March 2022: Relating to Local Ecosystems

Hello, Potatoes! We hope your existence is being a potatoooooooooo!!

Now that we’ve talked about the terrible things in the world, we’re moving on to how we can relate to our local ecosystems and be more of a potato to them. We are a part of our ecosystems, and the time has come for us to once again work with them instead of against them.

Every component of an ecosystem is important, and things can easily be disrupted if any one goes out of balance. Flooding greatly increases when deep rooted plants are cut, such as trees and native grasses. These roots act as major soil reinforcers and soak up water, which would otherwise have nowhere to go. Not only do they prevent/decrease flooding, but without them holding the soil in place, a lot more erosion occurs, causing even more damage due to floods and landslides. One of the major sources of biodiversity in the Ann Arbor area is the wetlands; so are the lakes and forests. So you can see how important it is to protect these biodiverse habitats; they are literally the foundation holding up our ground!

These are the endangered and threatened plant and animal species in the area. Going bird, plant, or rodent watching and practicing identifying species is a fun way to learn more about them as you go. Learning about them and volunteering is a potato; we also think it’s important to reestablish our relationships to the ecosystems and reconsider how we relate to them. One way to do this is to regularly sit in a place outside for a year (a tree, a path, any patch of earth, really) to watch the shifts over seasons and to cultivate a deeper relationship!

In the times we are living in, it can be very easy to feel disconnected from the places in which we live. Most worldviews place humans above and separated from other species, and we’ve generally tried to control everyone and everything else (and we collectively call these beings “nature”). We acknowledge this is not true in all places or cultures — especially those that are indigenous or that honor Earth, and there are many people unlearning this disconnection. However, the US’s laws and economy are based on ideas of human superiority, and it pervades a lot of what we do: We genetically modify plants to produce more food that is then flown around the world, we shape and reshape the landscape to meet our preferences, and we imprison animals for many of our own purposes. We also spend lots of time indoors and rely on using more and more technologies. For instance, most of us can identify many more company logos than plant species. Here’s a small quiz for those who are curious! We found the results to be quite disturbing, but important to consider. This is an example of plant-blindness, which is humans’ tendency to ignore plants around us or not recognize the importance of plants.

We often view such disconnection from nature as progress. But though many good things have come from our progress, we still need time in nature for our health. We’ve lost a lot of practical knowledge and survival skills. And our actions are now causing a global disaster the likes of which have never been seen by humanity, or the other species whom we share this planet with. We are finally drastically affecting the forces of nature, and it’s not going well at all. But there is always hope! For this reason, we think an important step toward caring for the environment, and more specifically the species and ecosystems around us, is to reconnect with the world and creatures around us. We have thought of some ways to go about mending our relationships with local ecosystems, but please feel free to contribute your own! 

• Time outside!! Not only is it beneficial to health, but it’s a potato of an opportunity to learn about local wildlife! Some activities that can benefit you and those around you are eco-friendly gardening (more on this later), trash pick-up parties, and volunteering for a wildlife rescue or wildlife census. And of course, you can go hiking, canoeing, birdwatching, plant-identifying, etc.! Remember to leave no trace and be conscious of those around you.

• Eco-friendly gardening: Sustainable gardening is eco-friendly and gives you time and rewarding experience outside! Start composting to create soil and reduce your carbon footprint, use companion planting and natural deterrents instead of pesticides, and replace your soulless lawn with something that will help the plants and bring you joy! The plants who unexpectedly spring up around you may also bring you food, such as mulberry trees, dandelions (you can eat the leaves and petals), wild grapes and raspberries, plantain (you can use the leaves for stings) and mint and mustard (once you plant them, they spread). And of course, remember to thank the plants for what they give you and share the food with the animals who live around you

• Mindfulness practices like shinrin-yoku or just noticing the world around you

• Species identification: Though using technology may seem counterintuitive, species-identification apps such as Seek from iNaturalist — or books if you want to spend a couple hours away from technology — are a fun way to learn about the species around you

• Foraging:  Foraging is a helpful, often under-utilized food source. It’s a fun way to be outside, use your plant identifying skills, and have delicious things to eat! There are nuts, berries, greens, mushrooms, herbs, and so many more plants usually left to decompose, but using them as nourishment is much more sustainable than traditional food that is shipped around the world. Please check out this Michigan guide for what is and is not allowed. 

Though this month’s is an unusual challenge, we hope it helps you to better relate to our ecosystems (and maybe improve your mental and physical health too!). 🌱 Check out this month’s checklist and resources for further reading, volunteering opportunities, and more, and please contribute your own!

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