Guest Blogger Angel Banuelos

Angel Banuelos is one of fourteen First Year students from Kalamazoo College to visit our farm last Fall as a part of a service-learning project sponsored by the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement. Angel helped us save seeds from many of the legumes that we grow, including Sugar Snap peas, Potawatomi​ ​Pole​ ​lima beans,​ ​Cherokee​ ​Trail​ ​of​ ​Tears​ ​Black​ ​beans,​ ​and Iroquois​ ​Cranberry​ ​Beans. As our first crops ripened this week and I found myself snacking in the gardens in between doing chores, I remembered this essay that he wrote about biodiversity and his experience on our farm. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

It​ ​seems​ ​illogical,​ ​but​ ​when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​a​ ​kid​ ​I​ ​always​ ​wished​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a​ ​world​ ​of​ ​candy.​ ​I dreamed​ ​that​ ​I​ ​could​ ​be​ ​anywhere​ ​and​ ​have​ ​a​ ​rainbow​ ​of​ ​colors,​ ​flavors,​ ​and​ ​textures​ ​to​ ​snack on.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​the​ ​closest​ ​I​ ​have​ ​ever​ ​come​ ​to​ ​that​ ​experience​ ​was​ ​while​ ​exploring​ ​Harvest of​ ​Joy Farm.​ ​We​ ​visited​ ​at​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​of​ ​fall,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​fruits​ ​of​ ​summer​ ​were​ ​still​ ​bursting​ ​at​ ​the seams-​ ​tomatoes,​ ​turnips,​ ​tobacco,​ ​peppers,​ ​chiles.​ ​The​ ​list​ ​could​ ​continue,​ ​but​ ​half​ ​of​ ​what​ ​I​ ​saw I​ ​had​ ​never​ ​seen​ ​before​ ​and​ ​could​ ​not​ ​give​ ​a​ ​name​ ​to.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​struck​ ​by​ ​a​ ​bounty​ ​of cherry​ ​tomatoes​ ​that​ ​ranged​ ​in​ ​all​ ​the​ ​colors​ ​of​ ​our​ ​Michigan​ ​sunsets.​ ​“This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​breed​ ​that​ ​was supposed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​pink,”​ ​Amy​ ​told​ ​us​ ​with​ ​a​ ​smile,​ ​“but​ ​these​ ​nice​ ​orange​ ​ones​ ​popped​ ​up​ ​as​ ​well”. Many​ ​farmers​ ​would​ ​have​ ​been​ ​disappointed​ ​by​ ​a​ ​crop​ ​that​ ​didn’t​ ​turn​ ​out​ ​as​ ​planned,​ ​but​ ​at Harvest​ ​of​ ​Joy​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​John​ ​treasure​ ​a​ ​concept​ ​called​ ​biodiversity.

Biodiversity​ ​means​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​life​ ​participating​ ​in​ ​an​ ​ecosystem.​ ​The​ ​term includes​ ​bacteria,​ ​bugs,​ ​plants,​ ​animals,​ ​basically​ ​anything​ ​that​ ​chooses​ ​to​ ​make​ ​their​ ​home​ ​in​ ​an environment.​ ​A​ ​perfect​ ​example​ ​of​ ​biodiversity​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​Amazon​ ​Rainforest​ ​or​ ​Australia’s coral​ ​reefs.​ ​Everything​ ​in​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​works​ ​together​ ​to​ ​provide​ ​for​ ​one​ ​another.

Currently,​ ​the​ ​agriculture​ ​industry​ ​in​ ​America​ ​largely​ ​frowns​ ​upon​ ​biodiversity​ ​in farming.​ ​Many​ ​believe​ ​it​ ​is​ ​more​ ​efficient​ ​for​ ​a​ ​farm​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​a​ ​single​ ​crop​ ​or​ ​specialize​ ​in just​ ​a​ ​few:​ ​this​ ​is​ ​known​ ​as​ ​a​ ​monoculture.​ ​Farms​ ​choose​ ​monoculture​ ​because​ ​they​ ​want predictability,​ ​uniformity,​ ​and​ ​crops​ ​that​ ​are​ ​easily​ ​manipulated​ ​by​ ​human​ ​intervention.​ ​Think​ ​of how​ ​you​ ​go​ ​into​ ​the​ ​grocery​ ​store​ ​and​ ​are​ ​accustomed​ ​to​ ​seeing​ ​fruits​ ​and​ ​vegetables​ ​that​ ​all look​ ​the​ ​same.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​because​ ​they​ ​were​ ​bred​ ​on​ ​monoculture​ ​farms​ ​and​ ​all​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​that​ ​grew differently​ ​were​ ​tossed​ ​out.​ ​It​ ​may​ ​seem​ ​like​ ​the​ ​better​ ​option​ ​because​ ​it’s​ ​what​ ​we’re​ ​used​ ​to, but​ ​crops​ ​that​ ​lack​ ​biodiversity​ ​are​ ​highly​ ​susceptible​ ​to​ ​disease.​ ​When​ ​everybody​ ​is​ ​the​ ​same, the​ ​genes​ ​don’t​ ​exist​ ​for​ ​a​ ​community​ ​to​ ​adapt​ ​and​ ​fend​ ​off​ ​invaders.​ ​Along​ ​with​ ​that,​ ​they become​ ​highly​ ​reliant​ ​on​ ​chemical​ ​pesticides​ ​and​ ​fertilizers​ ​because​ ​they​ ​can’t​ ​rely​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bugs and​ ​microorganisms​ ​in​ ​the​ ​soil. ​Those​ ​chemicals​ ​can​ ​be​ ​bad​ ​for​ ​human​ ​health​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​be potent​ ​sources​ ​of​ ​pollution​ ​in​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​when​ ​they​ ​make​ ​their​ ​way​ ​into​ ​the​ ​air​ ​and​ ​into water​ ​sources.

