Lost Savannas

Savanna – some think it’s just a city in Georgia, but of course that name came from somewhere.  

A “savanna” is a mixed grassland-woodland ecosystem. It’s the place where grass and trees live together because each makes the other better. As an environment gets more rainfall, it can support more trees because they require more water to grow than grasses. But the grasses carpet the floor even under the trees. Those grasses help hold onto water when it falls, which helps the tree grow more. The trees, with roots much deeper than most grasses, tap deeper nutrients bringing them up into the soil food web. Leaves falling from trees bring those nutrients back to both grass and tree roots enabling both to grow more. In short, savannas exist because grasses and trees are good for each other.

Savannah (with an “h”) is a town in Georgia because long ago, the savanna ecosystem covered much of the southeastern US. Today, the prairies stop as one moves east from the Great Plains, and the environment changes to forest with a thick and thatchy understory that’s hard to penetrate without a machete. But long ago, the combination of grazing animals and fires kept that understory open where more layers of life thrived. The current and more abrupt segmentation of grasslands and forests is unnatural and unfortunate in that environment.

Of course, most people know that similar savannas in Africa are where homo sapiens first arose. The story of ‘why’ is fascinating (at least to me).

From an evolutionary perspective, grasses are quite young. Grasses emerged as an adaptation that allowed plants to grow in relatively drier continental interiors in a world of lower CO2 levels. We also now know that they coevolved in a symbiotic relationship with their grazers in way that both grew healthy soil and cooled the planet.

But what’s more interesting is that a nuanced view on the rise of homo sapiens as related to the increase diversity associated with these savanna ecosystems creating more niches for different kinds of life to thrive. The larger brains of our ancestors made them more adaptive and able to take advantage of this diversity for safety, hunting and foraging. In other words, you and I are here today because savannas happened first.

But as noted above, savannas in the US, like prairies, are reduced to a fraction of their once former glory. What should be an ecosystem of grasses AND trees, has now most often become one OR the other. We’d like to help change that. We think there is ample opportunity to help restore savannas by bringing their natural ecosystems into balance with diverse life working together amidst both grasses and trees.  

So now you can perhaps guess why we named our basic combo ground beef and chicken boxes as “Savanna” boxes. With beef raised on grass and chickens raised under trees, it seemed like a perfect fit for a name, and even a small statement about how we think these ecosystems could and should work together again. 

Russ Conser

Blue Nest Beef Co-Founder & CEO

Russ Conser

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