Springtime at Beacon Springs Farm means tending to the 120 or so fruit trees and berry bushes, to the courtyard native plantings, and to the vegetable garden rimming the terrace.

Yet still remaining are 25 as-yet-uncultivated acres. Other than mowing paths and tackling some Canadian thistle and buckthorn invasions, we’ve left this land to its old field succession.

Last August, taking a first stab at restoring the land, we created three areas mimicking the oak savannah found in parts of Michigan 200 years ago. We anticipate these to eventually be just the right transition from the cultivated area next to the house to the wilder areas beyond.

It’s those wilder areas that are now our focus. We plan to return that land to health, in order to increase plant and animal biodiversity; sequester carbon in vegetation and soil; manage water; and create a sense of place.

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) seeks to foster an awareness of place. Among other LBC requisites,

  • building components must be locally sourced;
  • buildings must foster biophilia: a love for nature;
  • landscaping relies on native plants.

To fulfill those LBC requirements, one must actually locate oneself in the geography and history of the place. In the words of field naturalist Joe Gray in Thirteen Paces by Four: Backyard Biophilia and the Emerging Earth Ethic, “. . . my motivation for writing a whole book . . . about a tiny parcel of land is that knowing a place deeply, in its unique particularity, is part of reverencing the Earth: it both expresses this love and helps fuel it.”

(Compare this to some all-too-familiar “no-places”: newer suburban neighborhoods with little more than grass and occasional ornamental plants. Or consider highway interchanges, filled with strip malls, gas stations, hotels . . . What connects those places, or grounds their inhabitants, to their geographical and historical location?)

A map of vegetation in Michigan in 1800 (section 10, in the center and 5 rows from the bottom) places us in the middle of oak-hickory forest. Not too far away are patches of wet prairie, hardwood swamp and oak savannah.

Our goal is to move this land toward health, keeping its earlier form in our mind’s eye. We can’t re-create what was here 200 years ago – nor is that the ideal, since ecosystems continually evolve. We can, however, foster and add plants that populated the area in that more-healthy past, while working to keep in check alien plants as they threaten the ecosystem balance.

We draw inspiration from the conservationist and writer Aldo Leopold who tackled a similar project on his own worn-out, depleted farmland in Wisconsin ­– now home to The Aldo Leopold Foundation, a “conservation organization that works to inspire an ethical relationship between people and nature.” Leopold explained: “All ethics . . . rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”

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