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Letters to the editor on Invasive Species

Dear Jack,

Sorry I haven’t been able to respond earlier – your Summer TNF arrived just as the busy season began and I haven’t got much chance to sit at my desk with a pen since then.

Thanks for pointing out the lack of clarity in my letter to the editor last issue. All of my criticism of cannabis has to do with THC and the culture that has grown up around it. I have no objections to CBD or any other hemp products – in fact I know almost nothing about them. And almost everything I do know about them I’ve learned in the last two years of Vermont Canna-mania. Before that I only knew that my very old bee books and yearbooks of agriculture were printed on hemp paper, and that’s why the pages are still white and unfaded after all these years.

I’m glad that CBD is helping you and many others with arthritis. I may need it someday myself, but so far sunshine and bee venom seem to be keeping my joints working fairly well.

All the best to you and your family and keep up the great work.

Best Wishes, Kirk Webster

Jack,

This tribute from me to you is long overdue. I don’t know if you or someone else came up with the idea of theme issues for The Natural Farmer but it was brilliantly conceived and you have brilliantly executed it. As time has gone by, you have gotten better and better at finding experts with thoughtful opinions and absorbing stories to tell.

You have produced how many (160, maybe?!) of these issues in 40 years, so it feels a little silly for me to say that this last one on invasive species was maybe your best yet. Beyond the sheer volume of information, I was so impressed by the wide range of perspectives and opinions expressed.

Of course, the highlight for me was Bryan O’Hara’s passionate yet tongue-in-cheek turnip fable. Bless you, Bryan! But the other highlight, Jack, was your eloquent essay on the pandemic. You nailed it.

Jack, you and I haven’t always agreed. (Why should we? If everyone is thinking the same no one is doing any real thinking.) But in your illustrious editorial career you have exemplified the power of open-minded journalism. At a time when our wannabe fascist president threatens the very core values of our republic, you fight back with your free press, one of the very cornerstones of those values! Thanks you!

PS I know that Julie also deserves a great deal of the credit. Thank you, Julie!

C. R. Lawn, Colrain, MA

Dear C. R.,

Thanks for the fulsome praise! Actually the themed issue idea was a trick to get folks to write for me. They could always put me off when I asked, but when it was for an issue on the theme that turned them on, they didn’t want to miss it!

We are not done with Bryan O’Hara and his turnips yet! Wait until you see the rest of this letter section.

And thanks for the support on the pandemic essay. That was bubbling up in me since the beginning of this experience we are all going through. The issue of the paper in your hands right now is also a product of such thinking and questions. I hope you like it!

— Jack

Dear Jack,

Thank you for yet another great issue of TNF! I found the article by Jomo Neiger especially thought provoking, though I wonder if you did not mislabel the tree on p. 18. Looks suspiciously like a Black Walnut.

I would like to respond to your “Thoughts on the Pandemic.” You have written a beautiful essay connecting the pandemic crisis with the deeper crisis of human distancing from Nature. You point out with simple eloquence the hopeful responses that people are making in a “tidal wave” of gardening and buying local food. Along these lines, I heard from Shi Yan, the Chinese representative to Urgenci, the International CSA Network, that once again, as China has to reclose due to an upsurge of cases, the CSA farmers cannot keep up with soaring demand for their food. And you savor the irony of the confirmation of the choices that us natural farmers have made to stay off the fast track and learn to live closer to Nature.

In conclusion, you lay out the choices that human society will have to make as the Covid-19 threats subside. Will we go back to the old normal of corporate control, chemicals and CAFOs? You put it so well – “But life is nothing if not persistent, and infectious organisms seem very much alive. We have uncorked a genie here which will not withdraw for long.”

