Bovine heroics

Saturday June 1, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A few weeks ago, the concentration of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, extreme weather is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. And the confidence of doomsayers in sandwich boards that their predictions of the apocalypse will soon be true grows. But Bennington-based author of the new book "Cows Save the Planet," Judith D. Schwartz, looks at the planetary changes not as The End, but as a challenge.

"This is a really optimistic book, because these are all things we can do. And if policies were as such that we were rewarded for regenerative practices Š things would be a lot different," Schwartz said. "What concerns me is that the environmental news we get is always bad. I know that’s not the whole picture, the problem is that that leaves people in despair. Š When people are in despair they shut down."

Schwartz, whose son is graduating from Mount Anthony Union High School this year, will be in Brattleboro this week for the Slow Living Summit to discuss some of the topics covered in her book on Friday, June 7, at 1:45 p.m. She will be speaking with Abe Collins, a grazier who specializes in the field of building soil carbon, and Dan Kitteredge of the Bionutrient Food Association.

The book

"There was a long period where I was underemployed," said Schwartz, who has lived in Bennington for 15 years. "I started asking questions like ‘what is money?’ and began writing about new economics."

She wrote a piece for the Christian Science Monitor about the transition movement, which she described as an upbeat, can-do approach to dealing with peak oil and climate change on a community level.

"It became very clear to me that every local purchase mattered," she said. "Once you start understanding that then your understanding of how the economy works and what the economy really is about changes. And that awareness primed me to start asking questions Š so I wrote many many pieces for various publications Š about different topics that related to understanding our economy and how our economy and the environment need to be connected. You can’t have an economy if you don’t have any natural wealth, yet our economy isn’t set up (that way)."

It became clear to her that many of the environmental problems could be improved by fixing the problems with the soil.

"Climate change for example," she said. "We Š think about climate change as a sky thing, but this is actually a ground thing, because much of the CO2 that is burdening our atmosphere originally comes from the soil. Because of agricultural practices much of the carbon in the soil oxidizes and over time gigatons of CO2 have come from the soil."

By restoring soil through regenerative practices we can bring carbon back into the ground, make the land hold much more water and boost soil fertility, she added.

"According to Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor at the Ohio State University, who speaks widely on the topic, soil-carbon restoration can potentially store about one billion tons of atmospheric carbon per year. This would offset around 8 to 10 percent of total annual CO2 emissions and one-third of annual enrichment of atmospheric carbon that would otherwise stay in the air," Schwartz wrote in a recent column for

The book takes its name from the practice of Holistic Management, a practice that uses livestock as a tool for large scale land restoration.

"Where do those cows fit in? Cattle, like all grazing creatures, can, if appropriately managed, help build soil. When moved in large herds according to a planned schedule, livestock will nibble plants just enough to stimulate plan and root growth, trample the ground in a way that breaks apart caked earth to allow dormant seeds to germinate and water to seep in, and leave dung and urine to fertilize the soil with organic matter (aka carbon)," Schwartz says in the introduction to her book.

"When we look at our very dire environmental problems the one thing we don’t talk about is nature’s desire to heal itself," she said. "If you treat it well it will come back."

The book guides readers through an understanding of lots of little things that make up the big picture. In the case of topsoil: extremely little. According to Schwartz, a healthy teaspoon of topsoil contains 6 billion microorganisms. Without topsoil plants cannot survive. One solution is to cover the land with plants. If you leave the land exposed it dries out, which mean the microorganisms can’t survive, the dirt becomes dry, loose, and dead, and blows away with windstorms and washes away with the rain. Sending harmful chemicals into water systems and depleting the land.

"(The book) encourages us readers to think about the environment and the economy and our food in a different way," Schwartz said. "The book is to understand it all. It’s not as much as how-to it’s ‘let’s take a look at this.’"

The summit

This is the third year of Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro. The summit takes place on June 5, 6 and 7.

"I don’t think that, in terms of quality, slowing down means we’ve lost anything," Martin Langeveld, the summit’s coordinator and marketing director told the Brattleboro Reformer.

The theme of slow living incorporates sustainable living, resilient communities and inner transformation.

"Create an alternative to the fast paced sometimes unsatisfying competitive way of living," Schwartz said. "(It’s about) living closer to the earth Š Instead of pounding nature into submission."

For a full schedule of events go to

Andrew Roiter can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Banner_Arts.


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