrialized farms, may be a better solution to these problems. Also, based on yields per hectare for individual crops, large, mechanized farms yield more than small, diversified farms. However, based on food produced per hectare, small, diversified farms yield more - up to two times according to a 1992 US agriculture census report.

Lastly, much of the problems modern agriculture are embedded in distorted incentive structures. Despite its benefits to restoring top soil, conservation agriculture is more prevalently used in smaller farms than larger farms. Because of the reduction in chemicals and the image of using something non-modern (especially in South America), conservation practices get almost no institutional backing (bank loans, dedicated capital equipment, and crop insurance). Insurance is a unique factor - by leveling out returns through good and bad years, farmers have little incentive to try something new.

Overall, it is a fun, and informative book to read.
Profile Image for Marathon County Public Library.
1,451 reviews43 followers
October 24, 2017

Many people choose sides between conventional and organic methods of farming, assuming that you will have to settle for lower harvests and smaller produce if you don’t want your food to be poisoned by carcinogenic pesticides. Montgomery brings the reader’s attention to a third option: conservative agriculture. This means not tilling fields with a plow, planting cover crops year-round, and rotating crops regularly. The author repeatedly points out that all three factors are required to truly practice conservative agriculture—a sustainable method of farming (that can certainly be practiced organically, which re-establishes the natural relationship between plants and mycorrhizal fungi and eliminates the need for imported fertilizers. These manufactured fertilizers, used copiously across the country since after World War II, have merely propped up yields in the short term and ultimately depleted the soil.

Conservative agriculture is not just a theory. The author spends the bulk of his book providing case studies of how this method actually functions around the world from Kansas and North Dakota to Africa and Central America. In his real life examples, Montgomery exposes the expense of conventional agriculture that proves it is neither the most cost effective nor the most efficient method of farming.

This book changed the way I think about farming and the meaning of sustainable agriculture. Conservative agriculture, Montgomery states, is “a combination of good stewardship and economic gain.” His book left me with a positive attitude about the future of agriculture worldwide.

Elizabeth L. / Marathon County Public Library
Find this book in our library catalog.

Profile Image for Dawn.
152 reviews2 followers
May 24, 2021
Just after 23 minutes in, he’s extolling the benefits of no till planters but I have not yet heard how they use herbicide on the field first.

2:23. Right about this point there’s a story of a man in Pakistan back in the 60s who went to agricultural school and graduated with high honors then went back to his village and they laughed at him because he had gone to school to be taught how to plow which of course they already knew how to do it. I find it interesting that the point of this book being no till and getting high honors in a degree that was harmful. High honors in a degree that taught destruction. In other words he got good grades for learning to parrot what they taught him that was not sound. How many others do this today and yet we’re supposed to listen to them as the experts until thinking changes on a thing.

Author has mentioned the subsidies that farmers get for one thing or another and I’m wondering if they did not get them then they would’ve been forced to find a way to fix their land without dumping more garbage in it. I am against the government bailing out anyone whether it’s Wall Street or farmers because people need to have the strength to stand on their own and bad practices should not be propped up.

How are root crops grown with a no- till method? Potatoes for instance

10:11 - agree with the author that if we end farm subsidies and crop insurance the farmers will be more inclined to make the changes necessary and be innovative in what they do for their farms. Big chemical agriculture controls a lot and if the farms and farmers have become addicted to fertilizer, it’s like a meth addict that it just gets worse and worse until they die.

Overall I enjoyed the book and I think people need to wake up and do something about more earth and friendly farming practices that will hold up overtime.

Large agribusiness farms are not a good thing. Smaller more local farms support your local economies and are healthier overall.
Profile Image for Saronyd.
63 reviews
August 8, 2021
Good listen. The information is all in my field, so very little new information to me, but interesting to listen to and a good reinforcement of many components of soil restoration and regenerative agriculture.

I like the style of open ended interview-based research and observation.
Not overly technical, so probably accessible by a lay-person who is interested in the topic. (Everyone should be interested in this topic since everyone eats. IMHO)
Profile Image for Hannah.
42 reviews1 follower
April 16, 2020
I must admit that I wasn't sure about this but I was assured by my partner that it was a great read. Well, once I started I didn't put it down for long. Montgomery goes through different stages of building back soil structure and fertility through visits to different farmers in different parts of the world to see how they're all doing it. Really fascinating - especially when livestock comes into the story. While some chapters became ever so slightly repetitive you get a small idea of the bind farmers find themselves in, being sold products by big agri companies. There's one very sobering moment where he brings home what a hard life style farming is. While this doesn't focus on the UK, it's completely fascinating.
Profile Image for Lara.
15 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2020
Very interesting book, I learned a lot from it. However, to a complete novice/non-scientist it got a bit too technical at times... In addition, the chapter set in Ghana could have been more culturally sensitive.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 2 books5 followers
February 10, 2019
Book 9 of 52: Growing a Revolution: Bringing our Soil back to Life by David R. Montgomery. This was NOT a breezy, simple read, but it WAS fascinating. Montgomery discusses, at length, the practice of regenerative agriculture. He visits farms across the world that are practicing soil building techniques to build fertility and increase crop yields. The most interesting thing about what he learned, to me, was that soil building can be accomplished on BOTH organic AND conventional farms. When all aspects of regenerative agriculture - no till, cover cropping and heavy mulching, and growing a greater diversity of crops - are practiced, all kinds of farms benefit. AND conventional farms who use these regenerative practices require significantly less chemical inputs, saving them money and decreasing toxic runoff into the water supply. Everyone wins, not just those who can afford to go organic. I love books that offer solutions to some of our big environmental problems and this one definitely does. At first I was disappointed in this one because there wasn't a lot of information that's of use for a home gardener like me except an understanding of the benefits of restorative practices, which are probably EASIER to implement at the kitchen garden level. BUT if you're an environment nerd like me I highly recommend this one.

