Gabe Brown is a US farmer who transformed his land from an unprofitable operation with degraded soil, poor harvests and vulnerability to weather changes into a highly profitable and resilient farm with healthy soil, vibrant livestock and nutritious crops. He has recorded his navigation through this process, detailing all the ups and downs of the experience, in a book providing the courage, inspiration and advice needed for others to initiate their own regenerative journeys on their farms. Brown writes in a very clear and reader-friendly style, personal and practical at the same time. He’s a good storyteller and his narrative is engaging, carrying the reader easily from big picture to intricate detail and back to the overall principles.

The book is divided into two parts. The first describes the Brown family’s personal journey through the transformation of their farm. Following a chronological outline of the process, it offers valuable insights obtained both at the time and in hindsight. The reader travels with the family through a range of emotions: the strain, excitement, dread and wonderment, all part of witnessing the transformation from dirt to soil.

Brown began farming following the conventional model he had learnt in agricultural college, relying on tillage and agrochemicals, but he soon started to question the wisdom behind some of the practices involved, and with an eager and open-minded attitude he embarked on a journey learning from others and experimenting on his land.

After initial success with no-till, Brown soon hit what he calls “the disastrous years”, an uphill learning curve full of drama involving appalling weather events, wrong decisions, stressful finances, very long working days and very little sleep. This is the sort of persistent and dreadful experience that would have made many others quit, but Brown didn’t, and his perseverance paid off. He learned the pieces of the puzzle he had been missing and started to change the way he thought about soil. Things began to improve, and he knew he was on the right track, the regenerative agriculture path.

The second part of the book is dedicated to explaining the five principles of soil health that underpin the regenerative process, and is full of useful references. It includes various case studies from farms in different parts of the US to stress the point that the same principles are applicable to any set-up anywhere, regardless of weather patterns. The case for this is well made and the wisdom of the lessons is translatable. However, as a small-scale vegetable grower in the UK, I felt that the examples from American and mainly large-acreage livestock farms were a bit removed from my reality, although they were still very interesting and I read them avidly.

Dirt to Soil is a great read for anyone interested in soil or in how to feed a growing population while keeping our planet healthy. If you are involved in farming you will get even more out of it, as both an inspiring story and a practical how-to. The book is not just about restoring soil, but also about restoring nutrition in the food we produce, health to the planet and a good and meaningful life for farmers. Our agricultural system is in chaos, our soils depleted and our environment polluted; we need to change the way we do farming, and here is how we can, from the ground up.

Sara Melendro runs an organic market garden in Devon and campaigns on local and global issues about the environment, food and agriculture.