Has the Edible Landscape Gone Too Far?



The writer’s country cottage in Virginia is surrounded by lawn and meadow, and then forest. Wildlife stays in the woods, where there is both food and shelter from predators.

I realized recently, with a sickening thud of recognition, that maybe I’m part of the problem.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. And, boy, am I sorry. What’s the problem? Bears, for one thing. Deer. Bobcats and pumas, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and flocks of wild turkey. But mostly, where I live, bears.

When three bears – a mama and two half-grown cubs – suddenly appeared in my field of vision the other day it didn’t register at first. Wow, I thought, those sure are three big shaggy black dogs walking up the middle of the street…off leash. Uh, wait a minute. Those aren’t dogs, they’re bears! Beautiful beasts: lustrous, muscular, and in no big hurry. Unless they are.

“Something’s wrong with this picture,” I thought. Not: bears are bad; rather, this many bears in my central Asheville, N.C., neighborhood at midday is new and disturbing.

Sure, it’s common knowledge among locals that there are bears in the city. But over the dozen years that I have lived here their incidence has changed radically, from occasional bear sightings in the more remote and wooded parts of town, to frequent sightings in the closer suburbs, to, now, the appearance of groups of bears in a downtown neighborhood full of kids, pets, Airbnb visitors, delivery trucks, and a few old folks like me. I

Seeing those bears appear and disappear so fast – emerging from one clump of vegetation and slipping away into another – alerted me to all sorts of unpleasant possibilities. I understand that black bears are not particularly aggressive unless threatened with their cubs alongside them. But it wasn’t part of the social contract when so many of us humans moved into these walkable center-city neighborhoods that we would be sharing the sidewalks with 300-pound free-range omnivores rocking two-inch claws.

11/2/2018 7:51:02 PM

It grates my soul to water a lawn using potable water. Whether wild critters come to taste our plants, is kind of a moot point. They gotta eat; so do we. Who ruined who’s habitats 1st? ...I’ve been aggressively scraping-up & removing old turf...despite the HOA rules which just got changed; the managing agent inserted a sentence most failed to notice: lawns are required!? PHFFT! Totally unrealistic! I’ve been planting food & medicinal plants as fast as I can manage, while rearranging indigenous plants to better locations [do other areas also exempt indigenous landscape plants from increasing one’s property taxes?]. ...Since the HOA managers are now more aggressively sending out compliance complaints, I’ve planted a hedge along the front; It’ll take some years to start looking like a hedge, but the seedlings were Free. Eventually, it'll block their view into our place from the street...what they can’t see, they cannot complain about. ...Also, whether some like it or not, we might occasionally hunt wild animals in our back yard, for food. That’s how people have survived for all time. ...The County, & the HOA, ruled against anyone keeping even few chickens in our large yards... Ridiculous!...they said, "no farm animals”...well, that just doesn’t set well with many. ...Changes might be needing argued for. Or, people may need to get more covert. ...Thankfully, the south roof on ours, faces the back, so when we do put solar on it, or a wind-gen onto the tree snag out back, they will likely not even see them. ...Part of that roof extension is slated to get roof garden bins on it. ... Wild critters increasingly roam human’s Urban areas, even NYC; more likely because humans have routinely decimated their normal habitats..... but guess what? Science has learned that coyotes, possums & rats, normally enemies, in Urban milieus, have even been seen working together to get food wastes. They are evidently doing fine in Urban milieus. We’ve seen small groups of deer walking up the sidewalks on our street. Coyotes have been seen. Other critters may likely follow. In Alaska, Moose roam neighborhoods--those can be a problem, when they walk over or sit on top of a warm car, denting them in. Inducements to humans to park their cars inside a garage, instead of in the driveway! Wild interfacing seems more real; more like it probably should be...it’s a problem for those who are too scared to learn how to do it right, or learn how to avoid most problems. Early settlers had to take precautions, too. We may need to re-learn that.

11/2/2018 10:40:18 AM

I'd rather not waste water on useless lawns, contribute to the heat island effect, make global climate change worse through food transportation, or exacerbate runoff pollution by concentrating food production even more than it already is. Yes, I'm not a fan of the raccoons or the rabbits; I'm looking forward to the day the foxes come back to our neighborhood. We can't stop the bears by paving over our yards; they'll follow their noses down the river to the bakery, just like the turkeys and elk follow the canals into town. Yes, we need a better urban-rural interface, but tearing out food plants where they're needed most (where people live and eat) is not the answer.

11/2/2018 10:35:14 AM

I think you may be freaking out in the wrong direction. People gotta eat, so do animals. Bear sightings appear to be up everywhere, and they will just as happily chase the raccoons out of the garbage as raid the fruit in your yard. I used to live in a small city in upstate NY. I planted my yard within an inch of it's life with edibles. That drew in the herbivores, which seemed to alert what looked like a marten or fisher that there were squirrels there. Yes there were bear sightings in town, no they did not come near my house, even though I had blueberry bushes. When habitat is depleted, be it by high rises, sub-divisions, careless agriculture or other industry, the animals will come looking for what they need. Including animals that would just as soon avoid people. Cutting down an apple tree or ripping out a berry bush is not going to solve this problem. My family is currently working on building a fruit forest (at our new house well out of town). Since we know for a fact there are bears and a big assortment of other animals here (we have a wetland) we are planting food in the woods as well. Reintroducing ground cherries, buying an extra berry bush or fruit tree (trying for native) when we get one for the permaculture to tuck in back in the woods, and all like that. If there is food in the woods they will eat there and hopefully not closer to the house. No guarantees of course, but if we don't do this we can be pretty certain they will show up.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters