While fully immersed in a jog-induced sweat on this sticky August evening, I began thinking about the concept of gardening, canning, and supplying oneself with food from a sustainable source. Memories of a conversation this weekend with David and his 15-year old son, John, a Craigslist find, who helped me split over a cord of wood on Sunday, may have spurred me to focus on this topic during my run. David stocks his pond with bluegill, bass, and several other types of fish that he uses for food. He heats his house only with wood harvested from his own acreage. From the short time we spent together splitting wood this weekend, it was obvious that this family takes pride in their ability to provide for their own basic needs.
My own grandparents had a large garden, a fruit orchard, and burned wood to supplement their heat in the winter. My great-grandmother’s family raised chickens, pigs and owned a dairy cow. Neither family lived in the “country” per se. They lived in small town America, about a mile from the downtown commercial business area and mill.
My parents had none of this, nor did they seem to want it. In fact, I was raised with a underlying consciousness that relying on oneself for food was…compromised in some manner. Perhaps, even, beneath us. After all, we had money that allowed us to buy food that we needed. No manual labor for us, no sir-ee, just a quick trip to the grocery store to get what we wanted.
Derrick Jensen, environmental activist and author stated in a 2007 interview for Common Ground magazine, “…if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them. Like any good abusive system, this system has made us dependent upon it.”
This transition of self-sustainability to one of grocery store reliance has been a subtle change in America’s landscape over the past 100 years. However, research reveals that the pendulum may be swinging back. According to a 2009 national study by the National Gardening Association, 43 million U.S. households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs in 2009—that’s up 19 percent from 36 million households in 2008. Additionally, 21 percent of these people will be new to food gardening.
The last wholesale food-source change for our species began about 10,000 years ago in the area known as the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia (part of present day Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Jordan). Soon to follow, China, South America, Central American, and the Eastern United States, all locations independent of one another would consist of agricultural-based communities rather than the hunter-gatherer societies of the past.
Scientists cite climactic change and social infrastructure during the last part of the Pleistocene era as causes for this change. It was the end of the last ice age, and warmer temperatures meant that plants could be grown in regions previously too barren to sustain communities of humans. Additionally, the shift required that humans began to control nature, through growing and domestication of other animals, versus taking a part in a commonly found relationship between animals – that of the hunter and prey.
Additionally, much of the big prey previously hunted by humans was heading towards extinction. During the late Pleistocene, about 80 percent of the 51 large herbivore species went extinct, along with more that 60 percent large carnivores. Previously, scientists thought that this was due to climate changes which in turn, caused food sources for these large animals to be scarce. However, dental evidence does not indicate a poor diet or starvation as the cause for their extinction. In 2010, scientists have theorized that humans were the trigger to start this dramatic decline in species during this time. The fragility of this ecosystem is not unlike that of Yellowstone National Park. Once wolves were eliminated, the elk community grew, causing far-reaching effects on beavers, aspens, fish, birds, etc. Only in the last decade, after the re-introduction of wolves to the park, have the flora and fauna communities started to restore themselves to a healthier balance capable of supporting one another in a truly sustainable way.
William Ripple, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University explains, “We believe humans indeed may have been a factor, but not as most current theory suggests, simply by hunting to extinction. Rather, we think humans provided competition for other predators that still did the bulk of the killing. But we were the triggering mechanism that disrupted the ecosystem.”
Climate changes paired with humans affecting ecosystems causing paradigm shifts in food sources…sound familiar? Maybe it’s time for a change….