Back to Soil

Back to Soil
Bret Hesla © 2020

Written on commission for Land Stewardship Project

1. Well if you study history, then you’ll know
The empire falls when the topsoil goes.
The signs today are pretty clear to read
Soil’s looking bad and we’ve lost six feet.
But here’s the news, we could build it back
And I heard about farmers with a plan for that.
So I paid one a visit, we sat to chat ‘n that
one cup of coffee set me on a whole new track.

2. I went to no-till, let the soil be still.
I quit fighting what’s on my side.
Then it was cover crop, covered every bare spot
with the armor of a thick green hide.
And when the fields turned into gaudy buffet
I put new ways to graze in place.
Now I’m working with nature, “Halleluya!”
The dirt’s coming back, back to soil.

3. I keep living roots, year round living in the soil
Pulling carbon out of the sky.
They pull it down underground, then it’s shot right out
To feed the little microbes, mycorrhizal fungi.
[x] I make ’em happy, and they send back
all the nutrients that I was paying money for.
I’m building back black. “Halleluya!”
The dirt’s coming back, back to soil.

Here’s another song written for LSP.

4. It takes a lotta swag, to buck big ag
Still farm and keep the family fed.
You gotta first find a mentor that you respect
You study mother nature, and scratch your head.
I made a lotta mistakes as I was changing things
But one day I noticed all the rain soaked in.
Best of all, my money stopped eroding
all the way to the Gulf of Monsanto.

5. And it’s joy, joy, there’s a certain kind of joy
I feel when I’m down on my knees.
Joy, joy, when I grab a chunk of soil
And it crumbles like cottage cheese.
I know I’m on the right track, standing near
‘Cause it smells like a good cup of coffee.
Here’s a little cup for you. Halleluya!
One sip and I think you’ll see
Why the soil’s got me singing, “Halleluya!”
One sip and I think you’ll see
Why the soil’s got me singing, “Halleluya!”
The dirt’s coming back, back to soil.
The dead dirt’s coming back. | Here’s a little cup for you.
I hope you like it black.

Words and music by Bret Hesla. Written on commission for Land Stewardship Project
© 2020 Bret Hesla. All rights reserved. Use with permission, please.
Contact: Bret.hesla@gmail.com.
Recording: Bret Hesla & Six Feet Deep
Bret Hesla — lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Dan Chouinard — piano
Dave Michel — bass, vocals
Joe Silberschmidt — drums
Tim Gustafson — lead guitar
Rebekah Fergus- vocals
Martha Schwen Bardwell– vocals
Linda Breitag- vocals
Ray Makeever- vocals
Larry Dittberner- vocals
Bob Stuber– vocals
Production Services Matthew Zimmerman/Control Z

About a year ago I was commissioned to write a song for the Land Stewardship Project. They wanted a song about their Soil Builders program. Doug, my liaison, gave me a few brochures, a few notes, and offered to connect me to some farmers to interview. So, knowing nothing about farming, I went to a field day in Mower County put on by farmer Tom Cotter, to tell other farmers about his work. About 25 farmers (and me) showed up. Amazing set of practices he’s blending together–no-till, no plow, cover crops 24-7-365, innovative grazing techniques, mycorrhizal fungi, science, ecology, joy, health, honesty. These farmers doing what they’re calling regenerative agriculture seem to have re-imagined their work as building soil for the long term, which not only leads to healthier food and better yield, but helps fight climate change by storing carbon in the soil. Then I went to visit another farmer from around Cannon Falls, Kaleb Anderson. A super fun conversation that further opened my mind to the work these folks are doing. He recommended a book called, Dirt to Soil, by a North Dakota farmer named Gabe Brown. So I read that, too: kind of a regenerative ag bible. And on and on.

I ended up writing a suite of songs, two of which are recorded so far: Back to Soil (this one) and Got Cover Crops. Most of the images in these two songs come directly from the comments of the folks I talked to or read about. Doug called me back at some point and said, “Whatever you do, be sure the song includes the message of “building soil,” because that’s what these folks are up to.” He also said I’d get a $100 bonus if I incorporated the term “mycorrhizal fungi” into the song.

I’m waiting for that bonus, Doug.


The band is a total creature of the pandemic. Once I was ready to record, Covid -19 hit. So no possibility for side-by-side in the studio, much less to rehearse. I got a social distance plan from my friend Matthew. I first recorded myself, at home, singing and playing guitar. Then I invited a bunch of players to separately listen to my track and record themselves, at home, on their instrument. Be sure to keep to the same beat. Matthew put it all together. But we’ve still never played these songs all together in the same room. It helps to have dynamite musicians. Thanks all!

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