Hand of God, Hand of Man

11. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

24. And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 

~ Genesis, King James Version

After a bit, God decreed that Man was in charge of everything.

I think we got a pretty good deal, no matter how it came about. We humans got to live in a veritable Garden of Eden, access the fruits of the Earth and go forth and multiply. Our dominion over, well, everything, seemed unlimited without accountability.

But if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.  

We started managing things to meet our needs, heedless of the surrounding systems and the other beings around us. Species extinctions, habitat destruction and global warming head the list of unwelcome impacts from our behaviors.

On the other hand, we are now slowly becoming cognizant of the need to protect our environment in order to protect ourselves. Modernization has brought with it a huge range of efficiencies and advances to make our lives ‘better,’ but some of which are counterproductive to the natural environment that supports us.

 Writer Shea Swenson notes, “The stereotypical picture of American farmland probably looks a lot like this: rolling hills lined with rows upon rows of singular crops, perfectly spaced out for machinery to cultivate, harvest and irrigate the fields … Row crop agriculture refers to the technique of planting in deliberate, predetermined lines wide enough to allow irrigation, tilling and harvesting — usually using farm machinery. ‘That type of agriculture has been really good at producing a lot of calories, but not so great at building healthy soils, clean waterways and abundant food sources outside of starches and oils,’ says Kaitie Adams, a community agroforester with the Savanna Institute.”

“It wasn’t always that way. In fact, historically, trees and crops co-existed on swaths of farmland together, retaining soil integrity and growing in harmony.” The tree lines, often following fences or watercourses, also provided habitat for wildlife of various kinds.

Several concepts are being tried to restore more balance in the systems. Rewilding of formerly used lands allows for the recreation of natural systems, sometimes with human help. Rebecca Clarke explains, “Rewilding is a form of conservation and ecological restoration that aims to improve biodiversity and ecosystem health by restoring natural processes. In addition, this conservation strategy aims to provide connectivity between natural processes and ecosystem health, and reintroduce apex predators and keystone species.” (In this concept, humans are not ‘apex predators.)

“Passive rewilding protects and expands ancient woodlands to allow a variety of wildlife to disperse and to increase carbon storage. Rewilding in these areas focuses on natural processes taking their course, including the natural succession of open habitat, fluctuations in population abundance, and allowing species to exist without human interference.” 

Agroforestry addresses the integration of trees and perennials into agricultural lands and systems. Swenson describes, “Some of the techniques, such as alley cropping and silvopasture, integrate trees and bushes into agricultural land. When alley cropping, farmers create rows of trees, forming protected alley ways in which to plant crops. Silvopasture adds trees into livestock pastures, resulting in benefits such as shade and shelter for herds … Other techniques involve surrounding farmland with trees for added protection.”

“Planting windbreaks or trees encompassing crop areas or livestock land protects from intense winds and other extreme weather. Riparian forest buffers, another agroforestry tool, use trees to separate managed land from waterways and wetlands, resulting in less soil erosion and filtration of pesticides, livestock waste and other potentially harmful agricultural runoff.”

If this sounds a little like undoing ‘what man hath wrought’, I think of it as tinkering with the original design, and an attempt to regain the benefits we were originally given (if you believe that sort of thing) — the fruits of the Garden of Eden.

What I believe, is that we can make our world a better, nicer place to live.

Additional information:

Rebecca Clarke, What Is Rewilding and Can It Restore Our Ecosystems?, July 30, 2021, TreeHugger

Shea Swenson, Is Agroforestry the Key to Hardier Row Crops?, December 05, 2022, Modern Farmer

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