An interview with Judith D Schwarz, writer, author of two very important books in the Regenerative Agriculture space: one on cows and soil carbon mostly and one on water and the water systems we usually don’t consider.
Judith is the writer of Cows save the Planet and Water in Plain sight, examples from around the world on what is possible with soil.
Her recent work looks at soil as a hub for multiple environmental, economic and social challenges-and solutions. Both books are highly recommended when you want to learn more about what is possible with soil and agriculture.
Judith’s books and articles:
We discussed how she ended up looking at Soil and why she is so enthusiastic about nature’s way of solving issues.
- How does natural systems work to manage a particular problem? (in this case heat or carbon)
- Plants are running the show
- Plant life is cooling the planet
- Plants manage water and by managing water they manage heat
- We ‘devegetated’ about 25% of the planet with pavements, buildings, industrial agriculture and deforestation
- Financial system doesn’t make any sense because we are rewarded for things that don’t create any wealth but from extraction (it only makes sense in the short term)
- Most people don’t know that we can restore large scale ecosystems
Links to organisations Judith mentioned:
- slowmoney.org (where the story starts)
- Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon
And the documentary of John D. Liu on the Loess plateau
TEXT SUMMARY OF THE INTERVIEW
Judith D Schwartz: So I was at this conference and I heard a statement that simply would not let me go. And that was that over time, more CO2 has gone into the atmosphere from agricultural practice, from the soil compared to the burning of fossil fuels. And that fairly hit me over the head because I felt that I was somewhat knowledgeable about climate change.
Judith D Schwartz: That for every increase of soil, organic carbon off 1 percent, that represents an additional 7000 gallons per acre of water that can be held in the soil.
Judith D Schwartz: How do you pick a title for your book perspective? I was thinking about it and writing a book about soil. I mean, soil is kind of like a word that might in many instances end the conversation. Oh, I’m writing a book about soil and someone might look at you and say, OK, that sounds very interesting. I think I’ll move to the next person I might meet at this cocktail party. You know, soil isn’t considered sexy.
Judith D Schwartz: The way I often look at it is so in trying to understand challenges that we have, one can look at natural systems and ask how did our natural environments deal with those challenges? So holistic management, this particular way of approaching the management of grazing animals. It resolves a challenge that in nature. How do arid environments, specifically areas of seasonal rainfall, which is a large percentage of our climate. It happens to be of our planet, not where you live in the Netherlands or where I live in Vermont, in the United States, where we have moisture distributed fairly evenly throughout the year. But in much of the world, we have rainy season and a dry season. And so nature had the challenge. How do we maintain moisture in the soil in order to sustain plant and microbial life from the end of one rainy season to the beginning of the next? And the solution that nature came up with was through the behavior and the digestive system of grazing animals.
Judith D Schwartz: So since the way that we humans have been managing the earth, we lack the predators that had managed those animals and we lack the huge roving herds that had existed in these seasonally dry landscapes through history. And so that leaves a void. So that void can be filled by humans managing grazing animals in a way that they had acted in natural ecosystems so that the grazing animals, they would nibble. The plants in a way that stimulated the growth of plants, their waste hydrated and fertilized the soil and their trampling crest in the decaying, the dying plant matter. The dried-out plant matter so that it could be acted upon by the microbial life, all of which maintain moisture in the soil. And those animals in turn were managed by predators that would keep them on the move. And without those predators in our landscapes right now, then we humans can manage those animals in the same way.
Judith D Schwartz: Sometimes when I explain the book, I’d say that it’s that exploration of water as a verb as opposed to merely water as a noun.
Judith D Schwartz: What struck me was that in our conversations our public conversations about the California drought, what was missing was land. That drought was looked upon as a matter of what does or doesn’t come down from the sky. And land degradation was not mentioned at all.
Judith D Schwartz: All over the U.S. during the California drought and the headline was something like we needed. I think it was eleven trillion Olympic swimming pools worth of rainfall so that we could beat the drought. And that amused me because, well, you know, that’s all very well and good. But if we continued to degrade the land, the huge expanses of land in California that are used as that are range lands, once thriving grasslands or agricultural lands, if we mismanaged them, well, then 11 trillion swimming pools worth of rainfall won’t really help the problem. In fact, that would be a waste of perfectly good swimming pool water. However, if we did restore those lands and really focused on how to manage them better, then maybe we could get away with much less in terms of our swimming pool use of water.
Judith D Schwartz: While we look at climate change as a matter of carbon, we’re missing the fact that water is a huge thermal regulator of our planet. That water that our water processes, infiltration, transpiration, evaporation, condensation. Have such a huge impact on the energy balance of our planet that I wanted to bring in water as it can affect climate.
Judith D Schwartz: That plants are running the show. The extent to which plants are running the show. So there is an Australian farmer author, kind of Maverick thinker named Peter Andrews.There’s a quote from him that I like to refer to because I think it’s so telling. And that is this, that plants manage water and in managing water, they are managing heat.
Judith D Schwartz: Our financial system does not make any sense because we are rewarded for practices that are ultimately diminishing our natural wealth.
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