I first encountered the book Lentil Underground: Renegade farmers and the future of food in America when I attended Prairie Festival at the Land Institute last fall. I wondered who the folks were wearing the mysterious Lentil Underground ball caps. Then I saw the book in the bookstore and began to understand. Five months later I finally checked Liz Carlisle's book out from the library.
I began reading the book and could not put it down. About halfway through, I was compelled to get up from my glider and go order some lentils from the Timeless Seeds website. I had to experience the famed Black Belugas myself! I was intrigued by the way a small group of farmers in Montana found a way to regenerate their soil and minimize inputs. Why lentils? They are not only drought-tolerant, but also fix nitrogen in the soil. I began dreaming about all the places I might plant lentils in my neighborhood.
One of my favorite stories recounted by Carlisle was of a Montana farmer who had a beautiful field of pollinator-filled volunteer buckwheat waving above a crop of specialty chickpeas. The chickpeas were in turn holding water for and protecting the lowest crop, lentils! The lentils were fixing nitrogen in the soil AND discouraging deer and squirrels from decimating the chickpeas. The triple intercrop arrangement functioned like the traditional "three sisters" combination of corn, beans, and squash all working together.
Another highlight of the Lentil Underground story was how its success depended on neighbors sharing equipment, land, experiences, and time with each other. Farmers learned from each other and journeyed together as they experimented with new crops and new methods of cultivating them.
I recommend this book and the Black Beluga lentils!