When​ ​a​ ​farm​ ​utilizes​ ​biodiversity,​ ​like​ ​at​ ​Harvest​ ​of​ ​Joy Farm,​ ​the​ ​crops​ ​are​ ​less​ ​input​ ​intensive as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​healthier​ ​for​ ​people​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Earth.​ ​For​ ​example,​ ​a​ ​farmer​ ​who​ ​is​ ​having​ ​an​ ​aphid problem​ ​with​ ​their​ ​tomatoes​ ​may​ ​place​ ​down​ ​some​ ​ladybugs​ ​who​ ​eat​ ​those​ ​aphids​ ​without​ ​doing damage​ ​to​ ​the​ ​tomato​ ​plants.​ ​This​ ​strategic​ working with the ​ecosystem ​would​ ​eliminate​ ​the​ ​need​ ​for​ ​a​ ​chemical pesticide.​ ​A​ ​second​ ​example​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​“Three​ ​Sisters”​ ​method​ ​of​ ​farming​ ​created​ ​by​ ​Native Americans​ ​where​ ​beans,​ ​corn,​ ​and​ ​squash​ ​are​ ​placed​ ​together.​ ​The​ ​beans​ ​supply​ ​nitrogen​ ​the corn​ ​needs​ ​which​ ​means​ ​no​ ​fertilizer​ ​and​ ​then​ ​the​ ​squash​ ​keeps​ ​the​ ​area​ ​clear​ ​for​ ​the​ ​both​ ​of them.​ ​Crops​ ​are​ ​able​ ​to​ ​be​ ​grown​ ​organically​ ​without​ ​major​ ​human​ ​input​ ​which​ ​is​ ​better​ ​for health​ ​and​ ​sustainability.

Along​ ​with​ ​that,​ ​new​ ​combinations​ ​are​ ​able​ ​to​ ​occur​ ​which​ ​increases​ ​the​ ​pleasure​ ​of eating​ ​and​ ​allows​ ​new​ ​traits​ ​to​ ​develop.​ ​Like​ ​the​ ​random​ ​red​ ​headed​ ​grandchild,​ ​crops​ ​can​ ​spring up​ ​with​ ​unique​ ​colors,​ ​flavors,​ ​and​ ​textures​ ​so​ ​eating​ ​doesn’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​same​ ​boring​ ​thing​ ​all the​ ​time.​ ​An​ ​unexpected​ ​way​ ​I​ ​found​ ​out​ ​variation​ ​was​ ​being​ ​created​ ​at​ ​Harvest​ ​of​ ​Joy Farm​ ​was​ ​when we​ ​were​ ​eating​ ​honey​ ​at​ ​dinner​ ​and​ ​John​ ​remarked​ ​that​ ​the​ ​taste​ ​could​ ​differ​ ​based​ ​on​ ​what​ flowers ​the bees​ ​had​ ​chosen​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with.​ ​It’s​ ​pretty​ ​amazing​ ​to​ ​me​ ​that​ ​because​ ​they​ ​have​ ​so​ ​many​ ​different plants,​ ​their​ ​honey​ ​could​ ​taste​ ​uniquely​ ​delicious​ ​every​ ​year.​ ​When​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​genetically​ ​dice roll,​ ​crops​ ​also​ ​have​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​of​ ​naturally​ ​developing​ ​beneficial​ ​traits​ ​like​ ​resistance​ ​to​ ​drought or​ ​disease.

Overall,​ ​what’s​ ​learned​ ​from​ ​farms​ ​that​ ​practice​ ​biodiversity​ ​is​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Earth​ ​responds best​ ​when​ ​nature​ ​is​ ​left​ ​to​ ​do​ ​as​ ​nature​ ​does.​ ​As​ ​humans​ ​we​ ​may​ ​find​ ​nature​ ​unpredictable,​ ​but this​ ​can​ ​make​ ​life​ ​more​ ​joyous​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​favorite​ ​example​ ​of​ ​biodiversity​ ​in nature​ ​or​ ​a​ ​‘surprise’​ ​crop​ ​that​ ​grew​ ​for​ ​you?​ ​Feel​ ​free​ ​to​ ​share​ ​in​ ​the​ ​comments​ ​below!

Some photos of the diverse seeds Angel helped us save:

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About Harvest of Joy Farm LLC

At Harvest of Joy Farm LLC we seek to develop, practice, and share farming systems that mirror the resilience, diversity, and self-sufficiency of a healthy biotic community.
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