Essay Contest Runner Up: Inter-act by Kayleigh Burgess

18 Jul

Another runner-up essay from our Locavore Challenge writing contest – enjoy! These essays do not necessarily represent the opinions of NOFA-NY, its staff, or any of its certified organic or farmers pledge farms.  We hope they give you plenty to think about and discuss!

Food Chain: 1. an arrangement of the organisms of an ecological community according to the order of predation in which each uses the next usually lower member as a food source 2. a hierarchy based on power or importance

Food Web: the totality of interacting food chains in an ecological community

The screen door flaps closed behind him, bathrobe ties trailing, as he rushes onto the porch, shotgun in hand. A peaceful man, pacifist man, he stands ready to fire the first warning shot. There will only be warning shots. His instigator freezes, midway between forest edge and chicken coop, pointed ears and black eyes alert. Pausing momentarily, this red fox weighs his chances at a chicken breakfast, before darting back into the woods. Its dawn in the Finger Lakes, and man versus nature is playing out like a high school novel.

For so many of us, eating local is as much about growing as buying, whether it’s a half-acre homestead or a potted tomato plant in our window sill. And chances are, if you’ve ever tried to grow your own, you’ve been there – waking to find that a deer has chewed your tomato seedlings to a quick or that squash bugs have colonized the undersides of your giant, verdant zucchini leaves when you weren’t looking. I know a community of gardeners that only grow things the gophers won’t eat and another gardener who constructed a five-foot perimeter fence before putting a single plant in the ground. And me, I grow weary at the mere thought of planting cucumbers, having battled tiny yellow beetles for years, armed with tinfoil, soapy cayenne water, and the decisive crush of thumb and forefinger.

But, I have also watched with wonder as bees gravitate toward the morning blossoms of my luffa gourds. There are the butterflies, the bats, and the birds that are a garden’s pollinators and protectors. And the man with the shotgun? He rejoices to live in a place with foxes and raccoons and weasels, even if it means battling them for the chickens that lay his eggs.

In the industrial food system, we are the last link in an invisible food chain, tertiary predators of Raisin Bran and Rice-a-Roni, Preggo and pasta. Not so for the locavore. For the local eater and grower and preparer, life reveals itself as the food web it truly is – an inter-connected symphony of unique, and hungry, players.

As we attempt to grow our own and raise our own we stimulate the web, working to deter, attract, and repel. We learn to watch for the signs and notice the details. Shotgun and soapy water in hand we commune with nature, not as witnesses, but as actors.

About the author: Kayleigh Burgess is a graduate student who has worked as an urban agriculture educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, served as a board member for Syracuse Grows, and focused on food resource availability in Syracuse as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

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