Try this at home!
To do a quick analysis of the health of your farm ecosystem, get down on your hands and knees in any field. Look carefully around (to see if anyone is looking at you funny) and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I see bare soil? Any evidence of erosion?
- Does the ground beneath my feet feel more like a sponge or more like concrete?
- Do I see signs of worm and insect life on the soil surface (worm burrows, beetles, ants, spiders, etc?) as well as plant matter breaking down?
- Is there a good diversity of plants growing? Any signs of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife?
Now let’s look at a landscape through the four “windows” covered on the previous page to understand what they look like on the ground.
Sometimes you can use these indicators to assess land quickly, even without getting close enough to see the soil surface! Imagine you see this landscape from the window of your car. What observations would you make relative to the four indicators described above?
Notice the patches of bare soil, the short height of the plants, and the erosion in the gully that runs through the top center of the photo. It’s hard to discern details at this distance, but based on these observations, what can we say about the water cycle? Biodiversity?
Seek the root cause of an ecological problem before applying short-term fixes.
Good land stewards tend to take a big-picture view of their farm. When a problem presents itself, such as a pest infestation on a crop, rather than reaching for the nearest spray to kill everything, they will take a step back and ask “Why did this happen? Is my soil out of balance? Did I not rotate my crops properly? What are the options available for controlling this problem now, and how might I prevent it in the future?”
Sometimes a blended approach is necessary: a quick fix is needed to keep from losing an entire crop, but the farmer determines that a change in management is needed to avoid this situation again in the future.