THE LAND’S NATURAL CONTOURS, and those we have shaped within it, are highly visible in the broad spaces of agriculture, seen near and far, from above or at eye level. Our perspective of the near-earth’s shape is further enhanced by the seasons and their unique foliage and weather.
Adjoining squares and rectangles of maturing or harvested crops and stirred or idle loam form an unintended, shifting pattern from the sky, and fill our ground vision. On such fertile, ordered acreage our individual and collective welfare depends.
From above, these squares and shapes fit easily within the easy spaces framed by lakes and rivers, hills, and mountains. But in fact the border between cultivated fields and the wilderness around them is hotly contested. The uncultivated plants, native and non-native, comprise the tougher, stable population, and flourish nicely on their own. They multiply and migrate toward open space and free food as aggressively as squirrels.
The delicate field crops, in contrast, require constant care and nourishment and must be rotated every few years. The special demands of these superstar hybrids deplete the soil and weaken their defenses, leading to over-reliance on “inputs,” chemical fertilizers that fuel the indiscriminate growth of neighboring species, then pesticides to keep nutrient-seeking “weeds” at bay.
Organic farmers fight the same battle with different weapons in the irresolvable struggle that comes with favoring some species over others while providing sustenance to all. Every plant species craves the benefits of cultivation. The effort to promote a precious few requires beating back others.
Whether to plant potatoes, corn, or acorn squash, the tractors pulling plows and harrows through those tailored fields demarcate firm lines in the soil during spring. They hold for only a few short weeks, if that.