Notes from the Field - Gardens as Ecosystems
It's Tuesday afternoon and we have had a long day of shooting in and around the garden. I've snuck away from the shoot to write my Field Notes for the week. As I sit in the goat shed (the garden cottage at the bottom of the orchard), countless birds are singing — mourning doves, mockingbirds — and the cutest flock of bushtits are fluttering in and out of the pecan. When I was a gardener in The Ramble, one of the best places for bird watching in all of the Northeast (which just happens to be in the center of Manhattan) I was given a book by my colleague called Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. This book was a revelation as Tallamy elucidates how intricate the relationship between soil, plants, insects, birds and other animals truly is. He focuses on the idea of creating gardens as ecosystems that provide habitat for a multitude of life.
I had worked on farms for about 5 years prior to taking on a job as a woodland gardener in Central Park. I hadn't thought much at that time about the idea that a farm should be a robust and diverse ecosystem as well. When I set out to work as a farmer I traveled around the Northeast, Japan and California taking opportunities where they arose and learning from farmers I thought had compelling practices of tending the earth. I learned a great deal from those farmers for which I am grateful. But, I have to be honest that it wasn't until I started doing restoration work that I really began to understand ecology and the intricate intersections of all life. This was about the same time I read the One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka and the connections between restoration ecology and regenerative farming started to become clear to me.
Last week we launched our Regenerative Farm Box — a true reflection of the values we hold dearest at Flamingo. This box represents the work of countless people, animals, plants, and microbes. It is an ecosystem that we are nurturing as a community. There are a number of ideas about what regenerative agriculture means and I would like to clarify how we think about regeneration.
There are three primary criteria we consider: Soil Health, Watershed Health, and Biodiversity. Everything starts with the soil and so we prioritize practices that work toward regenerating soil by enriching it with organic matter, protecting its structure and integrity and nurturing a healthy soil microbiome. A watershed is the common area of the land where precipitation flows. Here in LA, many of us live in the LA River Watershed or one of the many tributaries that feed the LA River. As the land protectors that have been fighting the DAPL have graciously reminded us: Water is Life, so we seek farms who respect and protect their watershed. Finally, a healthy ecosystem is one that is diverse, teeming with all matters of life, so we seek out farmers who respect and prioritize biodiversity.
Another lesson I learned from doing land restoration work is that you have to work with what you got. To regenerate land is a process that takes time and effort and is a journey for all of those involved. We have worked closely with Catherine and Justin of Windrose Farms to identify the best farmers in the region and we are continuing to work to identify those farmers who want to do better. We don't live in a world where there are countless farmers using the best regenerative practices possible. This is a movement that is growing and gathering momentum and it needs support from all sides. Our Regenerative Farm Boxes are our invitation to you to participate in this crucial moment in time. A chance to become part of a balanced ecosystem that prioritizes pleasure from — and for — the garden.
In solidarity with tenders of the Earth everywhere,
Jeff Hutchison, Director of Flamingo Estate Garden & Horticulture