Profile Image for Lynne.
675 reviews
January 28, 2018
Montgomery covers a lot of ground...boosting knowledge and support for a new/old way of farming crops...conservation agriculture, comprised the 3 legs of no-till, cover crops, and adequate crop rotation (not just alternating corn and beans). This could easily be the answer to building up our soil to produce more with less...include animal waste and one can boost production even higher.

Unfortunately, university ag research and government programs depend almost solely on "products"...what to buy, what chemical to use, what coated seeds to plant. But most research and governmental programs ignore soil health to the detriment of feeding our country and our world.

It's time for farmers to form active co-ops to help each other during transition to conservation farming (the first 3 years almost always lead to lessening production and less income). They would be more satisfied with their yields, both that in their fields and that in their bank accounts.

This is a very important book...but it will be ignored because there isn't a lot of money for chemical producers when farmers don't need their products.
202 reviews18 followers
July 9, 2017
Growing a Revolution was an amazing eye-opener about the state of our soil. Sounds boring but it was far from it. David Montgomery wrote with clarity, many examples for the sorry state of our earth and even more hopeful stories of restoration of our agriculture and farming communities. He extensively researched, traveled to Africa, Central America, South America, Europe and Russia and the US.
He sold me on the need to restore soil health and fertility without excessive use of chemicals herbicides and fertilizers. The first chapters were somewhat technical and historical information. Reading about the men and women who profess no-till, cover crop, and crop rotation as solutions to restoring our soils was fascinating. They are the true warriors of today in their beliefs.
One can only hope that more farmers, leaders and universities read this book. This is an enjoyable read written so anyone could learn from it. The book was a gift both as a Mom's day gift and as a thoughtful read.
Profile Image for Rae.
189 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2017
While I already knew most of the information in this book, Montgomery's book is the first I have read to focus on soil as the direct resource we rely so much upon and the politics behind it. It's as if the book presents itself "okay, let's get down to business". The author clearly lines out the connecting pieces of the how, what and why of the issue. I appreciate his direct approach and hope more people read this. It is a brilliant book, intelligently written, and full of information our country needs to know and support. I never tire of the subject, though frustrating, and finding new material to feed my obsession is always exciting. If people wonder "well, what can little old me do about it?", just remember that every time you grocery shop, you are voting on this matter.
Profile Image for Andrew.
233 reviews
January 2, 2019
It's definitely worth reading if you're interested in the subject matter. It also went quite well since I had just finished the Omnivore's Dilemma which also addresses issues of soil degradation.
It could have benefited a little more with some graphics and charts showing some simple concepts like the monthly/yearly rotational planting cycle of some of the farms he visited, for instance.
While it clearly and concisely addresses the agricultural/biological/geological processes and the 3-fold system (no-till, rotate crops, cover crops) needed to restore soil what still remains to answer is how to quickly and effectively change the larger problem - the completely ingrained military/industrial/big-agro/farm subsidies/political complex that has created dead soil.

197 reviews2 followers
May 7, 2018
Well researched, this book hammers home the same points through a number of different examples. But the takeway points remain the same: no-till farming, crop rotation, and cover crops. The author paints an optimistic future of agriculture and climate change, but we have to do our part by being educated and restructuring government subsidies which currently incentivize farming practices which are leading to rapid soil erosion, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and release of carbon from soil.
Profile Image for Adam.
57 reviews
June 13, 2019
This book made me want to become a farmer (my wife encouraged me to keep my day job). It's a rare book that describes the failures of agriculture (tilling and/or 'mining' our soil) while pointing us towards solutions (conservation agriculture). Montomery does a great job bridging the gap between real life, in the trenches farmers, and researchers who can back up what conservation agriculture proponents claim. I'll be incorporating soil building techniques described here into my backyard gardening practices. Highly reccomended.
Profile Image for Dusty Wight.
38 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2017
Soil is amazing! I never knew how exciting reading about the complex ecosystem that is soil could be. After reading this book I really want to try some farming and spread conservation agriculture. It’s amazing how simple of a solution it would be to ecological, economic, and even cultural issues that we face in today’s world.
Profile Image for Tauna.
23 reviews
April 6, 2018
This great book was recommended by a friend, so i listened each morning to this edition through Hoopla (our library service) while i walked and worked out at our local YMCA. There were several take away pieces of information which will help me ranch more effectively. Might listen again to make sure i didn't miss any small bits. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Maxine.
82 reviews17 followers
March 10, 2019
Clear-eyed discussion of the case for improving soil health. While I don't agree with all of the author's conclusions with respect to "acceptable" pesticide use, his writing is clear and well referenced. This is a very readable non-fiction book given to me by a community gardener/farmer, and I'm passing it on to an environmental economics student. Spread the word.
Profile Image for Esther Marie.
260 reviews11 followers
May 22, 2017
Interesting topic. Good reporting. Great writing. This book is a must-read for those who are interested in agriculture, both large and small scale. Stay tuned for a longer review or check out what other's have already said to get a more detailed sense of of the content.
Profile Image for Haley LeRand.
8 reviews20 followers
August 17, 2018
I said so many swear words when I turned onto the last page in the book and realized it was the end. I didn't want it to end. I can't believe how long I went without reading this brilliant work. I would recommend it to everyone, but especially if you are a farmer or have friends who are farmers.
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