Editor’s reading list: ‘Kiss the Ground’ by Josh Tickell

"Kiss the Ground" by Josh Tickell is a book about dirt and how its health affects our food and our world. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

A few days ago, I sat on my couch reading my first novel of the summer. I was about halfway through the book. My partner commented, “I can’t believe you’re reading a whole book about dirt.”

The same question popped in my head when my father, a farmer-turned-educator-turned-farmer-again, gifted “Kiss the Ground” by Josh Tickell to me last Christmas. It made sense that my father enjoyed the book, as “Kiss the Ground” is all about regenerative agriculture, which produces better food in a way that is good for the Earth. After the book sat on a shelf for months, I picked up “Kiss the Ground,” and I can now say that I have a more educated, thoughtful view of agriculture and food than I had before.

Tickell’s book introduces the concept of regenerative agriculture in several steps; each chapter details one facet of agriculture and its impact on the environment, from cows to nitrogen, from the global politics of humans’ environmental impact to the power of one consumer making sustainable choices while grocery shopping.

“Kiss the Ground” promotes diversified farming (aka growing more than one type of plant in a field), no-till operations, ditching chemical sprays and becoming more attuned to the soil and environment — for practicing crop producers, there’s much to learn here.

But for most of us, who are just food consumers and maybe plant parents to windowsill succulents, “Kiss the Ground” is an accessible read for those who haven’t been on a farm or know much about agriculture.

Tickell beautifully molds two big issues into one book: climate change and feeding an exploding population of humans (and the animals they consume). The solution for both is regenerative agriculture, which enriches our soils for better food production by promoting biodiversity. And when the soil is healthy, microorganisms will help bring more carbon dioxide into the Earth’s crust, recycling it from our oceans and atmosphere. The greenhouse gasses we put out can be put back into the ground — and it’ll benefit us in the long run.

“Kiss the Ground” starts off slow, but once readers hit chapter two, Tickell’s meshing of scientific studies, world history, U.S. agricultural policy and present-day agriculturalists’ stories creates a powerful source of knowledge, never mind a great read to start off summer.

In this book, Tickell also writes about more controversial topics with good measure. His stance is pro-beef, as he writes that letting cows graze on our crop fields is one of the best options for healthy soils and humanely produced beef. However, he doesn’t discredit those who choose veganism or vegetarianism.

He also writes against GMO crops, but not for the reason many are opposed to GMOs; instead of concern about the genetic changes, Tickell realizes that many GMO crops are often farmed in conjunction with soil tillage and heavy chemical usage, two practices he urges crop producers to stop.

My only criticisms of the book are really nitty-gritty: besides the novel’s slow beginning, there were only two portions of the book that rubbed me the wrong way (and they both don’t concern agriculture).

In Chapter 7, a portion of the book all about topsoil and the negative impacts of tilling fields, Tickell writes a tangent on the lack of gender diversity with farmers. Most farmers are male, and he speculates that if more women were farmers, they’d use less pesticides because “a woman, whose body and whose children are far more susceptible to the effects of chemical toxins, might at least think twice before donning protective gear in order to apply some type of -cide onto the very fruit, vegetable or grain she will feed her children.”

To me, this speculation relies heavily on gender roles, particularly that a woman’s highest priority is supposed to be her children. Yes, female bodies grow babies, but men also have children that they care for. As responsible parents, shouldn’t fathers be just as concerned about what’s on their kids’ food as mothers? Instead of speculating that women will instinctively opt to avoid agricultural chemical use, why not ask men to consider their children, too, when they spray their corn fields or use Round-Up on the front lawn?

Second, one of Tickell’s suggestions at the end of the book is for readers to found charter high schools, particularly ones with an agroecology focus. There are many problems with public education in America today, but ditching public schools in favor of charter schools is not the right solution. Take every step Tickell recommends, except that one. The National FFA Organization is centered around agriculture and is beneficial for public high school students, so it’s a worthy educational experience to invest in — Tickell mentions this, too.

Despite its flaws, “Kiss the Ground” is written in that sweet middle spot where nth-generation farmers can learn how to better do business and people not connected to agriculture whatsoever can read up on how to be informed, involved consumers.

As someone in the middle ground of the agriculturally involved spectrum, I found a lot of value reading “Kiss the Ground.” After all, I like eating food and breathing oxygen, like most other people I know.

If you care for our planet’s health and your own health, I’d recommend reading “Kiss the Ground.” Tickell not only digs deep into the issues agriculture and the environment face today, but he also ends the novel with a list of actions consumers can take to support regenerative agriculture. If you’re worried about the state of our planet but feel like one person can’t make a difference, this novel will change your mind.

I would also highly recommend this book for students in the College of Agriculture. “Kiss the Ground” is a good starting point for diving into the practice of regenerative agriculture, and the sooner you know about it, the sooner you can implement these practices into your future operation or business.

All in all, “Kiss the Ground” is a wholesome read for everyone, especially those working in agriculture and people who are concerned about the health of our planet and its people. It’s a novel about dirt. And when we consider where our food comes from, that makes dirt critically important.

Dene Dryden is the Collegian’s editor-in-chief and a junior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

I'm Dene Dryden, and I graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Before graduating, I worked at the Collegian for more than three years as a copy chief, managing editor and editor-in-chief. I also served a term on the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors. While at K-State, I also worked at Wildcat 91.1 FM. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.