The Vegetable Garden

Restore Basic Life-Supporting Systems - page 2


Humans once lived as part of ecosystems.  We were just one of many ecological components within an ecosystem.  We were also part of the food chain; sometimes preyed upon, but mostly a predator.  When we discovered cultivation we discovered many advantages, such as being able to grow staple crops in relative density.  By clearing an area of its natural components we have been able to increase the quantity of a single, useful component such as a commercial crop.

A typical farming operation strives to eliminate as many ecological components as possible so that a predetermined yield of a specific crop can be obtained.  For example, a farmer sows 10 acres of wheat and expects to achieve a yield within a certain range.  If it’s a good year he will achieve the upper end of the range and if it’s a bad year he will achieve the lower end of the range.  This offers him a relatively secure livelihood and he can live his life in accordance to the money he makes from his predetermined yield.  It makes perfect sense from an economic point of view.

However, this only works when the basic life-supporting systems are working, hence, adequate water, air and soil.  The problem is that these basic systems are part of an ancient ecosystem that is long gone.  The soils that we now grow crops in were part of a natural ecosystem and the millions of components that once existed were a critical part of keeping the basic life-supporting systems healthy and functioning.

By stripping the land of natural components we start to see the degradation of the basic life-supporting systems - water, soil and air.  When a large number of living components are removed, these natural systems break down because the components and the systems are interrelated.  As a diversity of plants and animals are replaced with a single species of crop, we start to see effects on the way the basic water, air and soil systems operate.  Water moves faster and is not filtered by a variety of plants.  This usually lowers the ground water and leaves the surface hotter and drier.  The hotter surface moves the air in different ways causing rain clouds to travel away from the area causing localized drought conditions.  Overall fertility is lost from soils as water moves out of the system at a greater rate.  The temperatures are hotter in summer and colder in winter as there are fewer plants to thermoregulate the area.  Rainfall becomes more unpredictable as the air current is affected by hotter ground temperatures.  It eventually gets difficult to grow the commercial crop.