This year, the 30-year-old fig tree in our mini-farm looked done for. It was older. And the unseasonably cold weather in early spring after an earlier warming spell seemed to be difficult for it. Maybe fatally so. Still, based on decades of experiences with seeing perennials, (and especially this one) come back to back to life annually, I was hopeful that the ages-old cycle would again breathe life back into this venerable tree. I especially wanted the fig to survive, since, for many years, it had produced an abundant yield of tasty fruit once—and sometimes twice—a year.
By May 7, however, the tree had no buds bursting forth. Was my hope misplaced, I wondered? Eagerly, I looked again on May 21. At first nothing seemed to be different. Upon closer examination, I was excited to see a few buds beginning to emerge; but did this change mean much? Looking again on June 7, I was disappointed to see only ten to fifteen percent of the branches were showing leaves along the denuded limbs. Seeing this, I thought of Rudolph Steiner, a brilliant Austrian agriculturist, had who observed that the trunk and branches of trees are really "soil" extruded into the air from which the plants —leaves—and their fruit grow. Judging from our fig tree’s appearance, it looked like our soil was dead and the crop was going to be poor.
But June 26 brought real excitement! The fig tree was now covered on three-quarters of the branches with medium-sized and still-growing leaves. Hooray! The life processes have came through once again.
Like the fig tree, our Earth, too, is looking and feeling older. Humankind has not always been so kind to it. The Industrial Revolution, based on fire, seems to be "burning up" the planet.
For example, historically, 44% of the Earth has been considered desert, created by the normal ebb and flow of rainfall in arid regions. However, human activities, such as farming, grazing and logging have the power to increase the rate of desertification, as can be seen in the data from 2000, which indicated that 63% or more of the planet surface had become desert. It is interesting to note that northern Africa used to be the granary for Rome, similar to the mid-West in the U.S., until it was over over-farmed and a great part became desertified. The Sahara Desert in Africa used to be a forest until it was over over-cut.
Today, it is becoming clear that we are seeing the "end of our civilization" as we know it. In many ways it seems less vital, like the fig tree after a warming spell followed by a major cold period. More excitingly, it is the beginning of a new life based not on fire and heat, but rather on living biological systems and a dynamic co-relationship with the Earth and its environment! Life is springing back again!
It is an important time in history for us to succeed in working with the Earth.
Why? Some examples—
Many years ago, Richard St. Barbe Baker, an Englishman responsible for inspiring the planting of an estimated 26 trillion trees during his lifetime noted, "A [farmer] took up land [in Saskatchewan, Canada], dug a cellar and built a frame house on top of it; plowed up the prairie and grew wheat and oats. After twenty years he decided the country was no good for farming, for eight feet of his soil had gone [due to wind and water erosion from the farming practices being used] and he had to climb up into his house."
More recently, it has become evident that a worldwide increase in population combined with worldwide depletion of soil is making our ability to feed ourselves more challenging. An example is the fact that Kenya is currently importing about 45% of its calories annually; Japan imports about 40% and Mexico about 50%. Placed in the context of greatly increasing world food prices and significantly increased chemical fertilizer and crop seed expenses, it becomes obvious that the challenge is major. In Kenya alone, as a result of a tripling of chemical fertilizer prices, much less land is being planted in maize this year—a fact that is likely to result in more food shortages, higher food prices and possible social disruption.
- In the near future it will continue to be important to be successful: At the end of 1999 according to the USDA, there was 116 days worth of world surplus food. By the end of April 2007, the level had dropped significantly to 53 days, and by March 2008, to 50 days. Disturbingly, politicians worry when the level drops to 60 days because a 60-day supply is the amount required to fill world "food pipelines". If the trend continues, as is expected, as early as 2012 and as late as 2015, there could be little in the way of world food reserves left. With such shortages, even if some commodities are still available for import, food is likely to be very expensive. The world may soon have a situation of Peak Food.
What is Next?
What can we do about all of this?
The great thing is that individually and together we have the opportunity to create a splendid future with a simpler, resource-conserving way of life that is qualitatively improved! In fact, we can make all the difference in the World. The initiatives we take right where we are will enable us to have a better life!
How do we begin?
The overall challenges facing us are greater than any one person can meet. What if we took pleasurable responsibility for a part of the solution that we could handle? A part that can has the potential to be truly sustainable and adds thriving life, beauty, health and nourishment to our planet—while renewing ourselves and providing a source of physical, social, and spiritual renewal for everyone.
A vision for this solution is given to us by Voltaire in Candide—"The whole world is a garden, and what a wonderful place it would be, if we each took care of our part of the Earth, our garden."
Come back tomorrow for the next episode in A World of Hope:
Episode 2:"Growing the Soil Right Where We Are—That Grows Succulent Crops for Nourishment"