What sustainability means to us
As we have slowly re-vegetated our property and started growing our own food, the keyword in our minds was and is “sustainability”. You hear this term in the news and on social media more these days, and that is a good thing, but it can mean different things to different people. For some, it means balancing “profit, people and the planet”, for others it means “exploiting natural resources while maintaining an ecological balance”, and for others it means remembering that every decision you make will impact those “7 generations in the future”, a concept passed down from the Iroquois Peoples, amongst others. [While we realise that this idea is part of their story, we also feel that Native peoples were the original sustainability experts!] For us, sustainability means thinking deeply about the decisions we make on our property with an eye for how our choices will affect the planet and reduce our impact on our environment. It can be frustratingly difficult to measure this principle but we think if we do things with this intention, we will get closer to the ideal of supporting ourselves while at the same time improving at least our small part of the planet.
What this means for us on a practical level varies with each project we do and each step we take; we quickly learned that we by no means have it all figured out. As we said in our last post describing our property, when we first moved onto our property it was essentially a commercial soybean field and we quickly set out to restore it to native vegetation. This means our property helps serve as a “carbon sink” to help remove carbon from the atmosphere and, at an incredibly local scale, helps to deal with the approaching climate catastrophe. Over the years we have also placed solar panels on our house to generate electricity for the local grid, an investment that is paying for itself from sales of electricity to the power utility. When it is time to buy a new vehicle, something we try to do only every 10-12 years as vehicles need replacing, we buy the most fuel efficient options possible, with an eye toward plug-in options as they come online.
At the small-scale farmer level, we are committed to growing as much of our own food as we can and also “buying local” as much as we can, making sure to support our many local farmers. We made the choice to grow eggs, chickens and turkeys for ourselves and are now proud to supply all of these as part of our business plan. All our animals are grown on pasture, either fully free range or in movable pens with grass bottoms, to reap the benefits of natural grass, bugs and sunshine that is then passed onto the eggs and meat.
This also returns nutrients back to the soil as a natural fertilizer to help grow our plants. We are also consciously keeping our operation small as part of our sustainability pledge so we do not overtax our land and keep the majority of it as a natural habitat. And so far it has proven to provide tasty eggs and birds!
We also collect seeds from our many native plants. The native species that have thrived on our acreage produce a large quantity of seed for harvest but we make sure to leave far more seeds than are present on the plants, so that they will naturally propagate throughout our habitat. We also are trying to encourage folks to think about using native species when planting gardens, even in small urban and suburban plots. It is easy to get swayed by the many beautiful non-native varieties at our local nurseries but these beauties may take a lot of extra water and resources or worse, become invasive and block out land and resources needed by our native species that are much better at providing shelter and food sources for native insects (especially endangered pollinators like bees and Monarchs) and animals. But we are not perfect! Non-native cultivars can have their place in contained areas and you will certainly find them on our property although we are working to give more of them up. Even turning a small patch of lawn over to native species can reduce the time homeowners must spend on lawn upkeep, minimise the use of excess water and chemicals used on lawns, and help our native species to thrive, a sustainable win-win for all involved.
While we by no means think we have it all figured out, and can always do better, by keeping the principles of sustainability in mind for both large decisions and small, we can all make progress towards lessening the impacts of climate change and making sure there are still plenty of resources available for our descendants seven generations from now.
What does sustainability mean to you?