A Gardening Book as Re-Learning the Past to Save the Future

I live in a transitional climate, where the hill country is a little this way, and the desert is a little that way, and the sweltering coastline is a little in another direction. Some seasons, the weather is more of a desert, and others it’s more of a coastal plain, and in some others, it’s more like the hill country. I am always interested to learn how native communities on my patch of ground survived and thrived for thousands of years before my people came and took everything away and wiped away generations of regional knowledge about agriculture and human survival. In many ways, the European-style land management methods have destroyed the landscape, stripping topsoil and bringing European lawns out into the deep desert, where the grass is always lush and green.

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty, by Gary Paul Nabhan is a fascinating text that combines practical application, anthropological investigation, and warnings of things to come as the climate shifts into a useful, little book for anyone interested in thinking like a desert farmer, and re-learning the techniques and food crops that fed advanced civilizations in Morocco, North America, and China for thousands of years. Simple, practical things, like planting Century Plants and Prickly Pear Cactus at the edge of terraces to hold the structural shape of the dirt at the edges, to gathering and utilizing storm run-off in the fields as fertilizer can be implemented on small scale garden systems. More advanced techniques for landscape designers with formulas and design tenets that will be very useful with larger-scale implementations.

Even more interesting than this were the many little stories and firsthand accounts throughout the text, incorporating things like tales of the Desert Fathers of the Mideast and North Africa, who once upon a time went into the desert to survive and pursue their faith in the raw, exposed landscape. Also present are firsthand accounts by living gardeners and farmers that share their experiences and techniques. These stories and firsthand accounts expand the text into something that speaks to the traditions that have been passed down from one generation to another. Each seed carries the history of the seed. There is a tradition behind every genetic line of cultivated crop. Connecting into that sense of history, and sense of traditions being passed down expands the scope of the book into something more than just a gardening guide, but into a gardening book that connects to culture and provides a sense of hope against the uncertain future.

I recommend it for anyone interested in survival on a drier, hotter world.


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