Your conclusion, however, seems to reduce the path ahead to a moral, individual choice. I grant you, that is a critical part of what faces each of us. But quiet moral choices will not be enough. If we want the new normal to be anything like our visions, NOFA will have to join in collective action with the other sustainable agriculture networks, farmworkers, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the HEAL Food Alliance, faith groups, Sunrise and other uprising youth, Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, the labor movement and too many others for me to try to list. We have to get out there in the dirty old policy arena, turning the transformed food and agriculture system we want for the future into legislation and programs that real world agencies implement. It is time to go beyond tinkering with the crumbs from the Farm Bill table. Farmers will be able to afford to farm more ecologically, if we push for structural changes in the entire food system that will revitalize farms and rural areas. We need to flesh out in detail programs based on our lived experience for the Green New Deal (GND) resolution that Senator Markey and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez put on the national table.

Here are my thoughts about what this might look like.

First of all, family-scale farms need a system of fair pricing, that is, parity with supply management with support for prices that cover the real costs of living and farming, including conservation practices that regenerate natural resources.

Parity pricing and supply management should also be extended to other crops.  Since fruit and vegetables are perishable, we need public investments in value-added enterprises that could be farmer or worker-owned coops in every county where these crops are grown.

Next, farmers need contract reform.  Farmers that sell to bigger entities need legislation to protect their rights to freedom of association so that they can form groups or cooperatives to strengthen their bargaining position in negotiating fair contracts without threat of retaliation.  In addition, a limit must be set on the middlemen’s share of the final shopper dollar: if prices go up, middlemen must pay farmers more; if the prices processors pay to farmers go down, the point of purchase price for shoppers should also go down.  With control by mega-corporations an ever greater threat to family-scale farming, the GND must be linked with anti-trust measures.

All farmers should be eligible for GND programs whether they own land, rent it with cash payments or through share cropping.

The GND should include measures that are essential to establishing farm work as a respected and fairly remunerated profession. Like farmers, farmworkers need freedom of association so that they can form groups or unions to negotiate fair pay and working conditions.

To invest effectively in “drawdown” of greenhouse gases (GHG), the GND must include incentives and training for farmers to become the true managers of solar power that photosynthesis makes possible using the basic systems of regenerative organic agriculture.

The GND should preserve farmland and discourage sprawl. Tax and other incentives can make preserved farmland available to new farmers.

The GND should also ban speculation on agricultural commodities and farmland since this drives up the price of land and food. Strict regulations should control investors who are not producers or final users.  Food derivatives markets should not be used as investment vehicles by banks and investment funds.

A “Just Transition” in agriculture means providing access to farmland to those from whom it has been unjustly taken, the reparations called for by farmers of color and Native Americans (http://www.soulfirefarm.org/support/reparations/).

Farmworkers should have the opportunity to become farmers. It should also include retraining for the farmers who now farm thousands of acres to use regenerative practices with a buy-out scheme for CAFOs and provide incentives to farmers to reduce their production of bio-fuels that take land out of food production. Instead, farms could receive payment for other kinds of renewable energy production that makes use of marginal land, sun, wind and the heat of the earth.

For supply management to work, imports must be limited to crops that US farmers cannot produce on land in the US.

So, as you write, Jack, let’s “undo the damage!” Let’s be active players in an historic popular movement for an ecological society!

For Peace in Our Lifetimes,
Liz Henderson

Dear Liz,

Thanks for your program for changes needed in US ag policy. You may be right that some of these are needed, although as I get older I am not so sure that I know what is needed in all cases.

Along with many other small family farmers, for instance, I don’t think we on our farm are able to afford to pay wages starting at $15 an hour (as you suggest in calling for us to support the Fight for 15) and even in this seller’s market we are managing to break even only by taking advantage of WWOOFers and other volunteer sources of help. We are trying to sell healthy food to working people and they have budgets. We do take SNAP and offer work shares as ways of making the food more affordable, but we are conscious of charges that organic food is only for the elite.

The permanent workers we have trained over years make more than $15, but they have worked their way to that. If we had to start at $15 with everyone, experienced or not, willing to volunteer or not, we would have to fold. I’m not sure it is fair to those who have found long term jobs here, where we eat fresh farm food as a team for breakfast and lunch, enable working mothers to bring their kids for healthy care, and include staff in decision-making and planning, to say we have to shutter the business and hope they will be happy working at Walmart. There is considerably more to a job than the paycheck, and those who share my view and appreciate “quality” employment ought to be able to find it, even among employers unable to start them at $15 an hour.

