Wisconsin Native Plants

Written by: Carrie Caselton Lowe One word - INTERDEPENDENCE. If you’re reading this newsletter, chances are you’re into food— not just any food, but good food.  Maybe you frequent the farmers market, joined a CSA, or have some raised garden beds in your yard.  It’s awesome, isn’t it?  Knowing where your food comes from, especially when it has been grown and gathered by fellow community members or with your own dirty hands is quite empowering, not to mention healthy for you and the community.  Also, if you are reading this you likely know at Nourish we believe there should be no barriers to anyone of any background to eating healthy food, because we’re interconnected, and it takes a village to make a healthy resilient community.

Insert NATIVE PLANTS.  Most of us know native plants are good.  We like to see them on the trails as we hike or along our water ways as we enjoy our lakes and rivers.  But we also need native ecosystems to have good food.  Here’s why. Natural ecosystems are complex, interconnected communities of diverse bacteria, fungus, algae, protozoa, invertebrates, plants, vertebrates and nonliving things like rocks, silt, and sand.  The same is true for food systems (aka. farms), but our farms’ diversity, from bacteria to invertebrates, is ultimately sourced from our natural ecosystems.  What’s more, ecosystems offer many services to farms such as decomposition, soil aeration, soil building, soil conservation, plant nutrient uptake, pollination, pest suppression, water purification, and drought resistance via diverse biology mentioned earlier.  And like resilient, well-nourished human communities, diverse ecosystems are able to withstand and be resilient against a multitude of disturbances, including invasive species, pathogens, and climate change, among many others.  Similarly, healthy and diverse farms can be resilient against diseases, pests, and drought.

The point is natural landscapes and farms/gardens belong together.  It’s a beautiful relationship.  It’s hard, however, for a natural ecosystem to be resilient to disturbances if very little exists.  And it’s difficult for ecosystems to support our farms when farms have very little natural space around them.  Habitat loss, destruction and fragmentation by way of pavement, sod, and general development are major threats to our ecosystems and the reason scientists consider the current flora and fauna extinctions to be the 6th major mass extinction on our planet.  Like the end of the dinosaurs, we are experiencing a mass extinction at a similar scale right now, but the root of the problem is human caused habitat loss.

So, where does one begin to make a difference?  Soil.  A handful of healthy soil has more organisms than the number of people on earth.  Read that sentence again.  It’s fascinating.  With a focus on adding a lot of compost or manure to your soil (aka. organic matter) and limiting tilling, the next step would be to incorporate native plants to our landscapes.  Study after study demonstrates native plants support more pollinators and beneficial insects when compared with nonnative plants.  That’s good for the gardens, the birds and the mammals in your neighborhood.  The Wisconsin Native Plants workshop will introduce you to some native Wisconsin plants that will help you create a diverse, interconnected ecosystem in your own garden.  But let’s not stop at our gardens.  Encourage healthy soils, native plants, and gardens at our workplaces, schools, roadsides, and public green spaces, because, in the spirit of good food, a healthy community begins with healthy soil and resilient natural spaces.

So in the name of INTERDEPENDENCE:

*Get rid of your grass lawn.

*Support your soil.

*Limit tillage.

*Plant native plants.

*Grow some fruits and veggies.

*And please join us at the Wisconsin Native Plants Workshop, Saturday, August 15 from 9:00-10:30am at the Sheboygan Farmers Market.

Feature Photo by Donna VanBuecken (www.wildones.org)