The costs of ecological apathy

Within the last several days, we planted the site pictured below back to native prairie and wetland.  By the looks of the land while zipping up and down long north and south lines, pulling a native seed-loaded drop spreader behind an ATV, it had been far beyond abused, often neglected, and done so with blatant indifference to the consequences – the typical fashion of ignorant land management.  This place was much like the Dust Bowl – Nature’s wrath for those without a healthy land ethic – blowing sand was forming mini dunes and swallowing weathered fence posts, while covering our tracks within 10 minutes’ time and stinging our face and our eyes.  It’s a thankless job, but it’s worth the effort and hard work, regardless of any popular public praise we may receive.

As we were loading up the equipment in preparation for the 1 hour drive home, the tenant farmer stopped by to speak with us, asking what we do, how, why, and how much it costs.  He also revealed, much to our surprise, that he had only 2 good crops in the last 20 years he had farmed this site.

Why would you even keep trying?  How much topsoil was blown away in those 20 years?  And was it worth it to lose that much topsoil for only 2 meager crops?  Were the Dust Bowl years not enough to change peoples’ ways?  Have they forgotten the devastation that rained down upon the Great Plains during those years?  When will people learn?

Because it will happen again.

Did the tenant farmer think that continuing to break the land annually, sowing the seeds of thirsty annual crops, irrigating with roughly 18 gallons of water per minute per acre per day for those crops, and resorting to the chemical dependency (and output) that modern farming is famous for would make the aeons-old ways of the land conform to his needs?  It’s just like those who mow too short and too often – do they think the grass will bow to them and their ubiquitous mower?  It certainly may, but only temporarily so, and then land health descends into the synthetic grip of right angles and “good looks”.

Some lands should have never been broken.

“Bare earth – ground without cover, without rooted plants holding soils and building them – is not a natural condition in a place like this. In its natural state, virtually all this ground would be covered with perennial plants, rooted year-round, leafing and dying in sequence, the soil constantly nourished, cooled, protected.” – Janet Kauffman

“The human gluttony gene, bolstered by the very real images of starving Africans, pushes us to grow tons more food than the world economic system can absorb or deliver. Federal farm policy, out of fear of hunger and of the farm lobby, continues to encourage overproduction through subsidies and support programs.  The significant irony is that the scientific term for the stuff that is killing the Gulf of Mexico is “nutrients”—fertilizer that feeds the growth of microorganisms in water, whose dead bodies poison the ocean downriver. And it is the overproduction of food, the staff of life, that actually threatens the life and health of our planet.”  —  George B. Pyle


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