Saturday, January 1, 2022

What Are We Actually Doing Here?

"Being Indian is an attitude, a state of mind, a way of being in harmony with all things and all beings. It is allowing the heart to be the distributor of energy on this planet; to allow feelings and sensitivities to determine where energy goes; bringing aliveness up from the Earth and from the Sky, putting it in and giving it out from the heart." - Brooke Medicine Eagle

Unexplored Ruins
James exploring Incan ruins discovered only recently and have never been excavated. Peru, 2013.

Regenerative agriculture, permaculture, biodynamic, organic, holistic agriculture, beyond organic, etc. are all labels assigned to different yet similar types of agricultural practices. What are these labels? Where do they come from? What do they actually accomplish?

Whenever I meet someone who is in or familiar with the farming world, the very first thing they do is ask me what my growing practices are. Which makes sense, you need to know who you're talking to and what they stand for before you say anything. It's exactly what I do too. The problem with this is labels are just labels, we never explore what lies beyond the label. Where do these labels actually come from? How did they get their start?

When I get asked this question I like to throw out the term that almost nobody is familiar with (mostly because I made it up), which is "Beyond Organic." When I tell someone I practice beyond organic farming practices, you can usually see their eyes squint as they look up to the corners of their eyes as they think. You can see the wheels turn in their head "I know what organic is, everyone knows that, but what is beyond organic, what exactly does that mean?" Once prompted I explain further that I do things as naturally as possible, I don't use any chemicals of any kind, I make and use my own compost, I rotate crops, sssooooo it's beyond organic because it's everything that organic should be (but isn't) so it's literally beyond organic.

Nine out of ten times I tell someone this their instant reaction is an enthusiastic, "Oh, so you practice permaculture?!" No... no, I most certainly do not is my instant response to them. I've never taken any permaculture classes nor have I read any permaculture books nor do I know much about permaculture at all and quite frankly when I've had in-depth talks with people about permaculture, I have not been impressed. I do not associate with that label in any way, shape or form, for better or worse.

Furthermore, the permaculture label came about in the 1970's and even today it's viewed as a "new" way of farming. In fact, all of these types of natural agriculture are viewed by our society as being "new". Where did these actual practices come from though? Did they just appear out of thin out and the smart and edumacated 20th century folk just so happened to discover these practices suddenly?

Not a chance, these practices are as stolen as the land they are used upon. What all of this really boils down to is these are the same general farming practices used by indigenous tribes when they roamed the Americas before Columbus' and subsequent conquistadors arrival. I'm sure similar farming practices were prevalent in the majority of, original, indigenous communities across the world. If you look at the Americas, there were a lot of tribes, all with their own customs and practices, a lot of which has been lost since genocide basically wiped out these indigenous communities. However in very general terms Native American tribes very much 
respected the earth, and every single plant and animal.  When an animal was killed, every part of it was used.  Respect was given to the plants.  Thanks was given to the sky when rains came.  Companion planting was practiced.  Ingenious farming and irrigation techniques were developed, which we're only just now starting to realize the science and absolute genius of these practices. These Indigenous tribes had a very deep connection to the earth in both a real and spiritual way, the lines of which cross paths indefinitely.

When you start reading history books on Native Americans and their growing practices, it becomes abundantly clear that they were very well aware of the connection between the soil and the plant. They knew that in order to get a successful vegetable harvest, it was all in the soil. They knew you couldn't grow the same plants in the same place indefinitely. They knew the value of composting , which feeds the plants.  They might not of been able to explain or understand the exact science of any of this, but they knew it and that's all that matters.

Our current day society chooses to ignore that all of these "new" agriculture practices, no matter the label you assign them, comes straight from these indigenous tribes. This knowledge was once well known, used, and these tribes flourished off of this knowledge and their connection to the earth. We've since lost our way and we've forgotten that this is where all of this knowledge originally came from. It didn't come from a couple of white dudes in the 1970's tripping on LSD or psilocybin. That may have spurred them into thinking it's a good idea to try these techniques again, but it's not where the knowledge originally came from. Our society has done and continues to do a lot of harm to these indigenous communities. At the very least we owe it to them to acknowledge that these "new" growing practices are really old world practices that were pioneered by indigenous communities and if we didn't have the oral and loosely recorded knowledge then we would have nothing.

As we find ourselves in the midst of a climate crisis with increasing extreme weather complete with droughts which will surely lead to food shortages (of real food anyways) we can try and develop "new" techniques or we can quite simply use the techniques that already exist and have existed for thousands upon thousands of years. These techniques that indigenous communities used have stood the test of time. To this day if you go to Machu Pichu in Peru the aquaduct system is still functioning and if you venture out into the surrounding valleys you'll find yourself meandering on trails that were built by the Incas themselves. We don't need to develop new technology or techniques, we need to study what indigenous communities developed, discovered and used themselves.  We then need to implement their techniques into our societies across the world. If you want to capture carbon, you don't need to develop some new giant carbon capturing machine. These machines already exist, they're called plants. Grow a garden naturally, in a beyond organic fashion and you are capturing carbon. If your area is going through more and more droughts, aquaducts, such as those used by the Incas will likely be very beneficial. Live in a mountainous area that his hard to farm? Take another lesson from the Incas and terrace it. Perhaps you live in a place with too much water or experiences frequent flooding. The Aztecs have you covered with their ingenious chinampas construction.

So you see, instead of scratching our heads at these climate problems that we brought on ourselves and trying to develop new technologies to solve these problems, which will surely have their own unintended consequences. All we really need to do is look to the past and learn from the knowledge that already exists from the original indigenous communities across the world. Genocide may have wiped out the majority of these indigenous communities but some of their knowledge still exists. That in itself is a lesson we should learn from: the key to this world is diversity. If someone doesn't look like you or talk like you or think like you, those differences should be 
embraced and celebrated.  This leads to a more diverse, inclusive, and knowledgeable world. The opposite only leads to hate along with loss of life and loss of knowledge. The land I grow my food on are the stolen lands of thOčhéthi ŠakówiŋNúu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute)Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), and the Hinono’eino’ Biito’owu’ (Arapaho) tribes.

A better way of describing what we all practice, no matter the present day label is to quite simply tell people that you practice indigenous farming techniques, which is to grow your food as naturally as possible. Give credit where credit is due. Our present day society tries to morph, bend, and contort the land and environment to our very will. However we are finding out more and more every day that this is impossible and the only way forward is to work with nature instead of against it. Only when we work with nature will we flourish as a society.

Incan Terraces
Incan terraces in Pisac, Peru.  The most impressive example of terracing that I've ever seen. Peru 2013.

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