Reconnecting Community and the Land

As we steam on into 2019, as a society and as individuals, what do we see that needs to be addressed? It’s clear that there is a recent surge of interest in subjects such as sustainability, home food production, community awareness, local economy, the health of the planet, and compassion. Are all of these subjects separate entities, or are they mere pieces of the whole? Are they connected through some unseen web, some binding force greater than ourselves? These resurgences can likely all fall into the category of “environmental awareness”. The larger picture here is that more and more people are reconnecting to the Land that we all share. This isn’t a developmental process, this isn’t an interest that individuals are discovering, this is an intrinsic value in our lives that we are rediscovering. We all have a deep connection with the Earth embedded in us, after all we do all share it. That seems to be the underlying motive in these interests. In sharing the Earth, that means we all have a connection with each other. Whether we honor and nourish this connection with our environment - both physical and communal - is ultimately up to us, but there is evidence that suggests that we will have to start developing stronger ties to each other in order to secure the future of our species, as well as many others.

One way we can start to honor and strengthen these ties is to start thinking about the future of food, and the future of the community. Most folks can point to, or at least have heard of a community garden in their locale. Community gardens are great for many reasons; they give folks the accessibility to resources they may not otherwise have, they produce wonderful bounties of food, resources for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Community gardens help build soil in otherwise unused and unproductive spaces, they bring diversity and varied beauty into otherwise plain and single species landscapes. This is a relationship of reciprocity, we are giving to the Earth as much as we are harvesting for ourselves, enriching the ecosystems. There has been a fairly recent movement of community food forests. This takes the concept of the community garden and the concept of food forests and merges them into one coherent project. Food forests are the plantings of diversified food producing plants, usually arranged in a series of layers that mimics the ecology of a mature forest landscape. A community food forest can help strengthen the bonds of community, our relationship to the Earth, and our moral standing with all of Life around us. Community food forests involve extensive plantings of polycultures, which, as the name implies, is a system of multiple different species all working in harmony with each other.

Monocultures may be the agricultural norm, but in fact, they are far from the natural norm. Rarely, if at all in nature does one ever see a monoculture. The single species systems we create—lawns, cornfields, palm plantings, dairy operations, paper plantations—these are inventions of the controlling, uniform Western mindset. The key to nature and the key to Life is variety. We ourselves are composed of countless different forms of life, different cells, microbes all working together to create something living and breathing and functioning. The same can be said for ecosystems, these are highly varied, highly complex systems that operate by diversification. The various and multiple aspects of these systems are acted upon and manipulated by the countless lifeforms within the system, creating almost infinite cause and effect types of situations, yet it all seems to work out. That is, until Man steps in and manipulates with our brains. When following our instinct, the Voice of the Earth within us, we don’t go wrong. The Earth has slowly begun to transform in the last few millennia, and that seems to coincide with us moving away from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We can create low-maintenance, food producing, abundant landscapes and ecosystems—just like our ancestors had— simply by observing the systems of nature, and by taking inspiration from this and putting it into use in our everyday lives. These systems do not fail, until we make them, or until they are destroyed. This involves thinking outside the box, or should I say, outside the rows. Forests aren’t in straight rows, and this is also a product of our overwhelming desire for control and order.

The community food forest is one way to help the planet, help the Life around us, build community and help secure food for future generations as well. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the dangers of our actions, but when it happens in your own back yard, how can you ignore it? We can all work together to bring life, beauty and healthy food to our communities, and have loads of fun doing it too. The best part is, these polycultures will be around for a lifetime—or two, or three! Let us leave a legacy for our future generations, let us leave them something they can glean hope and inspiration from. These community areas can be in your town green, on property owned by a community center, anywhere where folks can access it. We need only work together, and have a vision. Soils can be improved upon if they are unsuitable, sites can be adapted, folks can be a part in creating something and feel that rewarding sense of importance. These areas can also be gathering places, they can be areas where people come to learn, to enjoy nature, to eat! There is not only a need of these types of ecosystems strictly for community, there is a dire need for it for our planet. The Earth needs polycultures and diversified systems now more than ever, when forests are being cleared in terms of acres per minute. We can help establish future systems that can be dependable, resilient, highly adaptable and productive.

Humanity is dependent on food production, and food production is dependent on agriculture, but what happens when agriculture depletes our landscapes, and the health of the planet and soils, to a point where it’s no longer possible to practice agriculture as we know it? Well then, we have to change how we practice agriculture, and we have to adapt, or starve. Change is a scary thing, and when that word is brought up, people shy away from it. However, positive change can be rewarding and fulfilling, especially when it is necessary. We can create positive change in our community, our agricultural practices, our diets and the local economy. What happens when there is an over-abundance of raspberries, or green beans, hazelnuts, or tomatoes, or anything else from a community food forest? We can plan a processing party, where folks who participate can take some home, all the while canning, or freezing or drying or packaging excess for sale at your local co-op, or as donations to a food shelf, not to mention gaining knowledge and educating people on the almost lost art of preservation of a healthy harvest. There are so many possibilities to a project such as this, they are almost endless. Of course, these systems all take time to establish, the perennial aspects of a food forest won’t bear for several years. All the more reason to get started now! We can be here to reap the harvest of apples from your town green, or chestnuts from your church, or grapes from the YMCA! We need to collectively plan, collectively act and collectively change our ideas of food production. We can watch our community grow alongside these wonderful plants. We can cultivate relationships and friendships and connection to the Earth, as well as beautiful trees, shrubs and vegetables. We can make a change in our community, one that lasts generations, and we can start it now.