Gardening The Earth (v .3)

John Filiss

I am starting with the general proposition that we could change our consciousness of society's destination point from one of an ever-expanding technology to one of a peaceful paradise minus our subjection to technological determinism. Whether this would involve a hunter-gatherer society or not is difficult to say, but the issue is in the arriving...we would attempt to slowly approximate the values we find in a primitive lifestyle by our actions in the present and near future. Those would include a decrease in work, a re-emphasis on direct perception, an awareness of the healing powers of the natural world, etc..

A central problem to any society is that of food availability. Here are some potential methods that may successfully address this issue consonant with these values.

1. Self-Sustaining Agriculture One approach would be the methodical planting of fruit and nut trees, fruit bearing vines, and vegetables in the spaces opened by civilization. One could plant appropriate breeds of the above in open areas alongside roadways, railroad tracks, and near habited areas and in large expanses of lawns. The goal would be to create an infusion of free, sustainable food sources into areas where they are not currently present. A few considerations:

--Hardiness, environmental compatibility, and the ability for the plants themselves to procreate successfully in a given region has far greater importance than does output per plant or acreage, which is the primary goal of agriculture.
--While any food source planted is of potential benefit, the numbers would have to be high for this to have any meaning on a social scale. Planting billions or even trillions of plants in North America alone over several generations, from vegetables to full fruit trees, is the level of effort under consideration here.
--These efforts for planting would need to take place over many decades for several reasons. One is that the amount of work involved, if done over a few short years, would go well beyond simple volunteerism or other foreseeable motivations. Another reason is that the project will entail a good deal of learning and trial-and-error. Done over several generations, you can see what types of food plants can be expected to take hold within a given region, and withstand cyclic variations in precipitation, temperature, pests, and all the rest. As an aside, it is possible that a project like this may need to be an ongoing effort, but one requiring very little effort beyond a certain point.

This approach to food production is part-Johnny Appleseed, part permaculture. The short-term rewards are a potential minimal-cost, minimal-effort source of food unaffected by the use of pesticides, hormones, or other man-made factors. The long-term rewards are a gentle nudging of nature in a direction that is more suitable to human needs without violating the integrity of particular ecosystems. To give a hypothetical example, thirty fruit trees within a 10 acre space instead of only the three that might naturally occur should not constitute an assault upon an ecosystem. At least, limiting the means for propagation of various food plants is the best safeguard for non-intrusive sustainability.

There are several routes this type of project could take that may afford ample rewards in the short-term for anyone wishing to pursue this approach, aside from idealistic efforts aimed at the long-term. The most likely beginning is that of private efforts by individuals interested in a credible organic food source on their lands requiring minimal effort, or at least minimal to zero effort after the effective establishment of the food plant.

One factor that could contribute to its implementation is an economic motive formally called life-cycle savings, which is simply people's desire to plan ahead so as to avoid privation in their retirement years.  If an individual lived on a few acres of rural land for some years prior to planned retirement, he or she could engage in limited, experimental plantings over time with the goal of having a source of free organic food on their own property.

Within a community, the availability of various food plants, particularly fruit and nut trees, on public lands may be seen as a attractive asset that is worth the trouble of implementing. I think the likelihood of this approach being adopted by communities is more conjectural than private efforts, and would only be done if it were to gain widespread appeal. Similarly, massive plantings could be done alongside roads and highways away from particular communities, the incentive being to create a memorable and attractive environment for travelers passing within the environs of a county, state, or province. Whether this would be seen as sufficient incentive for plantings by these regional government entities (or other, possibly private entities promoting tourism) is more of an open question. Another problematic possibility are plantings on properties owned by businesses. I don't think it unfair to say that corporate culture would likely not be amenable to this idea on their own properties, although they may finance its implementation elsewhere as an advertising vehicle, similar to the way different businesses finance road cleanups in return for a sign. Smaller businesses would probably be more open to this approach. And many universities and non-profit organizations could be very conducive to these kinds of projects on their own properties.

One thing to keep in mind is that wherever the major impediment is the allocation of labor for plantings and initial maintenance, the possibility of participation may go up greatly over time, as first experimenters within a given bioregion work out the best approaches and plant variants using the minimum investment of cost and labor.

In a different respect, one interesting add-on incentive for these kinds of plantings is as a food source for the indigenous fauna. Foxes, bears, deer, and a number of other animals could take advantage of a new wealth of food plants that are often less jealously stewarded than traditional agriculture. This can cause a rise in the holding capacity for fauna in general that can even benefit more purely carnivorous animals like cats. And of course we stand to benefit from the increased biomass as well.

2. Desert and Land Reclamation  This is an idea that gets surprisingly little focus, and on which there is little real information. The most inspirational work of which I have record is the Tree of Life project of Wendy Campbell-Purdy, which created an oasis of trees and food plants first on a 45 acre plot in Morocco, then on a 260 acre space in Algeria. Desert covers approximately 11 percent of the Earth's land mass, and if Wendy's remarkable work is anything to go by, much of that desert could be brought back to life with some sophisticated, low-tech human intervention.

At least in some parts of the world, one incentive for land reclamation could be homesteading, with ownership of land accruing to individuals who successfully reclaim it.

3. Alteration of Waterways This is a fairly limited approach, but one worth some consideration. The idea is to create and in particular enhance natural waterways so as to increase their support of fish and other food sources of interest to humans. In streams, this may involve scratching out deep pools, or staggering out a series of small dams, so as to provide desirable food fish like trout a means of surviving both droughts and heavy winters. Another approach might be the creation of small impoundments. Yet another method may be the diversion of small streams or springs into larger pools that are short on waterflow. This approach can be considerably arduous under all but ideal circumstances, but I mention it in passing. And yet another method is the creation of cover near shore that may make available food fish more accessible.

Many millions of dollars are spent annually on projects like trout farms and the release of sterile gamefish hybrids like tiger muskies. Even as a strictly economic argument, a portion of that money spent on projects having a long-term effect could conceivably be a better investment over time.


All of these approaches face various obstacles. One is knowledge, some of which could only be reliably garnered over years and even decades, so as to implement these measures as successfully and with as little effort as possible. But perhaps the real obstacle to approaches such as the ones described above, however imperfect, is a society that sadly feels compelled to look solely to high-technology for credible and creative solutions to human wants.


This essay utilizes a version number (currently v .3) to denote its incompleteness. I welcome any input to expand upon the topics addressed. Thanks :)  Contact: John Filiss