By Donella Meadows
–June 15, 1995–
The slugs ate the sprouting zinnias right down to the ground.
So we put nine ducklings into the garden to eat the slugs.
The ducklings ate the slugs and then they ate the spinach and trampled the peas. So we moved six ducklings down to the pond and left just three to patrol slugs.
The raccoon circled the garden fence at night, trying to eat the ducklings.
So every sunset we shut the ducklings in a cage to be safe from raccoons, even though slugs come out and eat zinnias mostly at night.
One night two chickens escaped from the chicken house, and the raccoon got them.
Then we got the raccoon.
Meanwhile the fleabeetles ate the sprouting radishes right down to the ground.
We replanted the radishes and covered them with a spun-plastic row cover, so the fleabeetles couldn’t get at them. That seems to have worked, so far.
We spotted a coyote, hoping to eat lamb, circling the pasture where the sheep were grazing.
So we moved the sheep to the orchard near the house. They ate the orchard grass. Then they ate the apple trees. We moved the sheep back to the pasture with an electric fence around them (solar powered).
That has worked, so far.
Meanwhile the father duck down on the pond keeps attacking the six ducklings. We hatched them out in an incubator, and he doesn’t know they’re his own children.
We throw stones at him to scare him off. It seems to be working, so far.
The potato beetles are laying bright orange eggs on the undersides of the potato leaves, so their newly hatched larvae can eat the potatoes right down to the ground.
We prowl along the rows, crushing potato beetle eggs. That will never work completely, but we’ll cut the population back far enough to get some potatoes.
The witch grass is sending its relentless roots through the bean and sunflower rows. The ground ivy is crowding out the lawn grass. The crows are eating the sprouting corn. The old dog is too mellow and arthritic to chase the crows. The fleas are eating the dog. The carpenter ants are eating the house. The mosquitoes and black flies are eating us. The swallows circle overhead, eating the mosquitoes and black flies, but not fast enough.
In the month of June on this organic farm where we try to work with the forces of nature, we expend all the energy and cleverness we can summon, trying to keep things from eating things.
And nature laughs. We have been farming here for 23 years. Nature has worked here for 10,000 years, since the glacier left, developing a self-balancing system where everything eats everything else, but everything thrives without human help. Nature put white pine and sugar maple here, deer and wolf, beaver, wild grape, wild turkey, salmon, trout, marsh marigold, scarlet tanager, black fly, and smart, lean ducks — not sheep, potatoes, chickens, zinnias, or the stupid, fat, nearly flightless ducks that humans have bred.
Even organic farming distorts nature’s system. We push the land to produce the life forms we eat. We don’t care about what other creatures eat. If we did, we would, as people did here from the time the glacier melted, catch trout, hunt deer, pick berries, and plant scattered plots of native corn and pumpkins and beans, in a system so stable we could sow in the spring, go wandering all summer, and come back to a successful harvest.
There would be many fewer of us, and we would live more simply. But we wouldn’t have to twist and prod nature to produce only for us. And we would have enough.
One of nature’s laws says that a population growing in numbers or material consumption must be taking sustenance from other populations. The human population is now taking about 40 percent of all that the earth’s land produces. We are planning to double our numbers in 40 years, and double our material standard of living sooner than that. We can do so only at the expense of self-balancing natural systems. And we can’t do it for long, because another of nature’s laws says that no population can grow in numbers and consumption forever.
Yet another law says that the more we push a natural system our way instead of its way, the more we have to expend muscle energy, fossil fuel energy, and cleverness. As God put it, when he expelled Adam and Eve from hunter-gatherer paradise: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; … in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”
This terrific curse does not dampen for a moment our enthusiasm for farming. We like to eat corn and potatoes and duck; we like to make bouquets of zinnias. In the sweat of our faces, we try to maintain what we call order on twenty acres. We leave fifty acres untouched, so other creatures may have food, and so, when we and those who come after us tire, when we run out of fossil fuels and chemicals and cleverness, nature will still have sugar maples, white pines, beavers and black flies to work with, to rebuild a system that runs beautifully without any help from us.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1995