Dehesa in Spain
Spain harbors an agricultural area known as the dehesa. It's pretty darn cool and I think you should know about it. I learned about the region through reading Dan Barber's The Third Plate. An excellent read on sustainable food systems. I truly think anyone who eats should read Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and when you find yourself thirsting for more move onto Dan Barber's The Third Plate. Have a book club with friends or your significant other and discuss these books. The way we eat affects our health, in part (a large part in my case) our happiness, and the natural resources we rely on to survive. We should know more about it. Plus, it's all so interesting. I promise.
People call the dehesa in Spain an ecoagricultural system. Really it's just the way livestock and crops have been managed in the area since the middle ages because it works. The dehesa largely still represents the original landscape of grasses and oak trees. The ecosystem provides important habitat to many species. The Spanish learned to work with it.
Instead of ripping up all the trees and tilling under all the natural grasses, the natural landscaped was embraced. The oak trees provide acorn forage for renowned Iberian pigs, which are said to produce the best ham in the world. The trees also protect against soil erosion by decreasing runoff. Livestock such as pigs, sheep, and cows all fertilize the land, which then supports crop production such as barley and oats. Everything in the system works together without depleting the area of its natural resources or destroying ecosystems. Neat, right? Most definitely.
In the US, we have become far removed from these natural agricultural systems. Luckily we have some hope. We just need to pay more attention. I do think more people are paying greater attention to what they eat. Eating more food locally and talking to the people growing your food is a good start.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are a pretty awesome way to support local growers and learn more about the source of your food. CSA's provide you with a share of a specific local farm's bounty. These farms usual have a much greater awareness of how to grow food, while supporting the farm's natural systems. Participating in a CSA will also connect you more closely to what can be grown in your region. You will eat 6 tons of lettuce in the spring. You may not love it but you will begin to understand what a healthy local food system can provide for us. It's also fun. Grab a friend or a significant other and take on the challenge of how to make all those darn greens interesting. Talk to your farmer about it. People connecting to people. It's powerful stuff.