Respecting The Natural World:
A Good Place To Start
By Dustin Turner
I have been very fortunate for the opportunity to enroll in and graduate from a few different vocational courses during my incarceration. Most recently, I graduated a horticulture class and was accepted into the advanced course. I was then given an opportunity to become the horticulture “teacher’s aide” officially and, especially during Covid times without students, the greenhouse maintenance/landscaping technician unofficially.
Growing up in a family which gathered most of our food from the garden, forest and waterways, I thought I was already well versed in horticultural knowledge. Throughout my time in this vocational class, however, and under the tutelage of my instructor, I have learned an amazing amount. Literally, every single day that I’m able to work I learn something new. Furthermore, the horticulture class has a phenomenal library, which I have not taken for granted.
I enjoy helping students learn the basics of horticulture, from understanding soil composition and the cycles of nature, to identifying plants and learning the skills of food production. Helping incarcerated people, who come from diverse backgrounds and upbringings, to learn about the life of nature is very rewarding and I’m grateful to be given this opportunity.
In conjunction with the curriculum, I try to instill in students an increasingly sustainable, regenerative, organic, permanent, and harmonious manner of living with the natural world. Such a perspective promotes an appreciation of the diversity of life and living things.
This worldview is not religiously specific, yet it may certainly open up spiritual feelings for those who become more in-touch with the earth. Consciously involving oneself in the cycles of – and inculcating a greater respect for – the natural world can have an unconscious impact upon the soul. With incarcerated people, it can have a profound, if subtle, effect upon their rehabilitation.
Introducing the principles and practices of harmonious living with the natural world into one’s own life is neither solely nor chiefly a selfish endeavor; the personal joy and soul fulfillment is but a beneficial byproduct. In my view, these premises should be increasingly implemented because it is the way in which each of us can selflessly help to offset our own harsh impact upon our planet and environment.
Mono Versus Poly
With our food production, whether on a macro or micro scale, we have come to an over reliance upon chemicals to solve all arising issues. These “issues” are truly not the problem, but merely a symptom. An overabundance of pests, for example, manifest when we attempt to grow an overabundance of a singular crop in order to maximize profits. Then, to correct the “issue”, we often turn to synthetic pesticides. When the soil becomes devoid of nutrients, due to monocultural farming and/or being poor stewards of the land, we turn to synthetic fertilizers. Unwanted plants, too, flourish where we eliminate checks and balances, and chemical herbicides appear to be a rational option.
In nature, however, these “issues” simply do not exist. A great diversity of life results in a harmonious balance. It does not require endless hours of classroom instructions, laboratory research, and chemical experimentation in order to grow the healthiest foods and provide sustainable habitats for diverse earthly life. All that is required is the observation and mimicry of nature. Through her cycles we can learn all of this and more. “Science” attempts to improve upon nature, but in reality, we only always botch it up.
Be very wary of the individual whose worldview is wrapped up in the mono; the singular. It is literally unnatural. From this mindset springs intolerance, domination and supremacy. Indeed, diversity is a plague to such a worldview.
At the turn of the 20th century, the number of Americans who grew their own food was substantial. Monoculture capitalists, however, began taking over the “industry.” Since then, though the quantity of food has increased substantially, its quality has plummeted. The soil has lost its nutrients. Chemicals permeate our environment. People are fraught with ailments. Birds, bees and other wildlife are likewise diseased and disappearing. Our waterways have become tainted. Domesticated livestock are treated with the utmost cruelty. Life on earth suffers.
A Good Place to Start
The scale of harm that humans exact upon the earth is unfathomable, and for the individual it can be quite overwhelming. This is no reason, nor excuse for paralyzed inaction. There is plenty that we as individuals can do to be better stewards of our environment and to offset this harm. Indeed, if we are not putting forth effort in our personal lives, any complaining is really unjustified.
Here I wish to offer a few examples of excellent places to begin doing our part. I challenge everyone reading these words to decrease your complacency and increase your action.
1) Grow Something Edible!
There is no feeling like harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs from plants that you yourself have observed and helped emerge and mature. Not only does one experience a psychological or soul satisfaction, but one’s body will be happier to received the nutriment from organically grown foods.
There are no valid excuses not to begin growing something for yourself, your family and/or your neighbors. A windowsill, balcony, patio, yard, garden or forest are all places where something can be grown. In urban areas, find out where community gardens or coops exist and get involved. If there are none around, it may be your calling to lead the way.
So much of our kitchen scraps end up in landfills when they could be contributing to the healthiness of our soil and, thus, ourselves. There are no valid reasons not to compost. If you are not yet prepared to work your own compost, you can bring your compostable materials to a local garden or farmer. From compost derives healthy, organic soil.
Learn what should be set aside for composting and what not. If you are conscious for a week of what it is that you are tossing in the trash or down the drain, you might be surprised. Much of contemporary culture is disposable, yet our aim should increasingly be greater sustainability.
3) Promote Diversity!
Variety is the spice of life. We should attempt to encourage and increase diversity of life within our environment. One of the best ways to do this is through developing habitats where diverse life flourishes.
Monoculture farming, especially by the mega agribusinesses, is profoundly harming our planet in a myriad of ways. We do not have to promote nor mimic them (including in our yards – high maintenance, low output, manicured grass lawns are monocultures!) Complex systems are more resilient than simple ones. Bushes, hedges, trees, birdhouses, beehives, etc., all increase habitats for greater diversity. Help to increase life.
4) Buy Local!
“Farm to table” is, thankfully, a growing trend. We should all want to know where our food comes from. Food that is grown locally and without artificial fertilizers and other chemicals can be found. Though it may be a bit more expensive, it will generally have higher nutritional value, thus not requiring that we “super size” our portions. The energy required to move your fresh food from a bike ride away versus transportation of underripe goods from overseas is immense. Furthermore, the cooperative economics can help your community prosper.
5) Catch the Rain!
Plants love rainwater. Manmade surfaces create runoff and can upset the ecosystem. If water flows through your area, find ways to be a better steward of it.
Water is a resource that has become more scarce and expensive in my lifetime. It is suggested that water scarcity will only increase exponentially in the coming years. Consider the watershed of your area as well as your own water wastefulness.
6) Plant a Tree!
This is a relatively simple and inexpensive investment that will pay dividends for years to come. Trees are multifunctional. They provide shade, improve the soil, attract pollinators and other diverse wildlife, act as a windbreak, are esthetically pleasing, help cleanse carbon dioxide and provide oxygen, give a potential yield and if need be they can provide material for construction, fuel, etc.
If these concepts seem relatively simplistic, if you are already taking these actions or if you are fortunate to have more land which you have authority over, I challenge you to go beyond them. Explore and implement some of the principles and practices of Permaculture, consciously replace by increments that which is synthetic with that which is natural.
“In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” – Henry David Thoreau