When people think about growing food, they normally think about annual crops: fruits, vegetables, and grains that are planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, and planted again the next year. While this is the dominant model in both industrial agriculture and backyard gardening, it’s actually a very inefficient way of producing food.
A much more efficient way, in terms of land area and maintenance effort required, is to plant what’s known as a food forest. A food forest is an intermingling of perennial crops – like fruit trees, berry bushes, and vines – that produce food year after year without needing to be replanted.
The downside of food forests is that they take a long time to become established, and may produce little or nothing in the first few years. After that, though, they provide a lifetime of fresh food with minimal work.
Paradise Lot tells the story of two permaculture practitioners who produced an amazing amount of food in a tiny yard in Massachusetts by using food forest techniques. Find it on Amazon here.
Deep ecology is a philosophy that states one may only harm others in order to serve vital needs.
A deep ecologist would say it’s acceptable to kill a plant or animal in order to eat it. It would also be okay to kill a bear that’s trying to eat you. Killing a bear for a hunting trophy, however, would not be seen as ethical.
This philosophy has existed for thousands of years in cultures around the world, and is part of how those cultures were able to live sustainably. It was reformulated in the 1970’s and became known as deep ecology.
Deep ecology points out that functioning natural areas are valuable because they provide ecosystem services. However, it cautions against using this as the basis for protecting nature: if feasible artificial substitutes for ecosystem services became available, we would be free to take as many resources from nature as we wished. Instead, deep ecology advocates seeing nature as inherently valuable, or as having the inherent right to its own existence. To respect these rights, people should take from nature only what is necessary for their own survival.
A book about deep ecology can be found in the Madison library system or on Amazon.
Madison’s Isthmus newspaper ran an article in 2012 that declared the age of the turf grass lawn to be over.
The New Yorker published a similar article in 2008.
The New York Times Magazine printed an article questioning lawns as early as 1989.
Bringing Nature Home comprehensively describes why natural yards are critical to the preservation of ecosystem services.
Silent Spring, a landmark book in the environmental movement, discusses how maintaining lawns through applications of chemicals is harmful to homeowners as well as to wildlife.
(Outside the Madison library system? Find the books on Amazon here and here.)