I have been reading Janine Benyus’ account of experiments in growing native perennial grasses and legumes in order to identify polycultures for sustainable food production on the North American Prairies, responding to four critical questions:
Can a perennial produce as much seed as an annual crop?
Can the polyculture yields stay even with or actually overyield those of monocultures?
Can the polyculture defend itself against insects, pests, and weeds?
Can the polyculture sponsor its own nitrogen fertility?*
Exploring mixes of perennials found that some worked and some didn’t, that others worked in the beginning and then struggled but were still important to development of the polyculture.
By the way, the results are promising, though they take time, sometimes decades of figuring out, yet it is critical work for sustainable farming in the future that will see us using less, if any, oil-based fertilisers and pesticides. Nature has a way of finding its own.
So I tried a different kind of polyculture, throwing together a number of texts that would not normally reside close to one another, just to see what happened. These are the ones that “survived”: the first from David Brooks, the second from Benyus, the third from Seth Godin, and the fourth from Joseph Campbell:
There’s always something in every community out of joint, corrupted and unjust in some way. People in community live at the crossroads where their pride of place and anger at injustice meet.**
In other words, having a history is what makes a community last.*
But there isn’t a guarantee. In fact, most of what we seek to do will not work. But our intent – the tent of being off service, of making things better, of building something that matters – is an essential part of the pattern.^
What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfilment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfilment your gift to the world, which is your self.^^
What I take from these is that, whether we are thinking of people “planted” together or perennials on the prairie, history matters, and history doesn’t happen quickly. There’s also a lot of messiness and failure involved, but our intent will carry us forward. It is an adventure, though, that isn’t over by the end of the week, but can take a lifetime in making.
Nature teaches us and encourages us in many things.