In the late 1940s my father came down from the East Coast to be a shepherd on Omakere Station in Central Hawke's Bay.

Part of the work was removing regenerated shrublands of manuka and kanuka and turning them into pasture using war-surplus bulldozers and aerial fertiliser.

He always had an eye for stock welfare, and so for shelter and shade he thought it would be a good idea to leave a contour strip of kanuka mid-slope and another next to the stream.

But he admitted that he never thought to raise it, because he knew they'd laugh at him in the local pub. Such is the power of myth. We forget that this was still the age of the colonial pioneer. And in many ways we have still to grow up beyond production myths.


His concern was for stock in the event of storm or heat, though he had a romantic eye for beauty as well. He thought a little about reducing soil erosion, but almost nothing about water retention, extending or maintaining permanent stream flows, stock water quality, water infiltration and holding under woody vegetation, or the stream ecology.

Certainly nothing about energy use, biodiversity, greenhouse gases, or free ecological services like the benefits of anthelmintic browse or pollination. Those weren't the times.

But his idea would have done all of that, and more. More profit, lower risk, more beauty, a better environment, and that often overlooked satisfaction there is in feeling that a landscape is well, and you well within it.

Concerns tend to reduce when you can hear a morepork at night, watch a glossy cattlebeast chewing its cud in the shade, or waking to the sound of a shining cuckoo.

What could be is so starkly contrasted with what we have become in pursuit of a mad singular goal of pushing our lands to yield more and more of fewer and fewer things.

And we don't just lose the multiple values within our landscapes, we lose potential profit and the health of our communities. We cannot seem to get off the madness of maximising production and treating the land as a factory.

Let's look at another system as if were a machine. In the interests of cost efficiency and production line economics, let us raise children by focusing on calorie intake to produce "work units".

We concentrate them in a camp and feed them nutrient gruel to make them into obedient cogs for the machine.

All those qualitative things like love, the potential of imagination, belonging, worth, spontaneous spirit, creativity, community, consciousness, soul, and life's meaning are considered "unscientific".


Numbers trump values. Meaning is reduced to a delusion of value-free "objectivity" by the state or the corporation. Consider the Picassos we turn into lever pullers, the Mozarts into button pushers.

We would never - beyond the insanity of totalitarian despotism - consider a child in such a narrow way. Yet we do for land and adults as mere numbers in a financial spreadsheet.

Perhaps, like realising the potential of a child, you first need love to see. You have to love the land. Perhaps we need to foster the artist in each of us in order to see and create.

The opposite of the seeing eye of the artist is industrial thought - and that is our iron cage. We destroy rather than realise potential. We make less money, become reliant on more artificial inputs, are more vulnerable to every shock imaginable - a drought, a flood, a cost increase, a price decrease - and end up having to sell. One less family-owned farm.

There are at least five principles to realising land's economic, environmental potential.

1. Quality soils that are sponges of water, and givers of health to the whole.

2. Diversity in the wider "polycultural" patchwork quilt of our landscapes by realising the potential of each particular place - Terroir - its qualitative potential; its value potential.

3. Diversity within each patch, so each woodland, wetland or pasture patch is more than one thing; building layers of multiple function and values.

4. Build connection and value between and within the patches so this woodland builds on the value in this pasture, herbs, browse, beneficial fodder, wood, honey, bird habitat, that shelter or cover to keep the stock well. See the patterns - the water flows in the landscape, the energy flows, the kidneys of wetlands that trap the sediment and clean the water.

5. And lastly, create social connection and enrich meaning beyond the economic.
Make a diverse, highly valued, complementary Tuscany-style landscape as the future for Hawke's Bay - multiple values. Let other countries follow the agribusiness factory model.

Let them be the agri-corporate Nebraska where the small towns wither and the hamlets cease to be.

- Chris Perley has a background in primary sector and regional strategy, policy, research and operational management across land use community, economy and the environment. He is a research affiliate in the Centre for Sustainability (CSAFE) at Otago University.