In the article The Future is Feral—And Climate Resilient in Yes! Magazine, Irene Lyla Lee suggests that it is time to change our attitude towards feral plants. They are not just weeds; they are an integral part of the environment we live in.
Lee’s article delves into the significance of feral plants, particularly focusing on brassica rapa, a once-utilized plant now labeled as a weed. Her narrative expands to encompass the broader implications of human intervention in plant genetics and the potential consequences, drawing parallels with historical instances like the devastation caused by the Gros Michel banana and the Irish potato famine. It underscores the vulnerability of modern crops to climate change and emphasizes the need for innovative farming practices.
Highlighting various initiatives worldwide, including efforts in Mexico to preserve brassica rapa and projects in Arkansas to diversify rice genetics, the article showcases how feral plants hold the key to resilience in agriculture. The article also explores hemp cultivation in the Midwestern United States, where feral strains demonstrate adaptability and resilience, providing valuable genetic diversity for future breeding efforts.
Researchers like Shelby Ellison and Zachary Stansell emphasize the importance of conserving genetic diversity in crops for climate change resilience. Lee’s article navigates through the complexities of genetic manipulation, cautioning against oversimplification and stressing the need to consider broader ecosystem impacts. Indigenous perspectives, represented by Linda Black Elk, emphasize the interconnectedness of plants and ecosystems, urging a holistic approach to cultivation.
Challenges inherent in working with feral plants, such as unpredictability and lower yields, are acknowledged. However, the potential benefits in terms of adaptability and genetic diversity outweigh these challenges. The article explores emerging technologies like CRISPR and their potential role in enhancing the resilience of feral crops, while acknowledging the importance of respecting the intrinsic value of each plant species.
Ultimately, the article encourages a paradigm shift in agriculture towards coexistence with feral plants, viewing them not as nuisances but as valuable contributors to food sovereignty and resilience. It calls for a deeper understanding of plant complexity and an appreciation for the intricate relationships between humans, plants, and ecosystems.
The article ends with an important point and a question: “Rather than looking at a species as having a single, human-centered function,” she writes, “to understand the feral is to see individual plants with the complexity that seeds entire ecosystems. What would our world look like if we, as humans, learn to adapt to plants instead of making plants adapt to us?”
Roar Bjonnes is the co-founder of Systems Change Alliance and the author of the book Growing a New Economy.