My point in the “Thoughts” article was to reflect on the Pandemic itself and particularly on the complete lack of discussion in any public media I see of the responsibility of individuals for their own state of health. That survival during this period is based on one’s health care coverage or obedience to rules of masking and social distancing compared to what one has been putting into one’s mouth for the last 20 years is ludicrous.

Were I a proponent of the cancel culture I would urge that any such statements be censored as patently false and potentially fatal advice. As a libertarian, of course, I think ideas, even very controversial ones, should be propounded and discussed and that sunshine and a breeze are the best way to air things out. But that medical doctors and officials responsible for the good health of the nation, when discussing the Pandemic, should ignore the surfeit of “fake food” that our culture is awash in seems truly criminal. They must know better. The realization of the abysmal level of public debate on health in this nation spurred the publication of this current issue with its focus on Food as Medicine.

So thanks for your urgings and good luck to your causes. We have a process in America, flawed as it often is, for making sense of all this: discussion, debate, and thoughtful consideration of the views of others. I hope the Natural Farmer can play a very active role in this and I hope to be able to continue doing this for a while longer!

Dear Caro (Roszell) and Doug (Cook),

Hey, you two! I know you are not the editors of the Natural Farmer newsletter but I know you two and figured you could perhaps pass this on (through NOFA) to the correct folks and let them know that I’m not simply a crackpot with an ax to grind. I was excited by the recent supplement on invasive species (The Natural Farmer Summer 2020) as this is an issue that seems to still be pretty low on many people’s radars, especially within the farming and permaculture communities. Things started off well until I got to the article written by Bryan O’Hara. I understand that NOFA is trying to bring multiple viewpoints to its readers, it’s a strategy that I applaud when the issue is one of the differing viewpoints but in this case, NOFA has printed an article that makes claims that have been proven false numerous times.

NOFA is an organization that people look to for information leading to better land practices, yet the points in this article instead make light of major ecological threats and encourage people to grow species that are well known to destroy ecosystems. The article starts off by making the claim that “invasive” is all about a point of view, claiming that the idea of invasives is due to “the human separation from the lessons of nature”. It’s an argument that could work if applied to plants such as goldenrod or ragweed but falls apart quickly when one considers the fact that invasives are species that would never have arrived to North America without human transport (i. e. humans were directly involved and by no means separate).

The author then claims that the major losses of species are caused by diseases and not invasive species and yet the examples he offers (American Elm and American Chestnut) were both decimated by invasive species (in this case invasive disease species). He goes on to encourage people to plant invasive wineberries and makes the claim that garlic mustard invading a forest will benefit soils by increasing photosynthesis in the thinning understory. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that garlic mustard releases numerous allelopathic chemicals into the soil, namely allyl-isothiocyanate and benzyl-isothiocyanate, which kill off mycorrhizal fungi in the soil leading to the decline of trees in our forests, a fact that has been proven in published scientific literature. The garlic mustard is not helping to fill in a canopy that is thinning for some mysterious reason, it’s killing the trees directly and choking out any healthy understory that might be able to take the place of those trees.

As I think both of you know I am anything but a purist when it comes to invasive species, I recently wrote an article for ELA about rethinking black locust arguing against its label as an invasive species and I will happily argue against the overuse of glyphosate on the landscape, especially in a battle against an invasion that simply cannot be won. My arguments are not coming out of an outdated approach of labeling good plants and bad plants but from current ecological research. The article in the newsletter is not a different opinion but instead a statement of incorrect information. If NOFA is going to print something that folks will use to make changes on their landscapes it behooves the organization to fact check the opinions presented. This is disappointing from an organization that I have thought deserves my support and makes me rethink my role as a member of NOFA.

