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THE LAST GREAT
AGRICULTURAL ECO-HAVEN

You've heard the term "sustainable agriculture." You may also have heard the terms "minimum tillage," and "low impact farming." By now, everyone has heard of organic farming.

In general these terms reflect a real and growing concern among knowledgeable people about the future of "agribusiness" and its impact on our planet. We're cutting down trees at the rate of hundreds of acres daily, then tearing up the soil with plows and saturating it with fertilizer and pesticides.

There are few sights in the world more bucolic than a pasture full of cows or sheep peacefully chewing on their cuds. Behind that peaceful sight,though, is a chain of events that is far from peaceful. It includes thousands of acres of land cleared and planted in grain, sprayed to killthe insects, sprayed to kill the weeds, and sprayed to provide it with the nutrients that may originally have been plentiful in the soil, but which have long since run off and leached out. In many parts of the world, thesoil itself bears little resemblance to the hefty loam that was there inthe first place.

And then there is the mushroom. The wild mushroom, more specifically. There are many varieties of them, and they grow in abundance here and there throughout the world, often in spots known only to a few knowledgeable "shroomers."

And what is a mushroom, really?

Actually, the part you see above the ground is only a small part of themushroom. Underground there is a web-like network of fibers, called them ycelium, which are the real "plant." The part of the mushroom that we seeis roughly equivalent to the apple on a tree. When we pick it, the plantitself is undisturbed, in the same way that a fruit tree is undisturbed when we pick fruit.

In addition, wild mushrooms don't need to be sprayed, plowed, weeded oreven planted. They find and make their own way in wild places, among wildthings. If we are lucky enough to stumble across them, they make adelicious meal. Sautéed in butter or olive oil with a bit of garlic oronion, they have a wild and woodsy flavor which is difficult to describe.

And what is the impact of all this on our planet?

Assuming that the mushroom hunter has been respectful of the surroundings,then the impact is zero. Picking a mushroom is no more harmful to naturethan picking an apple from a tree, or a nut from the ground.

There are, in fact, people who travel from spot to spot throughout the U.S., finding, harvesting, and selling wild mushrooms to brokers. They arean unlikely lot, and include among themselves a sweeping variety of different backgrounds, languages, and nationalities. They have a vestedinterest in maintaining the earth in a way which is compatible with nature.Taken as a whole, they rarely make much more money than is required to meet their expenses. They lead a nomadic life, close to the earth, and areknowledgeable about mushrooms in ways that the average botany professormight well envy.

There are those among us who may look askance at the heaps of fruit and vegetables in our produce departments, or at the neat and sanitary rows of packaged lamb, beef, pork, and chicken at the butcher counter. In back of those gleaming golden heaps of oranges and tomatoes is nearly always ahistory of high-impact farming. Best not even be thinking about thes laughter houses and rendering plants where those peacefully cud-chewingsheep and cattle nearly always end up.

But you may look in peace upon the humble mushroom, especially if it is awild mushroom - found on the forest floor amid a tumble of leaves and twigs. Surely this is true "sustainable agriculture." Surely this brings new meaning to the term "minimum tillage."

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