Friday, November 23, 2012

Remembering the Dust Bowl

We enjoyed watching The Dust Bowl on public TV. This 1930’s story of the farmers and “the big plow up” of native grasses in the southern plains has always intrigued me. I didn’t know it lasted so long, ten years, nor that it was such a health menace with dust pneumonia a killer. Man’s ignorance of natural processes has led him to ruin time and time again.

As I saw the photos of the dust storms dwarfing the prairie homesteads, I thought about my blog profile, and how it must puzzle people that I choose the phrase, “I believe in cows and grass” to describe myself. Surely life is much more than cows and grass. And it is, of course. But to the people living in the dust bowl years, the disregard of established perennial grasses meant life and death itself.

I once heard grass described as the skin of our planet.  Despite farming, development, and desertification, grasslands still make up approximately 40% of the earth’s land mass (excluding Antarctica and Greenland). Just as our skin keeps us hydrated and protects us from the elements, so does grass protect the soil. It moderates harsh temperatures, feeds a host of soil organisms, prevents erosion by wind or water, and in concert with grazing animals, provides the ultimate sustainability program. The regular onslaught of droughts and floods, two sides of the same coin of disrupted ecosystems, should make us all cognizant of the health of our soils.

Of course many of our grasslands are forever altered by farming. I was encouraged to read an article in the Capital Press reporting that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is involved in a nationwide effort to teach farmers to improve their soil health in four ways: 1- disturbing the soil as little as possible, 2 – growing as many different species of plants as practical, 3 – keeping soil covered, and 4 – keeping living plants in the soil as long as possible.

So in this season of gratitude, I give thanks for grass, improved farming practices, and for mankind’s journey to learn the gifts of the soil on a grand scale. 

Pratt grasslands await the cows' return

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