On restoring nature

As published in The Optimist (Dutch) on 25 FEB 2022
Author: Ed Smit

If you ask Ed Smit, entrepreneur and founder of platform, restoration of the natural environment starts with restoring mankind.

We cannot ignore ourselves when we want to restore nature. That is how the survival instinct of a species works. Covid makes clear that we humans are not so very different from any other living organism. When everything falls apart, only reproduction, nutrition and protection (read: healthcare) remain. Restaurants, cinemas, museums, theatres, everything deemed ‘not essential’ can be closed down any moment that also goes for schools. That means back to basics!

The Foundation

But exactly all those other matter are so important to us. Education, culture, music….When we all agree on this, we do need to take care of a solid and healthy foundation. It may be a nobrainer, but if it really would be that simple, why don’t we act accordingly?

Let’s focus on the essence, food and protection. And to start with the first one, it almost goes without saying that we need to find the way back to where we came from. A daily diet that puts more emphasis on eating (fresh) fruit and vegetables. The good thing about this simple, but yet so important conclusion is that we do ourselves two favors by consuming more vegetables and fruit. Because we also contribute to preventive healthcare by diminishing the so-called ‘diseases of civilization’; diabetes, obesitas and cardiovascular diseases.

Covid taught us an important lesson, namely that a healthy diet should be top priority for any social or political agenda. When that’s the case, we can work towards preventive instead of curative healthcare. Make use of nature as our pharmacy. And hospitals will be, where they belong, at the end of the chain. Only this reduces the pressure on healthcare systems.

Fruits and vegetables

Conclusions are obvious. We need to feed ourselves better and society and politics should play a much more proactive role to actually make that happen. Our healthcare systems are being organized with a focus on prevention. This means a radical change of what we eat and also that there will be sufficient vegetables and fruit for all of us. All this gradually brings me to the way I want to explain the title of this article.

Mankind protects itself best by feeding himself by what nature has been providing: vegetables, fruit and sometimes meat. Our ancestors were flexible vegetarians. Evolution ensured that any organism, based on its habitat and diet, is able to sustain itself. In fact, this also goes for nature itself. ‘Nature’ is simply the sum of all components that make part of it.

This means that nature, where possible, should be left alone, let it ‘act autonomously’, without human interference. Still, mankind is the only dissonant here. Simply because humans use their intelligence to assume a position and role amidst nature. All other organisms fulfill their roles based on instinct, or even coincidence. The existence of hierarchical lifecycles is an evolutionary fact which only came under pressure when home sapiens entered the world stage.

‘We need to take nature as our starting point‘.

Article continues below the photo.

Space for nature

In short, ‘restoring nature’ is something nature itself does best. We do not need to play a role in that. Of course this is a picture of an ideal world and in many cases not feasible. But it’s something we could or perhaps even should strive for. And that’s the reason it’s important to leave enough space for real nature. The country I’ve been living in for the past 20 years, Costa Rica, teaches me about the importance of this conclusion every single day.  
At the same time there’s a need to return to our roots. Humans can feed themselves best by eating vegetables and fruit. The production can be realized by way of planting food forests or starting up permaculture projects, but also, and that’s usually the case these days, by implementing all kinds of resources and supplies that have nothing to do with nature at all. Large scale, intensive agriculture using ample amounts of pesticides and fertilizers are a dead end street if you ask me.

When we want to give nature free rein, it is impossible to feed a growing world population when we opt for permaculture and food forests. That option contributes to the overall solution, but is not the solution for the problem itself. We therefore need to go for an option that puts nature first, but at the same time creates room for the efficient production of healthy food. The more efficient and sustainable we produce, the more room there’ll be for nature to roam wild and free.

Pioneering Role

‘Is this possible?’ you may ask. The answer to that question is simple and maybe surprising. Yes, that is possible. Vegetables are being produced efficiently, sustainably and on a large scale. In indoor farms and greenhouses. That’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. The Netherlands can be compare to Silicon Valley in this global playing field, we fulfil a pioneering role. Water and fertilizers are being absorbed by the plant or recirculated, plagues and diseases are being tackled by natural enemies (just like in nature) and there are greenhouses that produce electricity instead of only using it. It’s a shame that these technologies by now find their way in the Netherlands and in many other countries, while the average consumer has no idea what happens in greenhouses and often doesn’t fully trust the products that are being produced in them.

While people are indeed quite able to take care of sustainable and efficient food production, nature can restore itself. Without our intervention. And let’s try to let nature guide us to produce on a limited area as much healthy produce as we can.

Ed Smit is connector and entrepreneur in horticulture and tourism and is based in Costa Rica. He’s the driving force behind the ‘The Green Circle’, the most sustainable experience in the greenest country in the word and founder of our EatThis platform.