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  • Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life by David R. Montgomery
Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life. By David R. Montgomery. New York: W. W. Norton, 2017. 317 pp. Notes, sources, index. $26.95 cloth.

The Dust Bowl was an eye-opening, harrowing period for agriculture on the Great Plains. Even after nearly 90 years it continues to be the example of consequences of overworking, degrading, and missing one of our most important resources—soil. This cataclysmic event led to the common understanding and implementation of reduced tillage techniques, keeping plants on the land, and returning nutrients to the soil. But with decreasing crop values, decreasing yields, and rising input costs for fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, and technology, [End Page 177] conventional and simple no-till practices are not maintaining the health of the world's agricultural land. In fact, most are worsening the health of our soils and also having dire environmental impacts on other components of the natural systems.

David Montgomery's Growing a Revolution will convince readers that the modern tale of agriculture should not be about soil conservation, but rather soil restoration and regenerative farming. The author recounts examples of farmers around the world embracing regenerative farming to improve soil health, and doing so successfully. Following the author from the Great Plains, to Africa, South and Central America, and back, Montgomery shows that using innovative regenerative farming practices is not only improving soil health and rebuilding soil organic matter but also dramatically increasing crop yields and decreasing chemical inputs, pesticide use, and fuel costs. Montgomery is quick to note that while no-till, cover crops, and diverse crop rotations are common practices in the Great Plains, they are proving most successful when all three are used together. These practices have also been shown to have additional environmental benefits—reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by returning it to the soil, reducing runoff of key plant nutrients that degrade groundwater and surface-water systems, and generating more drought-resilient cropping systems through improved soil conditions.

Agriculture is at the heart of the Great Plains, where the farmers take pride in their land and their businesses. Most know their fields as well as the faces of their family, and hope to pass their land and history on to their future generations. The spirit and tenacity of the earliest homesteaders runs deep through the veins of the Great Plains. Montgomery makes an honest and compelling point that in order for farmers to restore the health of their soils and pass on better land to future generations, they will need to generate bottom-up change. Farmers must look beyond farm programs, agronomists, and extension agents, to the farmers in their region who are already seeing the successes of these changes. The author provides examples of four different operations from Kansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota, which prove there is no single method or recipe for improving soil health, but which provide a framework of "ditch the plow, cover up, and grow diversity" that can work for all farms.

Growing a Revolution should be required reading for those who not only grow food but eat food. It will inspire and encourage readers to rethink the vitality of soil health for sustained and responsible food production for a growing world. Montgomery hints at how regenerative farming can restore the idyllic image and thinking of the thick, dark, fertile soils of the Great Plains, capable of producing a bounty to feed a growing world.

Rebecca Young
Department of Agronomy and Horticulture
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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