The wonderful thing about farming sustainably is that again and again I have the opportunity to see that for everything there is a purpose. Three recent examples stand out.
First, there is betony weed. I had disliked this weed for quite a while because it is so hard to irradicate--it grows back from any small piece left in the garden. But then Judy Pruitt in my Master Gardener class told me pickles can be made from it. I did that and had the most disgusting grub-like but delicious bread-n-butter pickles. Then I tried eating it raw. It tastes like a very fresh water chestnut! WONDERFUL! Now I look forward to digging up betony.
Second, fire ants. Fire ants are the bane of my farming existence. I react badly to the bites and am generally covered with either scabs or recent scars from fire ants. They swarm onto you before the first one stings so that by the time I know they are there, it's too late to successfully defend myself. I couldn't imagine looking at them with anything other than fear and loathing. Well, that hasn't changed entirely but I feel a bit better about them since I recently found some devouring an orange dog caterpillar. The "orange dog" looks like a bird dropping and can set back the growth of a young tree. For once I was actually glad to see the fire ants because they had dealt with this threat to our young trees before I was even aware it was there. So, while I still do not love the fire ants, I can at least acknowledge they serve a purpose.
The most recent example (but not likely the last) is pigweed. Pigweed is a prolific weed in the amaranth family that loves manure. Our variety is the spiny pigweed which has thorns on it. Pulling it out of the ground requires gloves. It is EVERYWHERE this year. But, I recently found out that it is edible. It is one of the few pot greens that grows in the summer around here. Not only that, it is a plant that will pull nutrients up out of deep soil and into the topsoil--important in an area that has too much sand. So, I no longer loathe it but instead welcome its presence. While I still pull it out of the ground, I no longer worry that I must obsessively irradicate it.
All of this is a valuable lesson. We all have weeds and things that bite and sting in our environment. We face them every day. It is a wonderful relief to know that they all serve some purpose--now if I can only figure out the reason for those spiny cactus!!