Wild Farming. That phrase is a perfect example of an oxymoron. After all, agriculture is the practice of domesticating plants and animals. Farming allowed the building of towns and cities. It allowed us to move out of the wild and into domesticated environments. It also allowed us to domesticate ourselves in the process.
This is why I find it so cheering to see the agriculture pendulum beginning to swing the other way. Industrialized, monoculture, GM farming seems to be as far as we go in the direction of domestication. Alternatives are beginning to blossom around us: natural farming, organic farming, permaculture, urban farming and the entire local food movement to name a few examples. None of these are separate. They are different iterations of the same fractal pattern exploding around us. And now we can add the Wild Farm Alliance.
The farmers and ranchers of the Wild Farm Alliance “envision a world in which community-based, ecologically managed farms and ranches seamlessly integrate into landscapes that accommodate the full range of native species and ecological processes.” Wild farmers design and manage their lands so that wild animals and whole ecosystems can thrive. It starts with simple things. Culverts can be sized and crafted to be a continuation of the stream they cross, making fish passage easy. Cattle and sheep can be protected by guardian dogs, donkeys, or llamas. They can be rotated according to the principles of Management Intensive Grazing, mimicking the effects of natural predators such as wolves, and enhancing the health and fertility of the grasslands they depend upon while allowing room for elk or deer. Hedgerows can be planted creating a haven for birds and beneficial insects, offering windbreak protection and trapping fertility.
These are farmers and ranchers at the cutting edge, struggling with everyday issues such as birds that eat blueberries and coyotes that like lamb, yet continuing in their commitment to find a different way to be a farmer or rancher. They are prime examples of the potential we as humans hold to forge a very different relationship with this planet.
My own contribution to wild farming is as yet small but real. My husband and I rotate our goats carefully across our oak forests. We use the donkey manure (our guardian animal of choice) to build berms in areas of low fertility and then enjoy watching the wild turkeys harvest the bugs. We eat salads of miner’s lettuce (a native), chickweed (naturalized from Europe), and dandelion (also from Europe, but welcomed by the natives who easily recognized its value in keeping bodies healthy), all of which grow wild on our property. We remain on the lookout for more and better ways to become a part of the place we live.
What are your wild farming/ranching stories? What experiments do you dream of living? As mentioned in my last blog, my theme for this year is the exploration of the full potential of the ecological role of humans here on Earth. What relationships are we capable of forging with this planet, her ecosystems, and the Life we share this planet with? Your ideas are welcome.