Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Looks like "Risk"

Nebraska leads the way in prairie conversion to cropland. Farmers are scrambling to drain every last marsh, pond, and lowland, bulldozing shrub and tree borders, anything to squeeze out more money from high commodity prices fueled by ethanol mandates. With crop insurance there's no risk, and taxpayers foot the bill for environmental destruction on a scale larger and more intense than the years leading up to the dust bowl.

Grasslands are the most endangered and least protected ecosystem on the planet. Ranchers -- who are often, but not always, better stewards of the land -- can convert to row crops and increase their income many times over; this is happening in South Dakota and Nebraska at record paces as highly erodible lands unfit for farming are converted.

Spring Creek Prairie -- Denton, NE
This is what stirs my blood, and I see gardening with native prairie plants as essential to both raising awareness of these issues and making a stand (allbeit very miniscule) against the larger forces of a culture we give a free pass to. For the sake of ease and a desire not to be downers, we ignore where our food comes from, what's in it, and what it might be doing to us. We are a nation of twerking cat memes, grown fat on candy-fed beef and high fructose corn syrup.

In 2014 I will be a native plant purist because so much is at stake, because so much is being lost not to hosta or daylily or butterfly bush (though I believe those are all junk plants), but to our lunacy.

It's my goal to be an Aldo Leopold Jr. to the extreme, yo.

Will my wife and I make the leap, find a way to buy an acreage and convert to prairie? Can we start a small nursery, create a display garden featuring only native plants? Will we host weddings, educational classes, and artist residencies down the road? 

1894 Homestead
I've put aside a memoir on my family's settling in Oklahoma in the 1890s in favor of researching and outlining a book on the moral and ethical imperative to garden with native plants; hopefully, I can complete this by summer. I've got some great speaking gigs lined up as well as I hope to expand in that area more.

We've got our eyes set on Iowa for a move, though nothing is written in stone. Land is more available there, incentives are there for prairie and renewable energy, and there's a niche to fill (I can't tell you how many hundreds of websites I've visited). We'll see. It's crazy. We don't have the money. But it balloons my heart and soul and sets my mind on fire.

In my life every big risk I've taken has paid off in phenomenal ways -- going to college 12 hours from home (I am a momma's boy), studying abroad for a semester not knowing a soul, moving even further from home to do a master's degree, moving halfway across the country again to do a PhD. 2014 looks a lot like the word "risk." It feels about time again to feel as alive as I hope to make the landscapes around me.


Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Benjamin I think risk is a perfect word....good luck on your adventure to IOWA hopefully and with bringing native plants to the forefront without all the nastiness that has been heaped on these precious plants!!

Diana Studer said...

I wish you every success as your plans unfold to fulfilment.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Exciting plans ahead, based on your post! Are you looking at any particular area of Iowa?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Thanks guys! Thinking of within 30 minutes of Des Moines -- particularly taken with the southern half.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Have you been to the Neal Smith NWR SE of Des Moines? They specialize in restoring prairie to agricultural lands - I was lucky enough to get tours during a prairie conference a couple years ago.

James Golden said...

Iowa--an alien world to me. I wish you good luck making this happen.

Eric said...

Would love to have you in Iowa. We're a strong restorationist (politically bluish) state where you might feel more at home!


Eric Miller