So, this morning, after feeding our dog, bucks, ducks, chickens, chicks, and milking our does, in between working on an eBook and doing research for another project, as I was loading the dishwasher, frying bacon, and warming milk on the stove to make Camembert, it hit me.
I am a polyculture person.
My erratic activity may look like chaos to the untrained eye, but in fact, I am a highly functional system with greater outputs as a result of my diversity of activity than could be attained if I behaved like a monoculture. Admittedly, sometimes my individual yields on a certain activity may suffer. Like now, if I wasn’t trying to enjoy a meal while writing this I could probably get it written faster.
To be clear, I’m not talking about multi-tasking. I think by now everyone knows that term is just a bit of H.R. B.S. There is no such thing as real multi-tasking. In fact, if someone tells you they are super at multi-tasking, try this trick.
Ask them to walk across the room for something. Just as they are making the move, ask them an open-ended question that they aren’t likely to have a pre-made answer for, like “what are your thoughts on duct tape?” (It’s useful, I am sure MacGyver could do something cool with it, and as a metaphor for how our political, economic, and food supply systems are operating, e.g. held together by duct tape, it’s disturbing.) I promise they will not be able to answer your question and continue to get whatever you asked for.
Your polyculture people will continue on to pick up what you asked for, then sit back down and give you a proper and thoughtful answer on duct tape. And they may even pose a return question of their own. This is because a true polyculture-person, and not just someone habituated to react to every distraction, has the ability to grasp changing situations, assess and act on correct priorities, table and return to things put on hold, and still get a lot of stuff done.
I had to do this for years as a legal administrator and when I worked in hotels and restaurants. There was always more work than time, more challenges than solutions, so juggling was an act of survival. Keep enough balls in the air and no one notices the ones that are falling down. It’s a bit of misdirection, but it is also an effective way to get the most important stuff done to keep the ship from sinking.
And frankly, that’s what modern culture (at least American consumer culture) is. It’s a sinking ship. We are all going to be baling water in some way until we finally realize we don’t need the ship. It served its purpose, got us here, but now we need to get on the life boats and create our new world.
We are not beholden to the old. No matter how much people want to pretend like human nature is a fixed and an inherently destructive thing that we must protect ourselves from, the fundamental truth is that if we choose to, we can change everything.
Polycultures are the way of our agricultural future because this is how nature works best. We all know monoculture food supplies aren’t going to be sustainable as weather gets worse, droughts and deluges get longer, pests and weeds become more persistent, and soil degradation outpaces demand for arable land. And let’s be real, the world’s supposedly most advanced agricultural seed company -Monsanto – hasn’t had any useful breakthroughs since they made Roundup and Roundup ready seeds. So, technology is not going to save us.
We have to become polyculture people. But not just polyculture people in terms of our daily activity as I was this morning. We need to be polyculture people for a polyculture cause. We have to embrace ideas that are not our own, be able to tackle more than one problem at a time, be adaptable and responsive to our changing circumstances. We need to be able to table the important, but non-urgent issues that distract us from the really critical issues vital to all humans like clean water, nourishing food, health, safety, and community. We need to see and fix the monocultures in our lives, not just in the crop fields.
I have always wished I could be the kind of person who could pursue something with such singular focus that I achieved incredible results. Perhaps I still can, if my singular focus is polyculture propagation!