The garden patch is really only a small corner of Jon’s farm. The majority of the fields are dedicated to oats and bermuda grass, and last fall he started running a few heads of cattle.
But lately, his preoccupation is with cleaning out the underbrush from some of the hillsides to restore the landscape back to its native oak savannah ecosystem. For the last several months, he’s hit the hills to pull out and burn what he refers to as “shit trees,” preserving the oaks and walnuts. There are a million ways to go about landscape restoration, but for Jon, the fun is in running big ass machinery like excavators and bobcats.
Bare hillsides like this look funny in today’s Missouri, but that has to do with poor land management practices related to wildfire prevention in the early part of the century. What seems to be happening now, though, is that private landowners take up the task to bring back these native savannas.
What’s a savannah? Basically an area where the trees are so widely spaced apart that native understory grasses are the dominant plant community. It’s kind of the middle ground between a forest and open prairie. Some people call it open woodland. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful because it looks just like a park. The trees, which don’t have to compete with other trees for light and water and soil resources, become fleshy and round, like the stuff you see on city streets. And it’s extremely cool because it’s native habitat at its Missourian finest.