With respect for the work that I know you two are doing,
Dan Jaffe Wilder

Hi Dan,

Thank you for reaching out.  I hadn’t read Bryan’s article yet (honestly, I hadn’t even cracked open this issue at all) so I went ahead and read it.  I think you’ve made some particularly important distinctions about our role in “invasive species” not being as simple as a lack of a certain perspective.  As well, the large photo of Garlic Mustard with the complimentary caption will likely incite some very strong reactions.  While I am low on the pole as far as the Natural Farmer goes I have cc-ed Jack Kittredge on this email, perhaps some of your comments and concerns can be used in the next issue in the letters to the editor section.

Regards, Doug

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the strong letter. I have asked Bryan if he would like to respond. I plan on printing your letter and any response I get from Bryan in the next issue. This is exactly the kind of discussion I want to foster on issues like this.

— Jack

Dear Jack,

I didn’t write the letter to start an argument with the author. I wrote the article to let you know how disappointed I was that NOFA would even print such a piece. If you are going to print my letter I ask that you print it in its entirety (perhaps omitting the very beginning which is addressed to Caro and Doug). Please do not pick apart the letter and only print the pieces.

Dan Jaffe Wilder

Thanks, Dan,

I wouldn’t pick apart your letter and not let it speak for itself. That is not how I have used this position in all these years.

But I am not so ready to declare the matter of invasives settled, either. I think calls to avoid topics because they are “settled” can be a way of censoring and I have a strong aversion to that. I have not heard from Bryan, but my hope was to let him reply to your statement that the issue of invasives is settled and not deserving of discussion. It looks like we need to decide that question before we decide to take on the main topic or not. If he does not want to do that, then I’ll publish your letter by itself, give my observations, and invite responses.

I don’t often get much feedback from readers and I greatly appreciate your taking the time to do so, even if you didn’t like the job I did!

— Jack

Dear Editor,

I wish to express my concern in the choices of articles published in the Natural Farmer Summer 2020 Special Supplement on Invasive Species. I am specifically disappointed in the glaringly incorrect information presented in the “Invasion of the Turnips” article by Bryan O’Hara.

I appreciate wanting to post articles of different viewpoints, however, there is a difference between opinion and truth. Would NOFA ever consider publishing an article about a different view on herbicides, considering any benefits of using them? I doubt so, which makes me wonder why you would post an article with wrong information about invasive species.

1.     The author addresses observed “die-outs” of various species, stating that “Often disease is blamed for the die-out and humans fail to consider the environmental conditions that were underlying the cause” and follows to state the examples of Chestnut and Elm. American Chestnut was decimated by a pathogenic invasive fungus introduced by humans from Asia over a century ago, with nothing to do with the environmental conditions. You can read all about this from The American Chestnut Foundation as well as from Columbia University specifically about the pathogenic fungus. Same situation with American Elm and the invasive fungi that cause Dutch Elm Disease, explained by so many respectable institutions such as UMass Extension and The Morton Arboretum. While I can appreciate that environmental conditions can be overlooked, these two glaring examples are of the decimation of two dominant trees in North America by invasive species brought to North America by humans.

2.     The section about promoting wineberry, even though the author was told not to, is foolish. To think it is not invasive on their property (cannot establish) and therefore not invasive at all does not take into account the places where wineberry has displaced native ecosystems. Farmers and gardeners cannot apply this logic to invasive plant species, it will only cause negative effects to surrounding natural areas.

3.     The caption about Garlic Mustard is completely incorrect, as you can read in this scientific review paper on garlic mustard, it inhibits soil mycorrhizae via allelopathic chemicals and does not benefit the soil. Multiple scientific studies have proven garlic mustard harms our native ecosystems and plants. The Stinson Lab at UMass Amherst that specifically studies garlic mustard and it’s interactions with the native ecosystem, and their findings show that “garlic mustard disrupts symbioses between mycorrhizal fungi and native plants (Stinson et al., 2006), and thereby alters plant composition and successional trajectories in its new range (Stinson et al., 2006; Haines et al., 2018).”

Publishing mistruths on invasive plants species, specifically those that have been scientifically shown to have negative effects on our native ecosystems, undermines all the hard work of conservation organizations that preserve land and conduct ecological restoration. This includes organizations such as land trusts who work to heal the land by setting aside open spaces (including those for local agriculture) and removing invasive species.

