Today I had to get intimate with the enemy. That’s right. I had to get up close and personal with the bain of my lifetime existence, the previously fumigated and squashed. The insect.
Learning about organic farming, it is impossible to separate oneself from the environment in which one grows the food. This means keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Instead of pesticides, insects become your advocates as they become a part of your mini-ecosystem. Good insects weed out the bad and sometimes that line gets very, very, blurry.
The technique is called “Integrated Pest Management” and it is critical to understand if you want your food organic. But organic farming and IPM cannot be undertaken without a deepened understanding of biodiversity.
Our professor leading this excursion into places feared and unknown was Dr. Molly Mehling of Chatham University’s School of Sustainability. Dr. Mehling has been an inspiration in terms of pedagogy as well as using interdisciplinary approaches in the sciences. Today, we experienced biodiversity through a combination of photojournalism, ecology, art and writing. Her approach is to engage her science students visually and use that as an impetus for understanding.
What was also incredibly enjoyable was that our field experience ended up being qualitative rather than quantitative. WHAT? You heard me right. All you naysayers would be happy to know there are college professors who value both research methodologies in the sciences as an approach to learning.
What then was the task?
Each of us were set out on a journey, armed with a camera, notebook and paper. We were instructed to nestle into our surroundings for 5-10 minutes and engage in “hyper-observation.” This involved a tremendous amount of concentration for one who is as fidgety as me. Oh, and I got stung by a Sweat Bee, all in the name of sacrifice for science. After the time was over, we were to document the biodiversity of the plants and insects and include an observation of soil composition and general climate. We sketched our whereabouts and observations as though we were Lewis and Clark and then moved onto two more plot points on the campus.
Upon returning, we uploaded our Biodiversity photos to Flickr where she will be editing some of our photos to show what can be done aesthetically to improve our ability to document in the field. Then we created a plot map on Google Maps that showed the whereabouts of our scouting and details of our findings.
Did I conquer my insect fears in one day? Heck no. Will I still fear the “Stink Bugs of the Apocalypse?” Still hate ’em. What I did learn, in addition to practical gardening and farming skills, is that beauty comes in rare and strange forms. Sometimes it is the little guys who do all the work and go completely unnoticed that are the most critical to our ecological existence. Beauty does not necessarily equate goodness. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And most of all, to achieve great things, sometimes you have to learn to live with some uncomfortable realities. Many life lessons can be found in the insect world.
I cannot leave you tonight without a love note. Love is what makes the world go round. So let us leave with a poem, a haiku if you will. My preferred form.
“Haiku to the Squash Bug”
covertly you seek
to destroy vibrant new life
with innocent babes
Looks like I still have work to do finding a way to love the squash bug. Then again, sometimes love is calling it how it is.