[-empyre-] Guilds & Plant Companions & Regenerative Oikeios

Joline Blais jblais at maine.edu
Sat Oct 28 03:32:57 AEDT 2017

Carla Hustak and Natasha Myers write about  how organisms "get involved one another’s lives and worlds.” and how “ The effect is to tune in to the affective ecologies <https://plantstudies.wordpress.com/involutionary-momentum/> that bind plants and insects together in such intimate processes as sex and digestion..”

I wonder Jason if you have  encountered these interplant relations in his sugar cane research?   or Elaine if you have seen this in the rice studies?  

I have actually been looking for what might have been pre-settler “blueberry guilds” , or sets of companion plants that like to keep each other company, and interact in ways that generate more robust outcomes, more biodiversity, more interactions, more information, more possibilities.   The question of pollinators always seems to come up. In the case of blueberries, since all other crops have been eliminated from the barrens to increase production there are no plants to feed the pollinators before and after the blueberry flowering, so farmers need to import bees at the rate of $100/ 1 hive /100 acres. These traveling bees, get trucked the coast from Florida to Maine following the flowering of fruit. Many farmers spend tens of thousand of dollars to make the interspecies sex thing happen here—and that strikes me as odd, and must be recent.  What did they do before bee trucks came on the scene?

One of the rakers we interviewed provided one clue:  the 2 person “walk behind harvester” is a lawnmower scale harvester that replaced hand raking in some small farms that didn’t need the huge industrial tractor harvesters. (designed by UMaine research, never patented, and then stolen or taken by one of the local families that turned their holdings into one of the multinational corporations out there now—(more below on how Univ of Maine research actually led to the corporatization and other undermining results for the small family farms that funded its research)
Anyway, the “raker” regularly stumbles upon ground hornet's nest,  which are then destroyed by the mechanical harvest.  They are not destroyed by the hand raking that still happens on organic farms in the area  and those organic farms have much more biodiverse fields—with weeds intermingling with berries.  

I also discovered that in the older pilgrimage times, stands of white pine had been left in the barrens—so grew there naturally; and that they were left to create camping area for the rakers—they protected against harsh winds, hot sun, rain and sometimes bear.   These stands were later clearcut to increase the blueberry yields.  So while the blueberry plants themselves represent millions of clones—so are diverse, they have been robbed of most of their companion insects/plants in the commercialized fields.

So I think without the constant company of native pollinators, white pine, companion weeds, and ground hornets (who eat damaged fruit, and prey on other damaging pests), and without the songs of the rakers during harvest evenings, and their day songs as they harvest, I think the blueberry are very lonely now.  And that we are eating lonely plants, that we are lonely plants (and diseased and distressed animals) , if the Passamaquoddy are right about the way food inhabits the eater.  Is slow food = happy food?  What does happy food look like? taste like? 

In one of Jason’s recent post, he mentioned  “the endless increase in the biological productivity of life and the endless decrease in the human work necessary to achieve such increases.” This also resonates deeply with what I currently know about the story of wild blueberry in Downeast Maine.   I hear 50+ year blueberry farmer and University researcher Dell Emerson whisper to me “ you can’t believe how hard we push these plants.”  He watches to see if I really heard what he said.  Or if this is just another “road kill” moment in our industrial ag relationship with our food.  Do I just look the other way because I can’t reconcile that violence with my need to eat? Or do I hear his plea for something to intervene? He and his bees are really exhausted…how did a labor of love get to this point?

Local farmers funded the UMaine research that quadruped the crop, but that very productivity also meant they need to broaden and globalize their markets.   And in this larger network, they encountered the logic of capital and its methods.  

So here’s my next question:  to what extent do university research projects —even seemingly benign ones like increasing the blueberry harvest—lead to unraveling ecosystems and corporate plunder?  Do universities prepare their local environments for colonization in similar was that Jesuit priests did in this part of the new world?  UMaine also has deep ties to the paper and pulp industries in Maine and thus the largest toxic waste dump in the state, within earshot of where the state educates its youth (some of whom have come into my office with cancer stories—not their parents, but themselves…) Our own program has research funds donated by one of the paper plants with ties to this region.  

So we have ecosystem guilds that are unraveling, and other techo/industry/education/capital guilds that are replacing them, and within which we ourselves operate.
So like the blueberry, my local companions are endangered, and the pressure on my own productivity is intense enough to completely turn off kids from the next generation.  The regeneration of this current system is I think at risk.   Both the blueberry and I are inhabiting unsustainable guilds within unravelling ecosystems.

I think sugar’s history is far more complex, from plantation to diabetes, it just keeps generating capital…
And rice also seems to be a very lonely and highly pressured plant.

Unless, of course, you consider Fukuoka's One Straw Rice <https://youtu.be/XSKSxLHMv9k> revolution, Jon Jandai’s Life is Easy <https://youtu.be/21j_OCNLuYg> return to traditional earth-based livelihood,. Or unless you turn to other oikeios models like those generated by the permaculture and ecovillage movements that are quite robust in Maine and the Northeast.  

I’m curious about any plant/animal/human guild that may have nourished any of our readers?  What do these look like? Which ones regenerate life and biodiversity and cultural richness and social justice?  There’s a whole art form and art practice that is happening in this space of regenerative design I think, but it won’t be tied to capital or found within four white walls—because it doesn’t turn a profit.  It will look like Tambaran where the men who make music and temples (what we see when we look at their art forms), where these men say "we make spirits and children" by listening to the earth, sining its songs, then growing food where we hear the songs, and feeding our children with that food. 


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