It appears since the time that man founded cities his greatest concern was to feed those who could not feed themselves. The resources of the land were there to do this and all other uses were secondary, but what have we really done to this single-minded cause?
The early civilizations all had their signature crop that enabled there population to grow and become the “seats of civilization”. China had its rice, Mesopotamia its wheat, and Central America had its corn or maze. Both rice and wheat cultivated originated from native plant seeds. In the case for Central America the original maze was a smaller grain than present corn and because of this there was not enough produced to sustain cities and an eventually the communities failed. It took centuries of low key hybridization to come up with a corn that could sustain a larger population. Probably a good thing for North America as it held off the destruction of the land ecosystems for an extra few centuries.
Have you ever questioned why Mesopotamia “the land of milk and honey”is now desert? Or why China’s rural landscape cannot produce more food for its people or why their meals have always included “clear soup”( non-drinkable water)?
The answer is in what happened to the soil since these early times. You cannot continue to taking from the soil without giving back and protecting it. For some reason we are slow learners in this simple concept. Sure, scientists have figured out what what nutrients are needed to grow most species of plants. They have also determined the elements found in both plants and animals that nutrients support. Yet, in there methodical, single-minded obsessions to target the specifics they have not quite figured out the secrets of sustainable soil that is capable of giving back what has been taken away by abuse … or is there no incentive to do so? Unadulterated animal waste as a nutrient for crop production, again, is lost in our industrial agriculture methods.
For other solutions we only have to look at what nature has offered in wilderness and the areas least effected my man’s hand. We must look carefully, without constant thought of economic gain, at these natural systems and how they can feed all sustainable. We must understand what nutrients and enzymes are present and how they move from one living organism to another and eventually back to the to start the cycles all over again. If it takes a minimum of 15 years to go through the bureaucratic process in the United States to make an area a wilderness, how long will it take for us to understand what makes wilderness sustain itself giving us clues for us to make the ecological connections that we might apply to sustainable food production. The art of permaculture now being applied only touches the edges of the science that needs to be developed.
Do we need to explore and understand the complexity of every ecosystem? I suspect not, as I believe there are common threads that creates sustainability in each. We just need to observe and learn the similarities. Once we see the threads we can apply it. We need both plants, animals, and microbiomes on the landscape that developed for that particular soil and climate… ones that developed over time that were meant to be there. Look at native plants, animals, microflora and microfauna. With these close observations an understanding of mechanisms that protect their inter-connectivity will evolve and become clear. Forget the genetic engineering, the industrialized farming, and synthesizing of the product produced. Look for the sustainability in the detail of what is natural.
Let us take the recent panic over the the potential loss of the monarch butterfly for suspected multiple reasons. Knowing the importance of milkweed species of plants are needed a host for reproduction of the monarch why would one not look at the cause as an ecosystem failure as the most obvious reason. Yes these plants have been sprayed as weeds but there prairie and wetland origins have been eliminated by industrial agriculture practices of plowing the prairie and draining the wetlands. Let us continue to get rid of the fence rows that still might harbor a milkweed plant because my $300,000 just broke a mirror on the box elder tree that has shaded out the prairie plant because of lack of fire to maintain the prairie. Or let us add drain tile and clean the ditch where my eight wheel tractor got stuck near that swamp hole … so I can gain an extra 1/10 of an acre in crop and drain the water away … not understanding the wetland is the connection to the water table that provides water to a lake, or city or your own well for your home and animals. Do not consider this farmland was once prairie and wetland with a variety of plants,animals, and bacteria that built and maintained this productive soil, way before your need to pay for a tractor or combine. Do not think about other ways to feed the world and let us continue to remove and disturb sustainable natural systems that we owe all life to.
We panic at the demise of the honey bee, that is not native to our landscape, as we now depend on it for the pollination of our most precious and expensive industrialized crops. Yet we do not put as much worth on the native pollinators that depend on native plants that can also pollinate that what feeds us. When will we see the importance of ecological thinking as a source and way we can do things to make this planet earth our sustaining home.