Monday, May 3, 2010

Non-native food

Dave and I have continued our conversation about native species. The asparagus I steamed for dinner grew on our farm, but is native to the Mediterranean countries. The tomatoes in our chilli are native to Central and South America. Even the alfalfa we grow in our fields for the sheep is not a native species. It originally came from the Middle East.

Those non-native species are delicious, nutritious, grow well in our climate and have grown well here in Minnesota for over a century. The dandelions which are gradually replacing the alfalfa plants in sections of our hayfield are also non-native. As much as I enjoy their brilliant yellow flowers, the dandelion plants are pests. They crowd out the alfalfa and are too short to be cut by the haybine, and so provide no food for the sheep. Right now, we are trying to control the dandelions by digging them and replanting the area with alfalfa seed. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to spray.

We don’t farm organically, but we get as close to organic as we can. At the least, we try to farm sustainably, balancing fuel use with herbicide use, wind and water erosion of the top soil and the necessity to rotate crops. I wish someone could give us a flow chart – if “a” happens, do “b”. If “c” happens, try “d”. But there are too many variables. All we can do is try every year to make the best decisions for our land, for our sheep and for the environment. Right now, that means planting non-native alfalfa and killing non-native dandelions.

There are farmers who cut prairie grass for hay and farmers who grow prairie grass for ethanol. I want to learn more about both things, but for now, we plant non-native alfalfa, kill non-native dandelions and perhaps, since they’ve been in the country for about 250 years, we eat tomatoes and think of them as native plants.

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