Wes Jackson: Agriculture as a Mimic of Natural Ecosystems
Wes Jackson describes the work of the Salinas, Kansas-based The Land Institute as the development of an agriculture that mimics the prairie ecosystem.
After Jackson’s recent Illahee talk, I picked up a library copy of Agriculture as a Mimic of Natural Ecosystems, a collection of conference papers that includes two by Jackson, one of which is co-authored with his daughter Laura.
In “From genome to ecosystems to human communities,” he writes:
A prairie, like most other land-based ecosystems, features roots that hold soil in place and a prairie, again like other ecosystems, has ‘genius’ in it, meaning that the current arrangements are products of trial and error over the millennia. Alexander Pope in his ‘Epistle to Burlington’ said, ‘Let Nature never be forgot, consult the genius of the place in all.’ ...
What we are able to disrupt, without destroying options for future generations depends on the forgiveness of particular area or place. We have to ask a similar question about a nano-ecosystem called a genome.
In “Developing high seed yielding perennial polycultures as a mimic of mid-grass prairie,” Wes and Laura Jackson set out the four questions that have guided The Land Institute’s research on perennial grains:
- Can herbaceous perennialism and high seed yield go together?
- Can a polyculture of perennial seed producers outyield the same species in monoculture?
- Can a perennial polyculture provide most of its own fertility?
- Can a perennial polyculture successfully manage insects, pathogens, and weeds?
At the talk, Jackson also mentioned Wendell Berry’s essay, “Nature as Measure.” Here is Berry:
The use of nature as measure proposes an atonement between ourselves and our world, between economy and ecology, between the domestic and the wild. …
The reunion of nature and economy proposes a necessary democracy, for neither economy nor nature can be abstract in practice. When we adopt nature as measure, we require practice that is locally knowledgeable. The particular farm, that is, must not be treated as any farm. And the particular knowledge of particular places is beyond the competence of any centralized power or authority.
Farming by the measure of nature, which is to say the nature of the particular place, means that farmers must tend farms that they know and love, farms small enough to know and love, using tools and methods that they know and love, in the company of neighbors that they know and love.