I am disappointed that an organization I currently support would publish such misinformation. NOFA needs to vet what they publish as many people look to NOFA for truth, not for misguided opinions. Otherwise, NOFA will never get the support and recognition of the general public on the importance of organic farming when publishing wrong information and opinions as truth.

Laney Widener Wilder

Hi Laney,

Thanks for writing. I get few enough responses to the journal that I enjoy each, even if critical!

I will send your letter to Bryan and give him a chance to answer your charges by publishing both your letters. If you want to continue past that, I am happy to consider more letters on the topic if there is still new information to advance. If he does not want to defend the article I will publish yours anyway. I don’t know how to enable a fuller discussion than by giving each of you the chance to source your information and argue from cited facts to your different conclusions.

You ask if NOFA would publish an article considering the benefits of herbicides. That is a particularly red flagged issue for organic farmers because the National Organic Program specifically prohibits synthetic herbicides as an organic method. So any article promoting them would have to carry a strong disclaimer that their use would forfeit certification for three years on the adopting farm. But that said, as editor I would consider an article promoting their use in an issue devoted to discussing their pros and cons. How better can you demonstrate the value of something than to compare it to alternatives? It seems like a useful format to have proponents of a system make their case and opponents make their opposite one. If we are not sure enough of our views to feel that we can win any fair competition for ideas, we should not be publishing. To my mind, too many institutions now refuse to give space to ideas they don’t like, calling them “dangerous”, “hurtful”, “in violation of settled science”, etc. Ideas which are not allowed to be heard have a propensity to remain underground and spread out of sight. If you don’t like something, I figure, the best weapon to use against it is the bright light of the sun.

— Jack

Dear Editor,

I am a recent follower of NOFA, having attended my first NOFA conference last summer. I really enjoyed the programs I attended and I am eager to attend the upcoming virtual conference. I am a horticulturist with over 40 years of experience working in native plant gardens. I help to protect land through my local conservation commission and help to steward that land with my local land trust. I have a lifetime of experience working on the land. I read an article in the summer 2020 issue of Natural Farmer “Invasion of the Turnips” by Bryan O’Hara. I admire Mr. O’Hara for donating and providing turnips for his neighbors and his dedication to raising safe, abundant food on his farm. However, I completely disagree with his assessment of invasive plants.

Invasive species (plants, insects, germs, diseases) are a result of introducing species to habitats where natural predators do not exist. Species in this situation have an opportunity to take over and spread rampantly if conditions are right. Not all species that are introduced become invaders. But when invasive plants (and insects) take hold of an area they become a threat to our landscapes. They invade natural ecosystems and reduce biodiversity which is critical to sustaining all life on earth.

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus) leaf out early in the forest and rob native spring ephemerals of sunlight, thus preventing them from being able to germinate, grow, flower and produce seed. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) can be used as a food in salads or made into pesto, but in nature there are three species of native butterfly that lay eggs on this plant expecting it is a good host plant. Their larvae do not survive to maturity because the garlic mustard is toxic to these butterfly larvae. Alliaria is also allelopathic, meaning it exudes chemicals through the roots which reduces the growth of mycorrhizae in the soil favoring garlic mustard and to the detriment of our forest trees. Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is another species which is edible, yet it is rampant across the landscape. It supports no native wildlife and efforts to control its spread take years and persistent efforts either physical or chemical. Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) climbs trees and kills them by twining around the trunks and strangling the trees it grows on. And these are just a few of the species which are rapidly changing our landscape. If anyone believes that these invasive species can provide for humans or agriculture, individuals growing these plants need to be exceptional stewards to keep them from spreading onto other properties and into natural habitats. This is a very challenging job.

Although I do not believe, nor to I advocate for, complete control of invasive plants, I believe that we must remove invasive plants where we can. Controlling them is vital to preserving our landscapes. Human intervention is necessary to aid ecosystems when these plants take hold. I do not advocate for the use of herbicides, there are many non-chemical ways to battle invasive species, but a battle it is. As farmers we rely on native pollinators, native predators and native ecosystems. Native plants provide food for humans and wildlife alike, they support many species including the beneficial insects that protect our crops.

