I just finished reading a 500+ pg botany book from the 1930’s, and now I am starting on Edward Bellamy’s book Looking Backward. I got about 60pgs into Bellamy’s book before needing a break to rant. Both books, and both authors share a perspective that glorifies ‘dominating’ nature, with no real intention toward or interest in understanding and shaping existing ecosystems. In Pueblo right now my Mom is in a huff because the city is ripping out the tall riparian grasses that line the riverbed, on the excuse that the grasses take up too much water. Of course, while they are ripping out the ‘offending’ grasses, they are not replacing them with anything, so the riverbeds are just mud where the grasses are gone and any higher water-levels will wash away all that soil, making the river muddy and robbing the riparian zone of nutrients and sustained humidity. The area around our rivers is semi-desert, so without the grasses holding moisture in the soil away from the river’s edge, the river edge will be drier and will support less wildlife. With less vegetation along the banks, flooding is also more of a problem, since vegetation slows floodwaters and improves water quality by filtering out the gunk floods churn up.
And, also in Pueblo, I have noticed that the city and most private citizens landscape their yards almost entirely with plants that originate elsewhere. Even when they plant xeriscape gardens, their plants are species from the Mediterranean area or elsewhere on the planet. Their sage bushes are Russian sage, not the native Rocky Mountain sage, and their junipers are water-hoging non-native varieties despite the fact that we have several native junipers, and pinon pines, choke-cherry, ponderosa pine, blue spruce, lots of native oaks, mountain mahogany, currants, raspberries, wild roses, and all sorts of other native plants that look lovely and are already adapted to the Southern Colorado climate.
Pueblo is not the only ecologically naive/negligent city, of course, but the attitude this city’s culture seems to represent falls in line with the attitude that is bugging me in these books. There is no reason why crops that grow well in France or Iowa must also be made to grow in Colorado. There are other crops that do grow well in Colorado, and native plants that we have not yet bothered to develop into crop plants that could be. Surely it makes more sense to plant things that work with, not against climate, right? Granted, Monsanto’s control of agriculture is based on everyone growing the same few seed types, planetary monocultures that make their domination of agriculture complete. But they only can put such plans in place because we are too short-sighted to imagine how we might obtain something of value from growing crops native to our respective regions.
I guess my gut reaction from reading these books leads back ultimately to the same question I was pondering last week (while I was sadly without internet)- If the civilization-boom that occurred in Europe had instead occurred in North America, what native species would we assume were staple crops? Which native plants would we have developed as vegetable, fruit, nut and grain sources here? Which of our native wildlife would we be keeping as domesticated farm animals? Of course, considering how so many of Europe’s wildlife and native plants are extinct from so many centuries of human civilization, maybe North America has been lucky that Western civilization boomed in Europe. Still, I’d love to develop a self-sustaining farm based on native food sources and mindful of local climate.