It’s been part of The Erie Wire effort to highlight ongoing relationships of nature and society, which is a result of our adherence to a “Land Ethic” — a term that was first introduced by Aldo Leopold when he began to define the “wilderness” sometime in the 1920′s. This effort we’d like to pass on to a new blog — “The Land Ethic” — that can document what we speculate Leopold would pursue to further a better understanding of the biotic community. Each publication through The Land Ethic blog is our assumption of events and activities that Leopold might be reading or participating in if he were alive today. In respect to that state of mind, here’s an excerpt from The Sand County Almanac where Leopold explains the community role entangled in the land ethic:
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.
This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.
In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.
In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worth-less, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves.
In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abraham’s mouth. At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is inverse to the degree of our education.
The ordinary citizen today assumes that science know what makes the community clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows that the biotic mechanism is so complex that its workings may never be fully understood.
That man is, in fact, only a member of a biotic team is shown by an ecological interpretation of history. Many historical events, hitherto explained solely in terms of human enterprise, were actually biotic interactions between people and land. The characteristics of the land determined the facts quite as potently as the characteristics of the men who lived on it.
The local food system is regaining lost time to the community clock. Read below about the thoughts and reactions from the latest research out of Michigan State University, wherein a re-localization of goods is becoming part of an obvious return to respecting the value of land around us.
Detroit’s urban farms could provide a majority of produce for local residents
MSU News, Nov 16 2010
Transforming vacant urban lots into farms and community gardens could provide Detroit residents with a majority of their fruits and vegetables.
As city officials ponder proposals for urban farms, a Michigan State University study indicates that a combination of urban farms, community gardens, storage facilities and hoop houses – greenhouses used to extend the growing season – could supply local residents with more than 75 percent of their vegetables and more than 40 percent of their fruits.
The study, which appears in the current issue of The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, evaluates many aspects of the production potential of the Motor City’s vacant properties, from identifying available parcels of land to addressing residents’ attitudes toward blending agrarian traits with their urban lifestyles.
“What’s clear from our production analysis is that even with a limited growing season, significant quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by Detroiters could be grown locally,” said Kathryn Colasanti, the graduate student who led the study for the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU. “And investments in produce storage facilities and hoop houses would increase this capacity substantially.”
As part of the analysis, MSU cataloged available land that had no existing structures. Using aerial imagery and the city’s database of vacant property, researchers identified 44,085 available vacant parcels, which span 4,848 acres. To paint a more realistic picture, the database excluded land in and around parks, golf courses, cemeteries, churches, schools and more, said Mike Hamm, who leads the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems.
“Our totals are conservative,” he said. “But it may be closer to representing the quantity of land more readily available for urban farms and gardens because these parcels are publicly owned and clear of any buildings.”
Along with pinpointing properties, the study also addressed public opinion on the issue. Different groups value urban farms for different reasons. Some groups see farms and gardens as a means to provide for their families and to bring in some additional income. People connected with urban agriculture organizations emphasized how such efforts strengthen neighborhood bonds. Some senior citizens and youth embraced the concept as a way to access higher-quality foods.
These attitudes could be tempered by a variety of factors related to implementing urban farms and gardens, such as increased activity and noise, perimeter fencing, free gardens used to draw neighborhoods together versus those that sell their products profit, altering the urban landscape with a semi-rural feel and more.
“These different opinions can co-exist,” Hamm said. “But because they could also come into conflict, there is a need to engage in diverse communities to create a vision for the form and scale of urban agriculture in Detroit.”
The study was supported in part by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Fair Food Foundation.