A book review

by Leigh Mills

I read a lot of books. I rarely buy one.  I know about permaculture, yet tend to follow the “do-nothing” gardening approach.  Moments after opening this book for the first time, I knew I had to own it.  When I skimmed the book and saw pictures of green trees growing in mountain deserts, wise words shared by elders of other cultures and their methods for creating ways to harvest organic matter and retain soil moisture, I knew I had to share this find with others.

Growing Food in a Hotter and Drier Land—Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty, by Gary Paul Nabhan is just the resource for gardeners, landscapers, and all community members who are interested in eating and growing plants in high-desert regions.

Gary Nabhan is a “food and farming activist” who has lived in desert regions for most of his life.  In this book, he tells the story of his inspiration through meeting “a remarkable Moroccan farmer and Sufi visionary, Aziz Bousfisha”, and weaves “Parables” from other wise desert farmers who share their methods for harvesting water and organic matter, retaining moisture in and building soils, how to prevent plant heat stress, creating fruit and nut guilds in a desert environment, how to build and edge terraces for optimum plant growth, and getting “In-Sync” with pollinators.  He also reminds us that food production is only a small fraction of our carbon “foodprint” and a tremendous amount of energy is used to produce and distribute harvested materials.

Each chapter is divided into four sections.  The first section talks about how the warming effects of climate change are impacting different areas of food production, then “Parables” are provided for inspiration and method; next are “Principle and Premises” for each subject, followed by concrete how-to steps in “Planning and Practices”.  I was surprised to learn that I was already doing a couple of the “practices” here at the Heyokah and was inspired to complete several of the easy projects mentioned to harvest water and increase soil moisture.  Most of the projects are low/no cost, with the exception of planting ollas (clay fired pitchers), and all are community-oriented.  Indeed, the whole book is about how communities can come together to strengthen their local foodsheds.

I found the book very enjoyable to read and there were lots of color pictures of the various desert places that had enlivened their soil and were growing abundant food crops.  Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land is wonderfully inspirational for everyone, whether you grow food or just eat it.  Because we live in uncertain times, no matter where we are and what is going on, our communities need to be prepared to handle growing food in all kinds of climate changes.  Gary’s book is a wonderful tool to study and then to practice its principles.  Every library needs a copy to share.

You can find Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land—Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty on Gary Paul Nabhan’s website:  http://garynabhan.com.

Leigh Mills has lived, gardened, preserved food and saved seeds in the San Luis Valley for 11 years.  She’s written the “As the Worm Turns” column for three and a half years and has started a high-altitude gardening and seed saving blog called The Infinite Bee.  View color photos and read journal entries filled with tips about high-altitude gardening and seed saving, food preservation, yummy recipes, and off-the-grid, homestead living.  If you enjoy reading her monthly, visit her daily at TheInfiniteBee.com.