Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014

Courtney White ’82


This disarming book delves into a notion that is scientifically sound, but not nearly well enough recognized: that some of the excess carbon wreaking havoc in our atmosphere can be absorbed and stored in soil.

In plain-spoken language, Courtney White—a former archaeologist and the founder of the nonprofit Quivira Coalition—introduces the methods through which the essential road to land health can take place, from managing livestock to improve soil quality, to wetland and watershed restoration, to urban agriculture and more. Alternating between deeply informative chapters and case studies, he brings to life the people and projects that prove that we really can save the planet—if we have the resolve. This is a book of profound optimism, laced with a rare combination of science, philosophy, humor, and joy.

I had little knowledge of carbon and its implications before reading his book. But since reading it I have begun to develop what Courtney calls “land literacy”: the ability not only to recognize depleted land, but to visualize how it can be salvaged and coaxed to store more carbon. The book’s power derives from his grasp of the subject, his gift for lucid explanation, and his zest for ideas and people. His visits to successful projects include France (solar panels installed above crops), New York (green rooftops), New Orleans (pumping wastewater into wetlands to improve land quality), and Australia (growing crops in pastures). Courtney also leads you into the formation of the universe and the journey of a carbon molecule into the soil—a great wild ride.   

—Nadine Fiedler ’89