Thursday, July 8, 2010

birds of the air

A couple of weeks after moving the Farm I noticed something odd…in the middle of all this farmland, I only rarely saw or heard birds. A few more weeks passed and we were exiled from the Farmhouse for a night while a fumigant called chloropickerin (re-purposed WWI tear gas) was being pumped into the strawberry field next to us. Things started to make sense.

When you sterilize the soil, you kill all the bugs.
When you kill all the bugs, there’s nothing for the birds to eat.

A few weeks later I noticed something else. What sounded like bottle rockets being set off every 15 or 20 minutes were actually flares being shot in the fields around us to scare away birds that might want to eat the crops. The scarcity of birds on the Oxnard plain is more than just the passive result of the conventional field environment.

Looking out at the hundreds of acres of monocultured specialty crops (which require high pesticide application) that surround our farm, I doubted that what we were doing on 5 acres could make much of a difference.

But at least where the birds are concerned, I am being proven (happily) wrong. A group of students from Casa Pacifica (a school a couple of miles down the road from the farm that serves abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed kids) recently conducted their science fair project on our farm. They wanted to compare organic and conventional fields, and decided to count the number of birds they observed on different plots as a way of comparing biodiversity.

The Casa Pacifica students (Jackie, Matthew and Thomas) hypothesized that there would be more birds on our organic field, and here’s what they found:
We observed three different agricultural fields within 40 feet of each other in Camarillo, we found that there was an average of close to 16 birds in the organic field and less than one bird in the same amount of time at each of the conventional fields. Not only did we not see birds, when we looked at the produce in the furrows between the plants, they were not bitten off of, which we think tells us that birds had not been there at all. We talked with the farmers of the organic field and they stated that they think the birds are good to have around and they do not worry about the crop loss due to the birds eating the produce because they think that because there are so many bugs, the birds that come to their field eat the bugs, not the produce. It is our thought that the farmers should attempt to provide nesting grounds in the area of their fields for birds that eat the bugs that eat their produce. This nesting ground would provide permanent organic pesticides…birds! Our hypothesis was that there would be more birds in the organic field when compared to the conventional field, and we were correct.
So here's to the difference we can make by doing things well, even on such a small scale.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah, this is very well written and not surprising but certainly troubling--I hope others see this research project of the students. But at least they will never forget what they learned and hopefully be more thoughtful and proactive regarding their precious environment.

    As you prepare to leave, here is my prayer for you:
    Dear Mother and Father,
    We thank you for bringing to us Katerina, Casey, Cristyrose, Erynn and Sarah. You entrusted them to our loving care and us to theirs. Thank you for their willingness to work and play hard, and to be pioneers in the Abundant Table Farm Project. They have accomplished so much in farming organically, living communally and working passionately for peace and justice. Thank you that Erynn and Katerina will continue to work with the land in our area. Bless them in their new responsibilities. And as Casey, Cristyrose and Sarah move to new frontiers, we ask for your protection, guidance and grace in all they do. Amen