Agriculture’s wild side

  It’s no coincidence that farming and ranching are at least partly responsible for a huge number of federal endangered species listings. When the goal of agriculture is to create monocultures of corn, soy, wheat, hogs or cattle, biodiversity loses.

But that doesn’t mean modern agriculture has to be incompatible with healthy ecosystems. In his new book, Farming with the Wild: Enhancing Biodiversity on Farms and Ranches, farmer and writer Daniel Imhoff profiles 36 farms and ranches scattered across the nation, from California to coastal Maine. These farms and ranches tell a compelling story of what’s wrong with our current industrialized agricultural system, and what it might take to fix it.

On El Coronado, a ranch in southeastern Arizona, for example, Imhoff tells how the Austin family has pieced together over 20,000 gabions, or small rock retaining walls, along a mostly dry creek bed. The gabions have increased the amount of spring run-off that soaks into the historically overgrazed riparian areas, increasing grass production for cattle while also restoring habitat for the rare Sonoran mud turtle and the endangered Yaqui chub.

And if Farming with the Wild inspires you to “wild” your own farm or ranch, Imhoff has included a “getting started” section, complete with a resource directory of government conservation programs, landowner incentive programs, and advocacy organizations.

Farming with the Wild: Enhancing Biodiversity on Farms and Ranches
by Daniel Imhoff.
176 pages, softcover $29.95.
Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, 2003.