Your publication is used by many as a guide to better living and living in harmony with nature. Prior to publishing an article it is the editors’ responsibility to fact-check and edit articles. Please do not spread false information that invasive species are ‘just a point of view’, or encourage people to plant species that have been identified as plant invaders through scientific study and observation. As a land steward I have seen what these plants have done to our native landscapes. I appreciate unique points of view, but ignoring current ecological science is irresponsible.

Leslie A Duthie

Dear Jack,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to these letters. Thank you also to the Wilders and Leslie Duthie for providing the opportunity to further the discussion on “invasive” species. The letters provide strong support to my article’s relatively mild statement that the concept of an invasion of weeds appears to be linked to the human separation from the lessons of nature. Some of the lessons that nature shows us include: the importance of human tolerance and compassion, that nature is prepared to provide for itself, an understanding that humans have a limited ability to fully comprehend the complexity of the natural system, that human “truths” are temporal and in constant need of re-evaluation and, of particular importance in this discussion, that humans are part of nature and not separate from it. These lessons, and much more, have led me to gratitude and humility as I work with the creation to further the abundance of life. It has also made me wary of human “battles” against nature.

As I pointed out in the original article, a battle against nature’s “invasives” is a battle against ourselves and nature does well in holding up the mirror so that we can see what we are doing, learn, and adjust our actions. Of course our eyes have to be open to do so. I also pointed out that nature’s timeline is very, very long and therefore nature is not particularly concerned with the hurried human perspective of “weeds” or plants out of place. With this timeline in mind it can also be seen that no human “battle” against nature’s “invasions” has ever been won, nor is it likely that any present battle will prove victorious. Of course there are many examples where humans have been quite detrimental to the life forces in the short term, as well there are also many examples of the benefits of humans to the abundance of life. To be of benefit we may alter the environmental conditions of a given area, including the removal of existing vegetation, yet as nature has consistently shown us, this is best done in a gentle, careful approach where human and nature work together to create a living, thriving environment. War rhetoric is not consistent with this approach, and the battle fury is probably better applied to, say, the forces of Satan, or a spar with a good buddy, than to nature.

The letters received by the Natural Farmer in response to the “Invasion of the Turnips” article have the complaint that incorrect claims were made, and facts were presented which were inaccurate. Yet the article presents no “facts” and very little is claimed. The article is simply a presentation of understanding gained from working with nature. The complexity of nature is very resistant to remaining in the confines of human “facts”, so when writing about nature I generally do not state “facts” and instead present a more holistic, flexible view of human and nature. Claims are similar in that nature has taught “the more you know, the less you know” so all statements about the surety of my knowledge are mild and flexible. This includes statements like “often” (as in, not always) the disease is blamed for the die-out and humans fail to consider the environmental conditions that were the underlying cause. As well with “the concept of an invasion of weeds appears (as in giving the appearance, and thus in need of further examination)to be linked to the human separation from the lesson of nature”. In contrast to this flexible, humble approach the response letters offer an authoritative outlook of being very sure of their “facts” and with this self-righteousness believe they are correct in telling others which plants are acceptable for cultivation, and of course what is appropriate for the Natural Farmer to publish. Thus the letters reinforce the stated appearance of a lack of nature’s lessons.

In terms of the inaccuracies of the letters, Dan Wilder claims “Invasion of the Turnips” makes light of major ecological threats, and though it is true that humor is part of the article, I believe a re-read of the article would reveal quite the opposite. The article points out very serious major ecological threats far beyond the movement of species, and instead of blaming nature for nature’s demise, links the destruction to such things as pollution, war, greed, industrialization, and the unguided human. He goes on to state that I encourage people to plant wineberries. Though I am a proponent of human freedom, as well as vegetation, the article simply states that we attempted to grow wineberries. I would not presume to encourage or discourage other people to grow wineberries, as only the individual would know what is appropriate for their situation. As for our tree “canopy that is thinning for some mysterious reason”, it is far from mysterious. Aside from the observation of the obvious forces of destruction as described in the article, readers can look to much published material on the effects of pollution and nutrient imbalance on plant health if “demystification” is needed. For a scientific outlook, The Nature and Properties of Soil has an excellent chapter on the impact of pollution on soil, and Mineral Deficiencies and Plant Diseases does an outstanding job of illuminating how nutrient imbalances impact plant growth. Both manuals present excellent scientific information without overstatement, and generally stay clear of the reductionist viewpoint.

