Reviews for Grass, Soil, Hope : A Journey through Carbon Country

Book News Reviews
A practical understanding of the natural carbon cycle is essential to removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere: this book by Courtney White asserts, explains, and elaborates upon this premise. The author writes for a general audience, avoiding unnecessary technicalities. At the start, White introduces the idea that livestock--cattle and sheep in particular--is the essential and often missing link in our relationship with the carbon cycle. In arguing for cows, he lays the foundation for related permacultural intelligence. White profiles successful pioneers in the areas of biodiesel fuel, no-till agriculture, online networks Farm Hack and Public Lab, soil science, and cover crops. He spends time with a rancher and his mixed population of cows and sheep, called a "flerd." He believes in the importance of his insights, and runs an organization called the Quivira Coalition dedicated to spreading them and building economic and ecological resilience far and wide. Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Choice Reviews 2014 December

When one thinks of climate change, soil generally is not the first thing that comes to mind.  White (Revolution on the Range, 2008), however, takes readers on a journey demonstrating the carbon sequestration power of dirt.  He visited ranchers, farmers, urban agriculturists, restoration ecologists, and scientists across the US and in Australia and outlines approaches that not only decrease carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere but also improve ecosystem and human health.  Though the case studies clearly show the myriad benefits of these techniques, which include no-till agriculture, pasture cropping, planned grazing systems, and wetland restoration, White also acknowledges challenges that might arise in implementing them.  Other books extolling the importance of soil have come out recently and cover much of the same ground.  White's background as the cofounder of the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit that brings together ranchers, environmentalists, and scientists to work to improve land health and build resilience, gives him an inside perspective on the issues he presents and makes the book more accessible to ranchers.  Although he sometimes strays off on unrelated tangents, overall, this is an engaging and hopeful read of how humans can work with nature for a brighter future. Summing Up: Recommended. Students of all levels, general readers, and professionals/practitioners.

--E. G. Harrington, Universities at Shady Grove

Eileen G. Harrington

Universities at Shady Grove

Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

"ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2014 - Summer Issue: June 1, 2014"

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.

Kirkus Reviews 2014 May #2
White (Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West, 2008 etc.) shows how taking measures to increase the carbon content of the soil can help mitigate global warming.The author explains that after years of working on environmentalist issues as a Sierra Club activist, he became dispirited by the "constant brawling between environmental activists and loggers, ranchers and other rural residents." In 1997, he and a partner decided to put their ideas into practice and started a nonprofit ranch based on the migratory behavior of bison feeding in a natural habitat. The venture failed after the 2008 financial collapse, but the author was convinced that they were on the right track. He believed that with proper soil management, ambient carbon dioxide could be significantly reduced, which would also increase the quality of the food we eat. "Around 30 to 40 percent of the carbon created by photosynthesis can be exuded directly into soil via plant roots to nurture the microbes that help plants grow and build healthy soil," writes the author. White traveled to speak with soil scientists and visited ranches in the American Southwest and Australia to witness how modern, high-tech ranches were using satellite monitoring and on-the-ground scrutiny to check the condition of the land. He discovered massive ranches that were divided into continually monitored small plots, where farmers tested the soil and ground cover conditions and moisture in order to determine where and when to rotate cattle, which were contained by solar-powered, mobile fencing. White also spoke with scientists at the University of California whose experimental data buttressed his hypotheses about carbon soil capture. The author reports efforts to restore wetlands that "can sequester carbon at rates up to fifty times those of tropical forests." White concludes that some sort of incentive-based carbon offset market is required to encourage high-tech investment in soil management.An inspiring can-do approach to the threat of global warming. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2014 June #1

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.