Artwork for podcast GREEN Organic Garden Podcast
186. Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life | “Where good Stewardship meets economic gain” | David Montgomery | Seattle, WA
15th May 2017 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:15:57

Share Episode


 Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life | “Where good Stewardship meets economic gain” pg 24. David Montgomery | Seattle, WA

2 brown thumbs;) to understand that joke and hear the pre-chat listen to the podcast itself on iTunes.

The Messengers Podcast Documentary

The Messengers DVD on Indiegogo

David R. Montgomery was born in 1961 Stanford, California, and studied geology at Stanford University before earning his Ph.D. in geomorphology at UC Berkeley. He teaches at the University of Washington where he studies the evolution of topography and how geological processes shape landscapes and influence ecological systems. He loved maps as a kid and now writes about the relationship of people to their environment and other things that interest him. In 2008 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. He lives with his wife Anne in Seattle, Washington.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a geologist by trying

major hobby and passion

she’s a biologist

looking at plants and the role of microbes

I’ve gotten into gardening by looking over her shoulder and enjoying the fruits of what is happening! Watching how she transformed it from the lawn to nice garden

The New Book looks at translate the principals of we learned by watching our yard come back to life here in North Seattle where we live. How to translate that to larger scale farms and the way how ag can embrace and apply these same practices and principles that worked so well in our yard to revolutionize and transform agriculture adn take it  from an environmental problem and all the major problems that are associated with agrochemical intense agriculture and transform agriculture in ways that are practical can maintain yeilds have a much lower environmental footprint

The book really chronicals my journey visiting farmers around the world who are applying these and principals b

bringing their soil back to life the way Anne did to our yard.

iI knew as soon as I saw your book on amazon my listeners I call them green future growers becasue they are growing us a greener future and this is what it could be.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

my primary love of garden come from helping Anne in the garden and absorb her passion


I forget to water them I’m not the best plant parent


But Anne’s a plant whisperer

renting an apartment

transformed the whole place

came to an appreciation of the power of that experience

not only for an individual for the gardener and their love and joy of doing it, but the way their experience can rub off on others

experience what a good gardener can create.

It’s almost like the book the secret garden and how the garden can transform another life. When the kids play in the bucket of worms in my classroom I can’t hardly keep them out of them.

How did you learn how to garden organically?

We’re hardwired to like nature

dealt out of that

little bits of nature

can connect us with our deep roots

evolutionary roots

vision and senses all come together in terms of experiencing nature

I like to view our garden now as a little bit of that whichconnects us with the broader world. I ca’t believe how much time I spend in the non rainy season, in the spring or summer. We have really moved outside 3-6 months in our outdoor living room.

I can tell you about all that

fun book to research

observations I made as a geologist

I worekd all over the world that

studies soil erosion


geomorphologist someone who studies the surface forms of the earth

topography and how it forms

if you do that enough and look at erosion like I have

sculpts terrain and topography you start recognizing patterns

looked at the soil erosion shaping the longevity of human civilizations how 

farming practices had destroyed the soil after

follow human history and region after region

affects our history

little of that is taught,

none of it’s learned in school

personal observations

looking at the archeology

final chapter was kind of depressing … chronologically of societies unable to feed themselves. Had to rewrite the end 3 times and then I sort of put the subject aside

started seeing the and we talk about in

Hidden Half of Nature The Microbial Roots of Life and Health

The Hidden Half of Nature

She was able to restore the soil in our yard

Turn it from essentially dead dirt into thriving rich soil.

Over the course of a decade she changed our soil.

So counter to what I had seen about the destruction of soils, so I started to pay attention and perk up and go wait a minute!

We can rebuild soil fertility sort of fast here

Microbial life feeds plants

Importance for human health all played out in the book that we wrote together

Hidden Half of Nature The Microbial Roots of Life and Health

The Hidden Half of Nature

What if we applied these principles to?

  • farming
  • gardens at large
  • gardens that feed us all
  • different kind of gardening

There’s definitely a big difference from  a garden feeding a family of four to a farm feeding 150 CSAs to large scale farming.

Growing A Revolution Bringing Our Soil Bake To LIfe

In Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life

I wanted to ask the question:

Could the things that Anne had done to our yard that were so transformative  could that be done at scale on big farms? On:

  • big industrial farms that we have in North America
  • family farms
  • small subsistence farms in Africa

I wanted to know how applicable the things we were looking at were. So I started traveling around the world to visit farmers who had literally transformed their soil. Had brought their farms back to life. Taken land was degraded

Something like 1/3 of all farmland in the world has seriously degraded soil!

How do we keep feeding an 8, 9 billion, 10,000,000,000  person planet

Having soil that was degraded was not the way to do it!

So I wondered

  • can we reverse that?
  • does it make economic sense?

  • Knew it made environmental sense to do it. But could it be done practically and economically?

It seems like the answer is yes!


From one’s own garden all the way up  to very large farms, that aren’t  necessarily organic in nature but that I like to call “organic-ish” because the farmers,  many of the conventional Farmers who had adopted these principles and used them for the years.

They had kind of  weaned themselves off of most agro-chemicals.

They were getting more organic in nature but that was not their intent they were just finding that they

  • didn’t need all the chemical in their own soil which
  • all the fertilizer
  • the herbicide
  • insecticide

they didn’t need them if they adopted these practices and tailor their own environmental technology level to their own soil… There’s a lot of variables

But the principles are what I organized the book around my trip to see famers who were doing it well who were having success in improving their soil and returning the profitability to their farm. And radically lowering their environmental footprint

Some were completely organic but most were intentionally not completely organic or not organic started as conventional farmers but by the time they had restored their soil the difference was getting pretty narrow. It was really interesting.

I know listeners are probably dying to hear what can they do to restore their healthy soil, if they are trying or haven’t even gotten started yet. Where are some of the places you’ve been.

I went to:

  • Latin America,
  • Costa Rica
  • Africa to Ghana 
  • South Africa
  • American Midwest
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Saskatchewan, CA

A wide range of farmers who had a wide range of crops some who had

  • crops
  • livestock
  • commodity crop producers.

It was interesting and informative set of farmers. I intentionally selected a biased set. I wasn’t trying to visit the average north american or average African farmer.

I was trying to visit people who had really restored their soil and figure out how they did it.

some of the farms went to in Africa were no bigger then our urban lot in Seattle. People were feeding themselves. They had really no access to capital but they had their own labor.

So the idea that you could bring fertilizer intense green revolution of agriculture to these farmers wasn’t gonna work because they didn’t have the money for fertilizer and patented seeds.

They needed a style of agriculture that they could implement themselves. 

Kofi Boa Ghana Africa No Till Farming

Kofi Boa

Center for No-till Agriculture

Kumasi Ghana

Masters degree in Nebraska looking at no-till farming. and then came back and adapted to practices in Ghana

What he’s done is taken his farm and turned it into a teaching farm

show them how he was doing things and how much it had 

  • reduced erosion off of his fields
  • improved the quality of his soil
  • doubled crop yields

going from traditional practices essentially slash and burn

clear burn, plant, go away for 10-20 years farm another piece of land while nature rebuilt the fertility etc. That works great if you have a low pop density but if you have a lot of people you run out of land…. can’t keep doing that practice

part it relied on

jungle growing plants up and rotting and  returning nutrients to...