Liz Carlisle’s “Healing Grounds” begins there, with the work those “least responsible” are doing alongside the natural world to regenerate the soil, the plants and the whole of our ecosystem. “Healing Grounds” starts at the molecular level and encompasses everything, including our need for hope and possibility. Carlisle is an agroecologist and professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara. She brings the reader into the work of regeneration through permaculture and deep commitment to working with, respecting, and understanding the ways the natural world changes and endures.
“Healing Grounds” offers finely wrought stories of farmer-activists of color building soil, tending land, breathing new life and technologies into the wisdom of old ways. Carlisle brings us from the plains of Montana, where buffalo again roam, to a mushroom farm nestled in old growth forest in North Carolina. She connects the stories of the small, densely diverse farms of Central Americans, Hmong and Chicanos occupying tiny parcels of California’s Central Valley pesticide- and fertilizer-drenched monocultures to the work of a fourth-generation Japanese American orchardist growing organic peaches, grapes, apricots and nectarines on land her grandfather bought in 1950. She draws the reader in to listen to women of color telling the stories of relationships with the land that are restoring both the land and their communities. Her stories call readers to find their place and stand there and learn from elders and from the land itself to restore productivity, reintroduce biodiversity and sequester carbon that will arrest the rapid warming of the plant.
Nikiko Masumoto, the fourth-generation farmer, reflects towards the end of the book that “the possibility of belonging to a place — of being intimately connected to lives beyond our own — is central to healing our soils and our climate.” And it is all connected: immigration and farm policy and racism and capitalism. As Masumoto further notes, “With the government systematically separating families from one another, ripping people away from any connection to land, it’s no wonder there’s no more organic matter beneath the surface of rural America. People were never allowed to put down roots.”
In some ways, this self-imposed survey course was a depressing slog. A total of 819 pages, filled with facts about climate change and its roots in colonialism, imperialism, and racism, starting as far back as you want to reach. But with stories of anti-racist farmers, queer vegans, the power of collective action and a deep reading of history, these books remind me that there is plenty of work to keep us going and plenty to learn and love along the way.