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Gabe Brown didn't set out to change the world when he first started working alongside his father-in-law on the family farm in North Dakota. But as a series of weather-related crop disasters put Brown and his wife, Shelly, in desperate financial straits, they started making bold changes to their farm. Brown – in an effort to simply survive – began experimenting with new practices he'd learned about from reading and talking with innovative researchers and ranchers. As he and his family struggled to keep the farm viable, they found themselves on an amazing journey into a new type of farming: regenerative agriculture.
Brown dropped the use of most of the herbicides, insecticides, and synthetic fertilizers that are a standard part of conventional agriculture. He switched to no-till planting, started planting diverse cover crops mixes, and changed his grazing practices. In so doing Brown transformed a degraded farm ecosystem into one full of life – starting with the soil and working his way up, one plant and one animal at a time.
In Dirt to Soil Gabe Brown tells the story of that amazing journey and offers a wealth of innovative solutions to our most pressing and complex contemporary agricultural challenge – restoring the soil. The Brown's Ranch model, developed over twenty years of experimentation and refinement, focuses on regenerating resources by continuously enhancing the living biology in the soil. Using regenerative agricultural principles, Brown's Ranch has grown several inches of new topsoil in only twenty years! The 5,000-acre ranch profitably produces a wide variety of cash crops and cover crops as well as grass-finished beef and lamb, pastured laying hens, broilers, and pastured pork, all marketed directly to consumers.
The key is how we think, Brown says. In the industrial agricultural model, all thoughts are focused on killing things. But that mindset was also killing diversity, soil, and profit, Brown realized. Now he channels his creative thinking toward how he can get more life on the land – more plants, animals, and beneficial insects. "The greatest roadblock to solving a problem," Brown says, "is the human mind".
Gabe Brown is a pioneer of the soil-health movement and has been named one of the twenty-five most influential agricultural leaders in the United States. Brown, his wife, Shelly, and son, Paul, own Brown's Ranch, a holistic, diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. The Browns integrate their grazing and no-till cropping systems, which include cash crops and multi-species cover crops along with all-natural, grass-finished beef and lamb, pastured pork, and laying hens. The Brown family has received a Growing Green Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the USA Zero-Till Farmer of the Year Award.
"This book is a must read for anybody who thinks that the 'Green Revolution' has been a success. Gabe Brown provides a heartfelt personal account of his journey and awakening to a new perspective on the importance of soil biology and the urgent need for a return to regenerative integrated organic farming methods, not just to feed the world but also to save the ecosystem from imminent disaster."
– Stephanie Seneff, senior research scientist, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
"Dirt to Soil skillfully describes the learning process and rich rewards of perseverance in the conversion from yield-driven farm practices that degrade soils to the regeneration processes that provide pride, productivity, nutrition, health, and sustainability to the basic infrastructure of society – agriculture. The core values of stewardship Gabe Brown describes for managing the agricultural ecology are reinforced by science that links diverse components so they function together to benefit everyone and everything in the dynamic rejuvenation of soils. The principles are exemplified through firsthand experiences that not only explain what, why, and how things need to change, but also provide the motivation to start doing them. The book provides hope that nutrition and health can be guiding principles in food production for successive generations to displace the 'Band-Aid' interventions adopted by the past two generations that have resulted in serious, unintended negative consequences."
– Don M. Huber, emeritus professor of plant pathology, Purdue University
"Gabe Brown's dirt-to-soil story is an inspiring example of how land can flourish when a farmer tunes out the textbooks and chemical purveyors and starts listening to nature. Brown has become a folk hero in regenerative agriculture circles, and this book delivers his trademark candor and ability to cut through myth, jargon, and generations of bad advice to reveal essential dynamics of how farm ecosystems work. By keeping it real, this practical, spirited, and timely book can help spark an agricultural shift from conventional wisdom to common sense."
– Judith D. Schwartz, author of Cows Save the Planet and Water in Plain Sight
"After hearing a presentation by Gabe Brown, many people picture Brown's Ranch in North Dakota as some sort of Xanadu where nothing goes wrong. This book provides a realistic perspective on Gabe's struggles in a challenging environment. Gabe and his family didn't let the challenges defeat them; they viewed them as opportunities to learn and innovate. This determination has made Gabe one of the leaders in the movement to regenerate soils. He has also helped to push, pull, and drag science toward finding solutions to solve our current farm and food crises. Farmers and ranchers like Gabe Brown and the others whose stories are told in Dirt to Soil are addressing the critical need to develop resilient systems that provide abundant, nutrient-dense food on regenerated soils that efficiently cycle nutrients and water through diverse biological communities."
