If you’ve listened to any of Gabe Brown’s many Youtube videos, you can hear his voice in your head as you read through his recently released book, Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture. In his book, Gabe details the trials and tribulations he has endured, the lessons he’s had to unlearn, and the lessons he’s learned from numerous people he’s met and borrowed from along the way during his thirty plus years farming in North Dakota.
After four successive years of hail storms and drought knocking out his crops, that financially drained and emotionally devastated him, Gabe was forced to change the way he farmed. Gabe recounts how these tribulations changed the way he viewed his farming practices and opened his mind to innovative solutions even though all of his neighbors thought he was crazy. Plus Gabe had to unlearn all that he had been taught by his predecessors and professors, and relearn using nature as his most valuable teacher. A lot of trials, experiments and failures were part of that re-education process.
What Gabe has learned, he widely shares. As a foundation, he provides his five principles of soil health as follows: minimize disturbance as much as possible, leave armor on the surface, plant diversity, keep living roots in the soil as long as possible, and integrate animals. These are broad principles that apply to any piece of land where there’s photosynthesis. The exact details of implementation vary from farm to farm to respond to the different resource concerns.
Other key takeaways from the book include stacking enterprises, profits over yields, and having a larger sense of purpose. Stacking enterprises means having as many revenue streams as possible from commodity crops to vegetables to honey to different animal proteins to selling livestock guardian puppies. So land has multiple symbiotic uses and farmers have multiple sources of income. Plus the same land is used to grow plants, raise animals, and make honey. It’s like having a mutual fund rather than owning a single stock. Therefore all your proverbial eggs aren’t in one basket, which is what occurs too often today on many farms with commodity crops or ranches with just beef cattle or pigs. The goal isn’t to have the highest yields that take a lot of inputs to grow, but rather to reduce input costs so net profits are greater. As Gabe frequently says, “he’d rather sign the back of checks then the front of checks” plus would “take profits over yields any day.”
Though the book downplays Gabe’s beliefs, that foundation is fundamental to Gabe’s efforts since Gabe isn’t motivated by his ego as much as he is motivated by his desire to heal the planet one acre at a time for others including his children and their children. That sense of purpose and sense of being part of something greater than just one’s self is why Gabe shares what he has learned, his “good news”, so liberally with others. Chapter Ten in his book provides a small sample of the many farmers he has already impacted. These farmers- by implementing Gabe’s principles- are healing their land one farm at a time and thus restoring carbon, water and nitrogen cycles as well as producing nutrient dense food while increasing the carrying capacity of their land for both livestock and wildlife.
Thus this book gets ten stars out of five on a five star rating scale, since the embedded wisdom is immense though conveyed in language that’s very accessible and understandable even for people who spend all their time in urban environments.
On a final note, too often, institutions train people to accept and follow rather than question. Thus learning is often based more on dogma and indoctrination rather than open minded explorations. Such an indoctrination reinforces the status quo , pushes an agenda and or financially benefits vested interests. Often not until people are faced with calamity, failure, or even tragedy do they challenge the prevailing paradigms. Such duress makes them question those paradigms and free themselves figuratively and literally from the matrix they’re consciously and unconsciously entangled in. These people, like Gabe Brown, then see the world through a new set of enlightened eyes and share their new visions so others can also help make our planet a better place to live and thrive on.
That’s the Gospel according to Gabe.