Carey Widerer Wilder also makes authoritative overstatements in her letter, such as the Elm and Chestnut die-outs having “nothing to do with environmental conditions” and garlic mustard “does not benefit the soil.” Very likely these statements are inaccurate, but it is the surety of the statements that are the most telling of the authoritative stance. When she calls my efforts with wineberries foolish because I “was told not to” is also aligned with knowing what is best for others. Foolish is certainly not commonly used to describe my actions, as the fool is the one who does not pay attention to what is right in front of them. The article “Invasion of the Turnips” describes the opposite approach to life; one of careful, direct observation. In general the only time I find my actions or statements described as foolish is when the person I am discussing a subject with has no better logical or sensible thing to say.

One of the few accurate statements in these letters is that I did not do what I was told by planting wineberries. This is because I never do what I am told by absurd entities, and instead do what my heart, mind (and, in the case of wineberries, my stomach) tell me to do. Nature, god, and spirit help to better inform these decisions, which assist in avoiding the common condition of “fools guiding the fools”.

Leslie Dunthie’s letter also has overstatements like Japanese knotweed “supports no native wildlife”. This is clearly inaccurate, as there are plenty of native beings living in those knotwood patches, especially wood chucks. She also states that farmers rely on “native pollinators, native predators, and native ecosystems”, which is accurate to some degree, but of course we grow mostly non-native crops in dramatically altered ecosystems with the assistance of many non-native pollinators and predators as well.

Thank you again to the writers of those letters, and Jack, for allowing this place for discussion and furthering of differing viewpoints. The Natural Farmer has become the leader in offering such open discussion of difficult topics to the agricultural community. Maybe now is the time for more contentious subjects, such as government regulation of agriculture or, my favorite, weather modification. Maybe a similar format? The history of weather modification, the benefits, the drawbacks…..

Thank you all, love The Natural Farmer.

Bryan O’Hara

Dear Jack,
I would like to agree with other requests to learn more about managing invasive plants. Julie’s comments (in a NOFA/Mass publication) make it clear that invasive weeds in a no-till garden are a problem, but a very different problem than going to war against a hillside of multi-flora rose entwined with bittersweet, buckthorn, and honeysuckle.

Landscaping classes recommend heavy equipment, but that gets costly very fast. We have 3 acres of pasture that had been allowed to go wild on rocky hillsides. We have spent years clearing the plants, but because of the rocks, the only way to maintain the hard work it is by weed-wacking acres twice a year. UGH! Suggestions would be most helpful!!

— Jan Johnson
PS We love The Natural Farmer. I save past issues for grandchildren, to jump-start their science research papers.

Hi Jan,
I am no expert on which kind of animal to use in such a situation, but cows, sheep and goats all come to mind as possible allies in your attempt to manage invasives as well as to do some carbon sequestering and some food production. From my reading and from resources from the Savory Institute, and what Jerry Brunetti used to suggest, I would encourage you to look into a mob stocking arrangement with some animals. Pigs might be of some use too. I think the principles are pretty much the same – concentrate your animals in an area for a short period of time and move them on. If it is a ruminant species, feed them some hay as needed while they are in the specified small amount of land, and if it is pigs, supplement their range diet with more concentrated feeds. Then move them on to a new area.