– Kris Nichols, PhD, soil microbiologist, KRIS Systems Education and Consultation
"Gabe Brown's story is a journey of hope and freedom for all those who care about food, health, and the earth. His passion to heal the land and serve others has shaken the foundations of the industrial agriculture model. The industrial agriculture complex is an insatiable furnace of consumption that devours soil, leaves farm families destitute, and impoverishes rural communities – ultimately destroying nations. Who would have thought that a North Dakota rancher would lead the regenerative agriculture revolution, a campaign that shows us a new way of growing nutritious food – food that is medicine and that nurtures and honors all of creation. Because of Gabe Brown, I have hope for the future of agriculture. Dirt to Soil is a must read!"
– Ray Archuleta, "The Soil Guy," retired USDA/NRCS soil health specialist.
"If you have interest in your health or saving the earth or eating food that tastes the way food should, you have heard a lot recently about regenerative farming. There are dozens (or hundreds) of self-proclaimed experts on the subject. Here is what I know: Gabe Brown is the Real Deal. He has done more than anyone to bridge the gap between research scientists and practicing farmers. His understanding of how to put the science of soil regeneration into practice is unsurpassed. Dirt to Soil should be required reading for every industrial farmer on the face of the earth."
– Will Harris, White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, Georgia
"Dirt to Soil is the perfect title for this new book from Gabe Brown. It is an apt metaphor to describe the Brown family's escape, through intelligence and determination, from their entrapment in an agricultural model that has failed economically, ecologically, and as a source of quality of life for the family. Their accomplishment stems from their realization that long-term success is possible only when all parts of the soil-plant-animal-wealth-human complex we call a farm/ranch are nurtured simultaneously. The Browns understand that agriculture must be about promoting life. It must be regenerative."
– Walt Davis, author of How to Not Go Broke Ranching
"I can no longer drive by a farm without wanting to get out of the car and start planting cover crops. Dirt to Soil is an entertaining, illuminating read that will change the way people think about agriculture."
– Mark Schatzker, author of The Dorito Effect
"There is growing awareness that industrialized agricultural methods are doing considerable damage to our soil, farms, and planet. The way we farm needs to change, and Dirt to Soil is about to transform the way agriculture is practiced around the world. This book is filled with excellent advice on how to farm by following Mother Nature's guidance, seasoned with Gabe's great sense of humor and humility."
– Colin Seis, agricultural management consultant; owner of Winona, New South Wales, Australia
"Reading Dirt to Soil is like having a personal conversation with Gabe Brown about the changes he witnessed as he put regenerative practices into place on Brown's Ranch. Most important is his clear message about capturing the value of his system by marketing directly to the consumer. In Gabe's words, he 'prefers to sign the back of the check, not the front.'"
– Dwayne Beck, PhD, manager, Dakota Lakes Research Farm; professor of plant science, South Dakota State University
"Civilization after civilization plowed itself out of prosperity by degrading the soil. Gabe Brown's inspiring story shows why regenerative farming to rebuild healthy, fertile soil is not just an academic theory – it's already been done on farms like his."
– David R. Montgomery, author of Dirt and Growing a Revolution
"Dirt to Soil is an inspiration! Gabe Brown offers a proven model that will help other farmers improve their soils and our planet. More and more growers are starting to realize that they must be soil farmers first and foremost. Gabe helps us imagine what the health of our planet would look like and how the profitability of farms, both large and small, would improve if all of us shift the way we practice agriculture. His message to mimic nature rather than trying to fight against her resonates with everyone who cares about the quality of our food and our future."
– Todd Colehour, founder, Williams and Graham and Tribe Market
"Gabe Brown's Dirt to Soil could not be more timely, as farmers are beginning to see an increase in costs of the fertilizers and many other inputs they rely on. Gabe provides us with his complete story of how he transitioned to a largely self-renewing and self-regulating (regenerative) farming system. Even though I have been an organic farmer for 40 years, I was amazed at how much I learned from reading Dirt to Soil. I highly recommend it to all farmers and food entrepreneurs, especially anyone interested in anticipating future changes and preparing for them in advance."
– Frederick Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; author of Cultivating an Ecological Conscience
"Restoring the productivity of agricultural land is one of the most urgent imperatives of our time. In this landmark book, Gabe Brown explains, step by step, how farmers and ranchers can transform lifeless dirt to healthy topsoil, offering a profound yet elegantly simple blueprint for reversing land degradation across the globe."
– Dr. Christine Jones, soil ecologist; founder of amazingcarbon.com
"Civilization was made possible by agriculture developed over the centuries by ordinary people domesticating plants and animals using the emerging biological sciences. Today mainstream agriculture – dominated by monoculture cropping and confined animal feeding – is the most destructive industry ever to evolve. Based on chemistry and marketing of technology, current agricultural practices produce twenty times more dead, eroding soil than food, year after year. In this dangerous time, Gabe Brown's book comes as a breath of fresh air, showing by example what any farmer who cares enough about the future can do by following sound ecological principles and using common sense and imagination."
– Allan Savory, president, Savory Institute