Book Review: Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massey

Few people have the courage to critically examine the path they are following, and after consideration, deliberately choose to take a different one. Massey not only embraced a new form of agriculture, but has also sought and interviewed others on similar journeys . Call of the Reed Warbler is a book about that change in direction, that looks deep into the heart of modern agriculture and provides an insightful and hopeful vision for the future.

Using the following main themes, Massey explores the relationships between humans and agriculture. He intersects the science, literature and shared experiences with deeply personal insights from his own farm. A practical dreamer, Massey provides real examples of the improvements that can be made with a paradigm shift in mind set. The book is structured along the following themes:

  • Regenerating the Solar Energy Function
  • Regenerating the Water Cycle
  • Regenerating the Soil Mineral Cycle
  • Regenerating Dynamic Eco Systems
  • Regenerating the Landscape: Role of the Human-Social

All these themes are closely related of course, and because of this there are many stories that overlap and are linked. This means that the same observations are repeated from different perspectives. Massey takes us into the lounge rooms of hundreds of farmers around the world and introduces them to us in a sensitive and endearing manner. We learn about the trials and tribulations that forced many farmers and their families to alter their farming practices and embrace what is now termed regenerative agriculture. By its nature, animals and grazing management is a large part of the story, however also Massey shares stories of those farmers who are using regenerative principles with their cropping, in most cases with outstanding results.

Widely read, Massey quotes scientists, philosophers, presidents and farmers throughout his book. It is clear that the genesis for regenerative agriculture can be traced at least as far back as the origin of modern industrial agriculture. However humans have been making mistakes with agriculture for thousands of years with ignorance and greed playing a part. Massey even quotes Plato, who bemoaned the deforestation of Attica due to grazing back in 360BC.

Massey traces the development of agriculture throughout history. He explains regenerative aquiculture “implies more than just sustaining something but rather an active rebuilding or regeneration of existing systems to full health. It also implies an open-ended process of ongoing improvement and positive transformation. This can encompass the rebuilding or regeneration of soil itself, and of biodiversity more widely; the reduction of toxins and pollutants; the recharging of aquifers; the production of healthier food, clean water and air; the replacement of external inputs; and the enhancement of social capital and ecological knowledge“.

Massey has travelled the widely across Australia and Africa, and the stories within the pages come from the innovative regenerative agriculture pioneers around the world. Massey interweaves their story with anecdotes from his own farm in the Monaro Plains of NSW. Massey’s farm however plays a secondary role in this story, unlike Rebank’s farm which is the star of his book English Pastoral.

Call of the Reed Warbler is not a text book, nor is it a “how to guide”. Rather it is an engaging story showing the breadth of regenerative agriculture practitioners in Australia. Each of these farmers is on their own journey, and Massey hopes to share enough of their stories for readers to find a part that resonates with them. I found old school friends, neighbours and role models in this book. There are techniques mentioned that I will do more research on, and others that aren’t particularly relevant for us here on the Rock Farm.

Massey has created an incredible legacy with this book. It is a elegant manifesto, profound in its observations, complex in its nature yet easy to understand. It is well worth enjoying in front of the fire on cold winter evenings or on those precious rare rainy days… even the dog will agree!


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massey

  1. Hi Phil – I love Charles Massey’s and James Rebanks’ books, they are so hopeful and inspiring. I really enjoy your blog about your family’s hybrid farming life/desk job life on the Rock Farm. Also inspiring!

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