Friday, March 25, 2011

Wild Versus Cultivated

The switch from hunter-gatherers to the more settled lifestyle of tillers of the ground changed the nature of human civilization. By saving seed and domesticating animals, people were enabled to settle and stay, almost anywhere weather and climate permitted.

So now we raise everything that we need, negating the need to hunt game, catch wild fish and forage for wild plants. But is this really such a good thing?

Most people now fish and hunt for sport and enjoyment, not because they need the food. And wild plants are, for the most part, a novelty. But consider the following.

Nothing that we labor to raise comes easy. Nothing. Want your own apples? Better prepare for a deer invasion. The only thing that keeps the tree-destroying ungulates away is a very tall wire fence.

Want to raise your own fish? I do, simply because I love having trout available when I want them. But each year, a mink visits my ponds and kills whatever trout remain. I try and catch them all out before the mink arrives, but that never works. Other people lose their fish to droughts. The whole thing is costly and fraught with frustration.

Vegetables. I love cabbage, broccoli and in fact, all of the brassicas. But those awful cabbage worms work hard at destroying my crop. The only answer, other than pesticides, is to cover the plants with a special cloth that allows sunlight and moisture to penetrate but (hopefully) keeps the cabbage moth out so that it can’t lay eggs that will later turn into those nasty, green worms. But the cloth is expensive and strong winds often blow it away, giving the moths time to do their dirty work.

I love root crops, too. But my carrots always fall prey to root maggots. The same goes for turnips and rutabagas.

My dreams of being a sheep farmer were dashed when coyotes began killing my prized horned Dorset sheep.

Hopefully, the above examples are sufficient to illustrate the difficulty in raising food. The battle is worth it, of course, since whatever we manage to salvage from insect, avian (wild turkeys often mow down vegetable seedlings) and mammalian interlopers is of far better quality than what we might buy.

But let’s consider a contrasting point of view. Fish, wild freshwater fish, are available in huge quantities. I’m not talking about trout and salmon, either, but rather I mean warmwater verities, ultra-prolific species such as white and yellow perch, black crappie, cusk and hornpout (bullheads). These abundant fish all make fine eating and catching and keeping numbers of them absolutely does not harm the population. In waters where people do not remove sufficient numbers, these species often become stunted…too many fish vying for a finite amont of forage.

How about wild game? The fact is, and this is an important point, wild game cannot be stockpiled. It’s a case of use it or lose it.

Finally we come to wild plants. Every year about this time I ask myself if it’s really worth it to work so hard at planting a garden. After all, I could do as well by concentrating entirely upon wild plants.

Wild plants seldom fail because of pest problems. We don’t need to plant them because they grow on their own. Given this, why do most of us continue to work so hard at raising cultivated vegetables, all the while eschewing the high-quality wild plants that grow all around? I don’t have an answer to that.

At the least, it only makes sense in this time of economic woes, for us to embrace what was always there. The wild plants won’t fail us.

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