What does a flock of chickens have to do with ecological restoration? People working on restoration of ecosystems may find it strange that the early stages of restoration camping are focused on food production as much as biodiversity or ecosystems. To me the connection is natural.
If we’re going to restore a damaged ecosystem we need to understand how it was broken in the first place. For thousands of years our tillage agriculture and overgrazing have been the greatest threats to the ecological integrity of the earth. The soils of the Spanish Altiplano have suffered in this way. We don’t however get to stop producing food. Our only option is to create food systems that make the land stronger every year, instead of weaker.
Many of the “less damaging” techniques and technologies celebrated by the champions of industrial agriculture only promise to slow our travel on what is a dead end road. Even if we manage to cut topsoil erosion in half, we are still creating a desert. We don’t often think about the energy that goes into machinery, fuels, fertilizers and pesticides. If you consider the whole life-cycle agriculture may account for as much as 1/3 of global carbon emissions. My version of restoration is not about dancing close to this precipice of destruction. Restoration requires a fundamental change of direction in agriculture–in the relationship between people and the land. And agriculture must become a tool for restoration.
When we camp, we work with farmers both to restore habitats, and to support regenerative agriculture. What better way to engage in the work of regeneration then to take responsibility for how we feed each other? How can we labor at a restoration site while the rest of the watershed turns to desert? How could we say we are fully engaging in ecosystem restoration if we are destroying ecosystems every time we feed our bodies? That is why Ecosystem Restoration Camping is not just about restoration, but about restorative agriculture, and how we live while we are doing restoration.
So when we go to a place like the Spanish Altiplano, and think about ecological restoration, we cannot avoid thinking about agriculture and how we feed ourselves. That is why our relationship with the AlVelAl Association is our root in the ground. Restoration is not just about a nesting bird or the Iberian Lynx. It’s about empowering human communities to sustain themselves in healthy ecological systems. It’s about growing our own food, and supporting local farmers who are experimenting with regenerative practices. That’s why part of setting up a restoration camp is creating a breeding population of chickens that can convert insects and kitchen waste into protein in the under-story of a pistachio orchard.
This connection between how we live and how we steward the earth, is what makes the Ecosystem Restoration Camping so exciting. We are not an agency flying in with directives and objectives that are disconnected from the life of the earth. We are global neighbors trying to solve a shared problem. We set up camp, and stay a while. I expect volunteers will learn more than they teach. By inhabiting the landscape we make it stronger. The labor and materials generated by our camps empower local landowners to take risks and try new strategies. Local farmers are the stewards. They are the irreplaceable source of local ecological knowledge. In this way, ecosystem restoration encompasses relationships among people living and working together to restore the land. Healing these relationships is the foundation for a durable ecological restoration.
Paul Cereghino, Ecosystem Restoration Camp Volunteer
Olympia, Washington, USA