Tao of the Farm – Principle Number 5: “A Cow eats grass and produces Manure; soil eats manure and produces grass.”

Cows are beautiful to watch in the pasture as they munch away at the grasses that they seem never to get bored of. We only have two cows are Pebbeslpring farm. The land is big enough to take between 10 and 20 cattle, but right now the pasture is small with so much of the ground having been overtaken by the terrible invasive Port Jackson Willow (Acacia Saligna) and the even more nasty Inkberry (Cestrum laevigatum). The Inkberry likes the lower lying wetter areas and is poisonous to livestock. The cattle find the Port Jackson quite palatable. I will see them fighting each other to get to the Port Jackson if I have just let them into new pasture. The problems with the Port Jackson, is it grows so dense that the cattle find it difficult to penetrate and the leaves grow high and out of reach because the density caused it to be too dark for  leaves near the forest floor. Also, because the Port Jackson are so densely packed, grasses can grow on the forest floor, again not good for the cattle because they like grass much more than leaves. But also with no grass or any other growth on the forest floor under the Port Jackson, the soil on the steeper slopes begins to wash away in times of heavy rain. So our attitude toward the inkberry has been to remove it wherever we find it.  We cut it down as close to ground level as we can. When it sprouts again we cut it again. Eventually it stops growing. 
Some of our cattle graze in Tsistikama

The Port Jackson, however, I have been more selective with. I have begun rather to cut them in such a way so as to leave behind a savannah of sorts. Trees spaced in a pasture in such a way as to allow enough light to get to the soil and allow the grasses to grow. I have noticed that, at least in the summer months, the grasses seem to be taller and greener in that part of the pasture near the edges where the trees are. I guess it has to do with the fact that there is a little less evaporation there because of the shade. Perhaps there is extra nitrogen there because the cattle lounge there to keep out of the heat, perhaps because the Port Jackson willow is nitrogen fixing, the grasses are able to absorb this critical nutrient near the tree and grow greener. I don’t really know why the grass grows taller and greener where the trees touch the pasture, but I know that it does and my attempt is to mimic this pattern to see if I can replicate the results.

Of course all of this stuff about pasture is quite possibly more interesting to me than it is to you. Books have been written about pasture. Entire library shelves filled. The important thing to take from the pasture is the undeniable fact that we are dealing with a living system. In a very real and observable way the cattle and the grass and the soil are part of the same organism. The grass has evolved to look, taste and behave the way it has because of grazing animals like cattle. Cattle have developed their size, shape and biology because they have evolved in the pasture eating the grasses that they do. In the same way that the predators shape the herbivores and the herbivores shape the predators. But these are not just curious facts of anatomy and biology. These are fundamental truths, absolute laws that whether we choose to or not are a governing force in all of our lives. It may appear that I, as an individual, am a separate organism to the people around me and to the things that I consume and to the things that try to consume me, but in truth, with the perspective of evolution and of time, I am not. 

So much of what I see around me attempts to convince me that I am a separate organism, that I am able to survive even without this planet; that I am separate from the earth. The spectacular project to send a man to the moon, walk around up there and take photographs of the blue planet from that far off position, is one in a sequence of events, since the beginnings of consciousness that have made us feel more and more comfortable with the argument that we, human beings, are a separate organism. Perhaps consciousness itself, in its infancy asks the question, “who am I?” Am I simply the effect of other causes? The newly conscious mind begins to see that it has a will of its own. It sees that it is not like the birds of the sky or the fishes of the sea. The conscious mind chooses what it will do. The newly conscious mind may then begin to see itself as independent completely of the ecosystem, of the environment, of the earth. “I can fly to the moon! You see! The earth is not an organism, and I am not merely a cell or a piece of tissue of that organism. I am separate.”
Of course the illusion of separateness of those on board the Apollo missions is evident to any 10 year old who will point out the earthly origins of the craft’s food, water and oxygen, but somehow, the irrational illusion of “separateness” endures.

So when I sit in the pasture. When I observe the earthworm, when I appreciate the cattle, I let the picture remind me of who I am. I let the picture remind me that I am a part of an organism, an organism that is beginning to show signs of disease caused largely by  people, very much like me, that they have somehow come to forget the obvious truth that they are a small (and very important) part of a big organism. Perhaps the disease afflicting the planet is like the disease of cancer that afflicts so many of our bodies. A disease that killed my own father. The doctors say that a cancer cell is a cell that has forgotten that it is part of body, part of an organism. A cancer cell consumes energy and replicates, but it has forgotten its function in the organism it grows and grows until it kills the body that it forgot that it was integrally part of. The cancer cells form tumours that are fuelled by excess sugar. In the same way perhaps these bodies, these people, form cities distorted beyond any useful shape and size by the injection of excess fossil fuels.  

Tumours and cities behave in this way because they have forgotten the Law of the Farm Number 5 “Cows eat grass and produce Manure, soil eats manure and produces grass”

Author: Tim Hewitt-Coleman

The World can be a better place.... But how? Taking the debate beyond the political, beyond the theoretical into the real economy, into the physical and spatial dimension where cities, landscapes and livelihoods take form.

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