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To cultivate soil health

Happy animals and living soil
Forfatter: Marit Bendz, Oddleiv Apneseth
Forlag: (Norge)
ECOLOGY / Marit Bendz has met gardeners, agronomists, farmers and enthusiasts who in various ways run an agriculture contrary to government recommendations.


The first cookbook I got was Kornelias cookbook (1981), a collection of vegetarian recipes richly equipped with classic anthroposophical wet-on-wet illustrations of vegetables that extend to the forces of the earth and the cosmic celestial energy. At that time, in the late 80's, biodynamic agriculture was the most radical direction in agriculture in Norway, and Kornelias cookbook became an important introduction for me to organic food and cultivation. I read the book and went to Vegeta Vertshus, moved to a disused small farm and grew vegetables without pesticides and fertilizers. We also had chickens and pigs – but no tractor.

Humans, animals and plants

It may be easy to make fun of some biodynamic ideas, where preparations are put in cow horns and buried in the ground while there is a full moon, but anthroposophical agriculture was early concerned with soil health and the creation of living soil through holistic cultivation. Much of contemporary radical agriculture has taken these ideas further, it is soil health that is at the center. In addition to good soil health creating healthy vegetables, the goal is to improve and build up the soil so that agriculture binds more CO2 than it releases.

Plant cover, biological diversity, microbiology, minimal plowing and living root systems.

Good soil health is not created with artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Fertilizer depletes and degrades the soil and is extremely resource-intensive to produce, and it also requires, among other things, phosphorus, which is a natural resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. More and more people have recognized that the agriculture of the future cannot be based on artificially produced fertiliser.

In Marit Bendz's book Happy animals and living soil we meet some of these. Together with photographer Oddleiv Apneseth she has traveled across large parts of Norway and interviewed gardeners, agronomists, farmers and zealots who, in various ways, run an agriculture in direct violation of government recommendations. The photos are given plenty of space and work well. They allow the reader to get closer to life on the various farms – the people, the animals and the plants. It is deliciously inspiring to read about and see all these different farms. Learn about how they run their diverse and future-oriented cultivation practices. Not necessarily totally organic, but always well thought out and with soil health at the centre.

Key words are plant cover, biological diversity, microbiology, minimal plowing and living root systems. We read about school gardens, urban farming, roof gardens, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, dung fermentation, cooperative farming and much more. The author is a micro-farmer himself and has a long career as a journalist. She is engaged. It is good. In the foreword, she writes: "It is the farmers who are part of the climate solution."

Climate solution and fermentation

I wonder if there is any climate solution? I do not think so. The climate problem is not going to be solved. It's going to get hotter and hotter, the weather more and more unstable. All forecasts and statistics indicate that, but we can adapt, make adjustments for how we will manage to live with the crisis. And here the farmers' work will be perhaps the most important.

Herbs such as stinging nettle, calendula, chives, rush and thyme.

The book is marred somewhat, in my opinion, by the journalistic aspect. The short, slightly amusing alliteration headlines and introductions can work well in a newspaper or on the radio, but in book form the dramaturgy seems too easy. I miss the in-depth interviews, I would like to get to know the enthusiasts in each chapter better, because they have an exceptionally large amount of important knowledge to share. I also stumble upon the lexical information posters after each chapter. The necessary information could have been baked into the text itself. Here it seems as if the authors trust neither themselves nor the reader – and as a reader I get a little irritated by such posts.

Fermented food is in vogue, lactic acid fermented vegetables are good for the stomach and human health. That soil also benefits from ferment, a mixture of lactic acid bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria and yeast, is exciting to read about. Runar Sørli at Sørli gård in Skjeberg brews his own ferment in thousand-litre plastic cans. In the can, the water must be between 36 and 39 degrees before molasses, salt, seaweed meal and a starter culture with lactic acid bacteria are added. Also, various herbs, such as nettle, calendula, chives, yarrow, thyme, are added to the brew to make the mixture more powerful. The brew is used to ferment manure before it is spread on the fields before sowing in spring and autumn. Sørli explains in the interview how the ferment stimulates life in the soil and means that nutrients are not washed out even if it rains. This is exciting to read about. I would like to know more and feel cheated since the interview is so short. But perhaps the author's thought is precisely this. That through the interviews she introduces us to a number of methods and projects, then it is up to us to search further and find more information.

Lactating cows, free-range pigs, pastured chickens, geese and bees.

It is also rewarding to read about farmers who use animals as an integral part of the farm's overall operation. As in Tore Jardar Wirgenes, on Wirgene's farm, where suckling cows, free-range pigs, pastured chickens, geese and bees are an integral part of the farm's life and ecology. In the interview, Wirgenes says that "grazing animals and the methane discussion out of control and proportions". This is important to bring out in today's one-sided greenhouse gas debate. It is not the animal that is the problem, but the way they live and are part of the farm's life and work. Among other things, ruminants can help to increase the absorption of greenhouse gases in the earth, but as Marit Bendz herself points out in her introduction: This is never taken into account in the big climate account. Unfortunately, the fact that the health of the earth is crucial for the health of the planet is still not widely recognized. This book can help bring this to the fore.

Nina Ossavy
Nina Ossavy
Ossavy is a stage artist and writer.

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