Some of the really talented animal husbands raise different species together, though I haven’t tried that. Check out the work of Greg Judy. Don’t bring anyone back to a location until the greenery has come back and is in a strong carbon sequestering place. That totally depends on fertility and time of year, rainfall, etc. If you really want to supercharge your pasture, contact Advancing Eco Agriculture and work with one of their consultants to develop approach foliar sprays that will help remineralize your pasture quickly. With three acres, you have some decent space to work with. Good luck. It sounds like a fun project.
— Julie

Dear Natural Farmers,
I am not offering an article but only Information that you might consider useful for your issue on Invasive Species. Some of it might be new to you. You are welcome to use whatever you wish. Thank you for The Natural Farmer.

It might be better to examine the area, what drains into it, what else is growing there, what is the history — what has affected the soil, rather than to react without thinking and to kill.

Connected with the question of what belongs here: In 2019 I attended two meetings in Sheffield re: glyphosate and in 2020, one at the NOFA conference and another in Lenox (Ed Stockman, speaker). At the Berkshire meetings, I recognized people who have applied RoundUp or Rodeo to phragmites for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for the past 20 years and to roadsides, wetlands, river banks, and homeowner easement properties, to kill weeds, vines, shrubs and trees in recent years. I also recognized homeowners and owners of orchards and farms who have easements with TNC and the Sheffield Land Trust. The local TNC representatives require and/or try to require easement property owners to use glyphosate on invasive species. They send directives by mail and in person.

In the first meeting — a large group, the man who applies glyphosate to Japanese knotweed on the Housatonic River banks spoke way beyond our allotted 3 minutes to argue for the use of glyphosate on knotweed to save native plant life. He referred to ‘scientific’ papers that testify to the safety and beneficial attributes of glyphosate. He was given a meeting of the Great Barrington Conservation Commission to pitch what he does. At the second meeting in Sheffield, half of the very small group were glyphosate advocates and they did advocate. Since then, the five of us who hope for a ban on glyphosate have not asked for another meeting. We are busy in other ways.

Over the past three decades, The Sheffield Land Trust has financed dairy farms that use petrochemical fertilizer etc. on land planted to GMO corn. The Land Trust and TNC collaborate and claim to save land from development. Atrazine and glyphosate have kept the ground bare. This land drains into the Housatonic River. The fields are in view along Rt 7. One dairy abuts Bartholomews Cobble along the river. Others are out of sight but the entire watershed drains into the Housatonic. Thought for the ocean and the rest of the world has no chance.

Local PR refers to the beautiful ‘rural nature’ of the town because of Land Trust ‘protection’ of land. Recently these fields have sent out an increasingly offensive smell from the manure of GMO corn/glyphosate-fed cows. The Land Trust has easements on home properties, orchard and vegetable farms, dairies and woodlands throughout the town and supports the use of glyphosate on weeds and invasive species on those properties. In 2003, the Land Trust took control of a town Master Plan and prevented the inclusion of information on climate change and organic farming. It took control of the local newsletter and has placed members on official town committees. The directors stopped publishing its list of donors in the 1990s. Both TNC and Sheffield Land Trust buy and sell real estate. TNC deals in huge tracts of land around the world. They continue to keep non- profit status, and claim to be environmental and educational. The town of Sheffield rests among rare sweet water wetlands of the Housatonic flood plain where the limestone bedrock and glacial deposits once gave rich soil to the region. The soil and the aquifer are in jeopardy.

Some years ago Mark Dowie, in “Conservation Refugees,” described how the BINGOs (Big International NGOs) have driven indigenous people off the lands that they have cared for and loved for thousands of years. TNC is one of the BINGOs.
–Dorothy Weaver

Dorothy,
Thanks for your thoughts on invasives and concerns about glyphosate and the groups that promote it. This is indeed a very controversial topic even for many organic advocates. It seems we have gotten so used to having our way with Nature, bending it to our wills, that we have forgotten our proper role on this blessed earth. I hope that the current public health emergency, product of a normal but invasive feature of Nature such as an infectious virus, is teaching us some lessons about a better way to fit in here.

This issue, addressing some of these hard questions of diversity and proper balance, is designed to give readers useful information and perspectives to cope. I hope we continue to deserve your thanks!
Jack Kittredge