Stephen's Reviews > Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth

Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massy
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it was amazing
bookshelves: agriculture
Recommended for: ecologists, climate activists, food system folks, farmers

A little too abstract, a little too wise
It is time for us to kiss the earth again.

Robinson Jeffers "Return"

To say this is a book about agriculture is like saying War and Peace is a book about battles. Paul Hawken's blurb calls it "the single most important book on agriculture today." Well-put. The sub-title is A New Agriculture A New Earth. Other books published years ago, like An Agricultural Testament will have had more influence than this, published 2017. I pray this new one will motivate and move more than any other has yet. Its size, good writing and wisdom make it now the Bible of "Regenerative Agriculture," to be read, taught and quoted by farmers and ecologists whose hearts are in soil.
This book is almost completely focused on Australia, but speaks to other countries and climes as well the dire message that in the last 250 years humans have been doing terrible harm to the living earth by ruining the ultra-ultra thin skin of the planet called soil.
Regenerative agriculture aims to repair that harm by sequestering carbon in soil and trees long-term. Doing so makes farmers' lives better, makes soil more resilient to unpredictable, tumultuous weather, adds to food security and quality, creates "negative emissions" of carbon dioxide and breaks the addiction to synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that has turned farming in many places into a descending spiral.
The book has a lot of practical how-tos, but also prose poetry on animals that reminded me of Henry Beston in Herbs and the Earth and Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter; brief meditations, interviews with pioneers and a strong foundation in the literature of forestry and farming. Many of my personal favorite writers and teachers in these fields obviously influenced the writer and informed his thinking; Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Allen Savory, Albert Howard are just five. Fred Provenza I've not read but mean to. Massy learned a lot from the indigenous people of Australia, who he argues knew much better than the colonials how to live on land without spoiling it. The chapter titles are lyrical and the epigraphs for each often worth noting for future use.
Personally, I could have happily read another hundred pages of this big book if they could have brought in even more ag history plus some more contemporary studies. George Washington Carver, for example, promoted organic fertilizers even before Robert Rodale as thrifty and effective. Carver wrote that "farmers should take advantage of the finest fertilizers going to waste all over the state in the form of decaying leaves of the forest and the rich sediment of the swamp, known as 'muck.'" [Tuskegee Experimental Station Bulletin no. 41 April 1936) Dr Carver was intent on helping farmers with little or no financial resources. Further back yet, in the 1890s, Robert Elliott in his [book:The Clifton Park System of Farming and Laying Down Land to Grass|36491010] had proved, in the words of Graham Harvey, "it was possible to make profits during lean times simply by rebuilding soil fertility. This was best done not by buying expensive 'chemicals' {Harvey's word] but by laying down a good turf."The Forgiveness of Nature: The Story of Grass. For contemporary work, the good section (319 ff) on the extraordinary benefits to soil of inoculating seed with compost tea could be gracefully complemented with more description of the process, pioneered by Prof David Johnson at New Mexico State University.
The book does not say that farmers will save the world or could if we wanted to enough. It has notes of sensible hope for humanity if we all act like loving sons and daughters of the soil.
End-note: terms like "organic farming," "regenerative agriculture." "biodynamic farming" "holistic planned management," "sustainable agriculture," "permaculture" would share space in a Venn diagram but are distinct from each other. "Regenerative," for example, does not have to be "organic" though it often is. Massy's book is mostly about regenerative agriculture but addresses the other practices.
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Reading Progress

September 19, 2018 – Started Reading
September 19, 2018 – Shelved
October 11, 2018 –
page 240
53.57%
October 13, 2018 –
page 390
87.05%
October 14, 2018 – Finished Reading
October 16, 2018 – Shelved as: agriculture

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