Green Fire Times

Book Review — Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land by Gary Paul Nabhan


Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land:

Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty

By Gary Paul Nabhan, Foreword by Bill McKibben

Chelsea Green, 272 pages


With climatic uncertainty now “the new normal,” many farmers, gardeners and orchardists are desperately seeking ways to adapt. In Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan, one of the world’s experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands, shares many engaging examples of how people of different cultures and ecosystems manage. Some of the many strategies discussed:


  • Building greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soils;
  • Protecting fields from damaging winds, drought and floods;
  • Reducing heat stress on crops and livestock;
  • Harvesting water from uplands to use in rain gardens and terraces filled with perennial crops;
  • Selecting fruits, nuts, succulents and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to warmer, drier climates; and,
  • Keeping pollinators in pace and in place with arid-adapted crop plants. 

Emulating and refining these adaptations may help us secure food in the face of climate change,” writes Nabhan, who is the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Arizona.

This book is replete with detailed descriptions and diagrams showing how to implement desert-adapted practices. It also includes colorful “parables from the field” that exemplify how desert farmers think about increasing the carrying capacity and resilience of the lands and waters they steward.

This unique book is useful not only for farmers and permaculturists in the arid reaches of the Southwest. Its techniques and prophetic vision for achieving food security in the face of climate change may well need to be implemented across most of North America over the next half-century, and are already applicable in most of the semiarid West, Great Plains and adjacent regions of Mexico.