Farming With the Wild

Farming with the wild is not a new concept. Farmers have often had to overlook wildlife preservation and landscape conservation to ensure short-term economic survival. But farmers can and should be encouraged to manage their lands more sustainably while protecting wildland values.

| December 2008/January 2009

Work with nature farming with the wild, not against it, and create a prosperous outcome for all.

Farming With the Wild

At first glance, the phrase “farming with the wild” may seem contradictory. Agriculture has been and remains the relentless process of selec­tion and minimization, one that now blankets billions of the Earth’s acres with a mere handful of crops. Farming and ranching activities are consistently identified as the primary cause of wildlife habitat loss, the archenemy of the biodiversity crisis.

Throughout the millennia, agricultural domestication has largely been a dance of coevolution, with humankind playing a leading role as artificial selector and stew­ard, among a full cast of essential and cooperative participants (including birds, insects, fellow mammals, grasses, food and fiber plants, and natural systems). As farms that combined row crops and livestock gave way to specialized factory-oriented monocultures at war with pests, diseases and weeds, ever larger machinery necessitated ever larger areas to operate. Habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, soil erosion, the persecution of predators and the over­exploitation of nonrenewable resources are now among the many ecologically devastating consequences of modern industrial agriculture.

Forced to compete in a globally oriented food and fiber system, farmers have often had to forsake goals, such as wildlife preservation and long-term landscape conservation (as well as health-care and other basic needs), in favor of short-term economic survival. But with the proper incentives, assistance and resources, farmers can and should be encouraged to manage their lands more sustainably, and profitably, while protecting wildland values.

A Classic Farming Concept with a New Vision

Farming with the wild is not a novel concept. Nineteenth and 20th-century American literature is replete with prophetic and philosophical writing that attempt to reconcile and redirect a civilization bent on the isolation or elimination of wildness from the broader culture. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, John Muir’s The Mountains of California, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America spring readily to mind among the hundreds of works of extraordinary vision and insight. Within the sustainable agriculture movement itself, the idea that farms must be managed as natural systems gained considerable cur­rency throughout the 20th century.

Today, a number of terms describe the move away from monoculture toward the more diverse crop systems of polyculture, from an emphasis on annuals to geographically appropriate perennial cropping systems: agroecology, regenerative agriculture, natural systems agriculture, grass farming, succession farming, permaculture, eco-agriculture and farming with the wild.

luann white
12/23/2008 10:50:02 AM

I was really looking forward to reading this article. But when I tried to I got caught up in the history and lost my way. I felt like the writer was so caught up in showing us how much he knew he really never told us anything that would help. I think this mag. is here to help guide us in options of every day living not giving us a history lesson. I am sure the writer is very good and the article was very good and in another publication a great match. Just not this time. sorry!

Debbie McSweeney
12/11/2008 10:05:57 AM

In regards to living with the wild--I have never lost an animal to coyotes though we have a ton of them! Our chickens are protected by a 6 foot high fence with electric wire on top and bottom--nothing has ever gotten through and you can get solar chargers if you live off the grid. My sister lives out west and has coyotes and chickens. She had a four foot fence and her chickens were constantly flying over the fence and the coyotes were coming in and getting them. The coyotes got very brazen because they knew there was an easy food source. Instead of putting in a higher fence and the electric wire she ended up having Game and Fish call in the coyotes and shoot them. There might not have been a choice by this point but this is something that other people can learn from. If you have livestock look at how they can live in the predators domaine and remaine safe. I have friends who have sheep and they use donkeys and Llamas and I've never heard of them loosing a one! Preventive maitanence goes a long way when you choose to live in balance with nature. There is a reason for every creature put on the earth--weather we like it or not. Thanks for the info!

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