Ever since I have been a little kid, I have had this dream to buy a farm and return it to nature. In the memorable words of John Lennon - you may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. While browsing the local library, I came across Nature's Second Chance. It tells the story of Steven Apfelbaum, an ecologist who decided to purchase a dilapidated farm in Wisconsin and turn it into pristine prairie. He did this straight out of graduate school with money borrowed from his mother.
The farmer has this romantic aura around him manufactured by popular media. He toils in his fields to ensure that all of us are well fed. But he is also the first line of humanity's offence against nature. The food on your table does not come out of thin air. Your friendly neighborhood farmer decimates forest cover, drives vulnerable species to extinction and poisons land and water to eke out the last drop of efficiency from his farm. But do you think he has an option? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The farmer may want to farm sustainably. But to pay off his mortgage, he has no option but to get quick returns. He attempts to do this by applying artificial fertilizers and pesticides. This leads to the poisoning of the land and lower returns. Pretty soon a vicious cycle develops as the farmer tries to compensate by adding even more fertilizers and pesticides. Punjab, the erstwhile food basket of India is one such example.
Nature's Second Chance shows that there is a way out of this blind alley. The author decided to forego modern agricultural techniques such as fertilizers and pesticides. Instead of fighting Mother Nature, he decided to make her an ally. He replaced non-native species such as corn with native species well adapted to the American prairies. Toads and frogs were used to combat insects without affecting the balance of nature. Organic farming has become a big business in developed countries. Steven has been able to make his farm financially feasible for more than 25 years.
It is heartening to note that someone has indeed attempted this quixotic pursuit and emerged successful. While sustainable farming can definitely decrease our ecological footprint, the biggest boost to Nature can be obtained by curtailing the growth of the most cancerous non-native species of them all.