Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Food, Cover, Water, Space, Arrangement Part 1

Food, cover, water, space and arrangement; these are the factors limiting wildlife habitat. Enough food and water to keep healthy, enough cover to escape from the weather and from predators, enough space to not feel crowded by other members of the same species, and how the other 4 are arranged to provide optimum conditions for the species involved.

I read this recently in the Hunter Education Handbook that was developed by the New Brunswick Provincial Government to increase the understanding of several things in the hunter population, but most importantly to increase the ecological understanding and to see where and why and how they can have the most positive impact on the wildlife of New Brunswick. I am a Microbiologist by training and an environmentalist by inclination, but a pragmatist by nature. I don't listen to nonsense from either side of any debate and the hunting debate is one of the more nonsensical ones around. As far as I'm concerned; if you kill it, you eat it and if you hunt, you make sure that your influence on the hunting ground is only a positive one. That means sticking by seasons, bag limits, respecting no-hunt areas, not damaging the ecosystem you are visiting and bringing your stupid trash back out of the woods with you!

The purpose for all these constraints is to do the best we can to make sure that there are sufficient healthy populations and healthy ecosystems to guarantee sustainable hunting for next seven generations (and YES if there is proper research and due diligence done on the part of the Wildlife Rangers, the politicians and the individual hunters, then truly sustainable hunting can be very much a reality. The problem, as always, is when people get greedy.). Sometimes people forget that this is the reason for the wildlife protection and hunting laws, and what happened before these laws were implemented.

By the way, I have to say that the New Brunswick Hunter Education Handbook is a very good document and, regardless of your jurisdiction, you should have a read of it if you're at all interested in the multi-faceted aspects of hunting. Yes, there are places where polishing is evident, but the actual information is very worthwhile. Though of course, you need to pay attention to the legalities in your own jurisdiction over the NB document.
End of Sidenote.

But anyway; Food, cover, water, space, arrangement, these are the limiting factors of any habitat.

Notice anything about those 5 habitat factors, or limiting factors? Could it be possible that our human living spaces could be called habitats? And that they are affected by the same limiting factors as the habitats of other creatures? Hmm, lets explore this idea... and to make it easier I'll treat them seperately.


Right now in North America, there are hundreds of thousands of children attending school with hungry bellies. There are hundreds of thousands of families who can only put fast food on the table. These people aren't stupid. They know that a kid who eats breakfast does better at school and at life. They know that eating fast food is destroying their health and their future ability to provide for their family. They know the risks they are taking. They do not have a choice.

For the first time in the history of the human race it is easier and cheaper to eat food that ruins your health than food that is good for you. Poor people now have what used to be rich men's diseases; gout, diabetes, obesity. Before the 'Green Revolution' saturated fats, processed sugars and salts used to be luxury ingredients. Now, it is so much cheaper to produce bad food that consists mostly of those 3 items, that the healthy food is now at a premium price that the poor just cant afford. The result is malnourished children, obese adults, a badly damaged workforce and a crippled health system.

That needs to change and fast.

Taking the habitat restoration model, the first to think about the food aspect is the what, and then the how (the 'where' will be dealt with in the arrangement section) and finally the who. The what is fresh, healthy food. The how is through Urban Permaculture. Claiming wasted space, turning lawns into edible landscapes, creating market gardens, rooftop gardens, water harvesting, energy production, community composting, providing training for people who want to open related businesses etc etc. The who? Well, nothing works if its not from the ground up. Local people who live in the worst-hit areas are the ones who know what the neighbourhood and residents need, know who has the initial skills to get it rolling and will ultimately be the ones running the show after the media has grown bored. You really want to make a lasting difference in people's lives? Go get involved in an Urban Permaculture/Sustainability project in a poor neighbourhood run by local residents and I guarantee you can make a real difference.


Our needs for cover are no different to what animals need. We need a place to escape from the weather and from predators of all kinds. We need a safe place where our burdens can be put down. Our homes need to be that place, we need to feel safe there otherwise there is no true rest and the spiral turns downwards.

But when is our home not that safe place? There are a couple of ways. When we cannot be sure that we wont be attacked, be it from an outside source ie someone barging in with bad intent or from an internal source eg familial/spousal abuse. The structure itself may also pose a threat to health be it in the physical form of disrepair or the mental anguish of 'Oh god, how can I keep paying for this?!' Your home, regardless of whose name it's in, needs to be your place of refuge. You need to be able to shut the door on the world and find your sanctuary.

So many people don't have this safe place, for so many reasons that its simply too depressing to compile a complete list, but let's go ahead do a little expense categorizing. The main running costs of a household (regardless of size) are:

  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Bank Charges/Rent
  • Clothes and Shoes
  • Miscellaneous

There are some expenses that are very hard to chop down, once you get to a certain point. An example is that of clothes and shoes. Growing kids need new clothes and shoes when they need new clothes and shoes and there's no way around that. Adults need proper work clothes, everyday clothes and I firmly believe that everyone needs a 'good' outfit to feel special in. Bank charges are another toughie, unfortunately banks cannot simply write off your debt when you say 'pretty please', but there are avenues for people who are genuinely hurting to get at least part of the debt erased or to get the payments more manageable. Rent, the landlord can't let you stay there for free, but there may be some leeway like paying through maintenance hours. You never know until you ask and if you join that up with creating edible landscapes around or on top of your building, some research and planning into how much money can be saved using these techniques may well tip the balance in your favour.

Where people have the most power in their household budgets is in the food and utilities sections. No, I'm not crazy and yes I have lived in apartment buildings and I still say that you have more power than you think. How much sun does your home get? Can you set up window-side grow boxes? How much square footage does the roof on your building have? Can you set up a roof-top garden there? Even if 'all' you grow is a pot of nasturtiums (edible and pretty) and 4 pots of herbs (parsley, sage, basils and thyme for example) you will have a year round supply of tasty, healthy salad greens and the nutrients you get from the herbs will really help you feel better in yourself and help stave off the bad affects of fast food. And if you have a back-yard regardless of size then you really have no excuse, you can put a fruit tree in a worm box if you want to. Go ahead, Google Urban Permaculture Projects for inspiration.

The utilities, the power and heat are trickier, but not insurmountable, not by a long shot. The affects of passive heat and thermal masses are not to be sneezed at (see the Thermal Mass post that Nils put up on this blog) and what can be done with a beer can heater has to be seen to be believed. As for power, there are Masai tribes who, after a couple of workshops with Dr Richard Komp (a real guru of solar power) have made a local economy based on making and selling electricity in the form of solar power cells. There's also a company who developed the iShack in response to the über-slums of South African cities. These new kinds of shacks have insulation, water harvesting and solar power so these homes are far more comfortable and do not have running costs. If they can do it, you can too.

So if your home is not your place of refuge, why not take a few moments to sit down and figure out why you really feel that way. Maybe you're in a bad personal situation and you need to get out. Maybe the mental weight of all the bills is pressing down on your head. Maybe its something else entirely that I haven't covered but it still affects you. Apply new solutions to old problems. Grow your own food, make your own heat and power, create your own community. Make yourself a sanctuary, because your mental and emotional peace is far important than you think.

This is becoming a very long post so I will leave it there for now and I'll deal with Water, Space and Arrangement in Part 2 so stay tuned!

And as always, if you have any questions or wish to leave a comment, please feel free to use the comment box below this post. 

Till next time!

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