Getting Back to Nature
By Obiora Embry
In March 2013 my life was changed for the better...I stepped onto the two acres of fallow grazing land to see in person the land that my twin brother, Irucka Ajani, and I were to use for our “forest garden” project. This was our eighth-generation black family farm. I didn’t know then but we were to go on a wild ride to re-learn and “get back to nature.”
Growing food in an urban area prior to March 2013, I never had too many issues with wildlife, especially not deer. However, as Irucka and I worked out our plan of creating a forest garden, and after heirloom fruit trees were planted on our two acres, I found out the damage that deer can do!
Needless to say, I learned about the autumn habits of deer firsthand as I returned to our two acres to see eaten trees and trees with their bark removed. I decided to go to battle with the deer and devised a plan of action:
1) Deter the deer using optical disks hung up by a fishing line from tree branches.
2) Research and plan to grow living fences to keep the deer off our two acres.
Two or three years later, I realized the deterrents I used were no match for the deer (I never got around to the living fence but tried other low-cost deterrents with #1). I had a change in perspective - I remembered that agriculture includes animals and that grazing animals and the plants they consume have a bond that can be mutually beneficial.
As I began to look at the deer as our grazing animals, I stopped looking at them as pests, but rather as an important cog on the wheel to help restore a balance on our two acres. So instead of trying to deter them, I decided to work with nature and provide food for them, especially in underutilized areas on our two acres. This approach allowed us to co-exist. As my thoughts began to shift, I realized that our two acres is more their home than ours as neither Irucka nor I live at the farm, and it wasn’t until January 2020 that we started to make going to our two acres a higher priority within our lives.
Last Fall there was a small stand of trees that I had wanted to diversify. I planned to work on it during a trip in late 2021 or early 2022, but it appeared that the deer (or some other animal) beat me to the punch. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised and grateful that many trees in the area had disappeared with no trace! That weekend I was able to shift gears and work on other tasks.
My attitude toward wasps has also changed. Looking back and remembering the community garden where cow peas were growing, I remember seeing lots of wasps busy pollinating. Flash forward 10 or so years, and I realized the error in my negative thinking about wasps (as I had forgotten what I saw at the community garden).
In preparation for our annual family reunions, there is a lot of mowing to make the farm look pristine, but in doing so, we remove the food sources for wasps and other pollinators. Pollinators (other than the wind) forage on warm days and just like hungry humans they can get “hangry” when there is a food shortage, even more so if they knew that the day before there was an abundance.
With this realization, Irucka and I strive to grow and nurture a wide variety of flowering plants so that even when their food sources elsewhere on the farm are gone they still have a place at the table on our two acres.
Through our collective efforts and an innate desire to “get back to nature,” we are actively working to “balance the rift.” When we first stepped foot on our two acres, we saw two large brush piles and lots of barren lands from where we had bulldozed the land for our usage. Now our two acres are home to a diverse array of plants and provide habitat, food, and/or shelter for a variety of wildlife- not only deer and wasps.
By Obiora Embry. Obiora Embry is a creative and intelligent landscape photographer, computer developer, writer, author, food grower, forager, consultant, and home chef, who has a diverse background and skill set.