Unmaking the Deserts, Rethinking Climate Change, Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food
By Judith Schwartz
Chelsea Green Publishing
As humankind faces more news stories about numerous natural resource issues including climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, and wildfires, a certain despair and apathy becomes almost palpable. For that reason, the need for books that show people what can be done has never been greater. I believe that’s why Cows Save the Planet by Judith Schwartz has touched a cord for so many readers (currently #17 on Amazon for books about sustainable agriculture).
I have noticed that one of the key motivators for beginning farmers and ranchers these days is that agriculture has the capability of actually allowing people to create healthy land while they make a living. That cannot be said for many other businesses. As Schwartz points out, properly managed soils can address the natural resource issues noted above as well as other issues such as rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity (think nutrient dense food). By weaving stories of people managing the land for improved soil health—a veritable who’s who of Holistic Management: Allan Savory, Gabe Brown, Peter Donovan, Christine Jones, Abe Collins, Ian Mitchell-Innes, Gene Goven, Colin Seis, Jim Howell, and Zachary Jones—with the research of many of the top climate change, soil, and water scientists, she provides the case and motivation to step up and join the carbon revolution.
Schwartz is not stingy with the statistics and goes to great length to explain the carbon cycle and how carbon sequestration works and how it can affect atmospheric carbon levels. She also uses her journalistic training to engage readers in the personal stories of the farmers and ranchers she includes. But all is not rosy in the book as she brings up the myriad issues that keep cows or people or dung beetles from saving the planet. Because Nature functions in wholes those people practicing holistic planned grazing must still deal with drought, insufficient infrastructure, large agribusiness competition, and a host of issues that keeps this “solution” from being a simple silver bullet.
Whether asking questions not only about how long it can take to improve soil health, but also those regarding the profitability of these enterprises, the challenge of finding good labor, and how people can effectively implement holistic planned grazing with the many variables that come into play, Schwartz points out that saving the planet is no easy task. As Brandon Dalton notes, “As for people excited about Holistic Management, there’s no shortage…People with the skills is another story.”
My only criticism regarding the book is that Schwartz often seems to confuse Holistic Management with Holistic Planned Grazing. For example, she notes, “With Holistic Management, it’s livestock that get it all going.” I would say that it is the people who can manage their land effectively and partner with Nature to improve land health that get it all going. Livestock are one very good tool, especially when managed with Holistic Planned Grazing, but we have a host of tools in our toolbox and it is the tool of human creativity that will help people improve soil function. Holistic Management is the whole farm planning tool that will help the blueberry farmer in Maine as well as the cattle rancher in Texas make their little piece of the planet a better place.
So, if you want a book that simultaneously tells many engaging stories of people who are passionate about finding ways to manage the land for increased health and productivity and explains the intricacies of soil health and the economic and social forces at play, then Cows Save the Planet is the book for you. To purchase this book go to: https://holisticmanagement.org/store/books/