The limits to calculating harvest


I worked from the back of our yard this morning – a good place to take on heady, inspirational work reading and reflecting on deep theory. All in all, it was very productive, work-wise.

But every once in a while I allowed myself to be distracted by the diversity of birds flying, feeding, and calling all around me, like the American Goldfinch feeding on the sunflower above. I got to thinking that our bird feeders haven’t needed filling much this summer, but the number and diversity of birds around the yard are higher. But so, too, are the number of attractant plants that we’re growing, by design.

Rye grass, borage, sunflowers, scarlet runner beans, brown-eyed susan, comfrey, mints of all varieties, the list goes on. And the birds flock. They eat the seeds. They also eat the aphids, slugs, and other pests attacking our vegetable crops. We’ve probably saved buying one 40 pound bag of bird food. But we also saved on lost crops from plant eaters. The birds and predatory insects harvest the harmful pests for us. We get more food.

I don’t know if our weighing our harvest captures some of these tangential harvests happening in our little urban farm. Nor do we capture the forage food – what we used to call weeding – that we give to the livestock. We certainly don’t capture the harvest of delight in seeing new visitors to our yard.

I do know that as our ecosystem becomes more diverse and rich, I develop a growing sense of peace and passion for our little 0.1 acre farm. Everyday I see new members in our community, and I see that it is good.


About mwolske

I'm a Senior Research Scientist in Community Informatics at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois.
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