Connecting the Dots to Live More Sustainably

Culinary herb garden

Culinary herb garden

Note that the article posted a moment ago was published accidentally! Please read this version instead!

Are you a vegan? Do you shop locally? Buy organic food? Belong to a time bank, co-op or informal sharing collective? Avoid plastic? Collect water in rain barrels? Buy electricity from a renewable generator? Use local currency? Commute via bike or public transportation? Live in an eco-friendly home?

There are many ways to live more sustainably today…and many “movements” advocating for one of these ways or another. But in this information-savvy age, with so many opportunities to “follow” those who think just like us, we can easily slip into a “silo” when it comes to our views and actions. Making connections between these silos can open doors to some surprising and innovative ways to live more sustainably.

Just consider some of the doors opened by edible gardening.

A lot more people are growing some of their own food these days… or even raising a few backyard chickens. One obvious reason for this trend is the need to reduce expenses as household incomes decline or stagnate. Another reason: the desire to know the origins of the food we eat. But backyard “farming” also can help us live more sustainably in a host of ways.

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1. Organic food, health and the environment. Growing our own food makes organic an affordable choice. That can improve our health by reducing our exposure to agricultural chemicals. It also can allow us to have an impact, however small, on global warming. According to studies by the Rodale Institute,* soil left in its natural state (i.e., not doused in chemicals) contains fungi (microphages) that are known to act as natural “carbon sinks,” sucking carbon dioxide out of the air in the same manner as trees. Gardening organically — and raising chickens organically — also can be examples of “permaculture,” an agricultural approach that produces a “virtuous cycle” with regard to the environment. Permaculture activities generally have multiple benefits. Organic gardening gives us healthy food, restores the health of our soil and benefits the Earth’s atmosphere. Organic chickens give us eggs, great fertilizer and, sometimes, a chicken in the pot.

2. Food security, sharing and community building. You’ve probably heard the stats on America’s “food insecure,” an astoundingly large population due to relentless unemployment — and years of national neglect on the issue of poverty. Growing our own food gives us an opportunity to address this issue by donating fresh produce to local food banks. Participating in a community garden or urban farming project can involve teaching others to grow their own food and become more self-sufficient. And putting up jams, vinegar and other non-perishables can help us address short-term food scarcity due to events like last fall’s notorious Hurricane Sandy.

When we share stored foods with neighbors in need, we can not only help solve an immediate problem, but also participate in building stronger, more resilient communities. We may even decide to formalize these sharing arrangements by forming or joining a food co-op or perhaps a tool-lending library for garden tools. Increasing local food production (through gardening, but also by buying food directly from farms or joining CSAs), can help us achieve what localist economists call “import replacement.” Producing more of the things we once “imported” from someplace else can strengthen our local economies and reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping food around the globe.

3. Getting back to nature and protecting the environment. Many of us already have a strong connection to nature that drives our desire to make eco-conscious choices about what we buy, how we power our homes and so on. But not everyone has had the opportunity to build a strong bond with Mother Earth. Gardening takes time…and gives us time to enjoy the warmth of the sun on our backs, the feel of cool Spring soil, the aroma of fresh herbs and greens. That, in turn, can give us the resolve to become more eco-conscious in our everyday lives. This may take root in the garden, not only with organic plantings, but also with rain barrels to harvest rain, composting heaps to produce healthy fertilizer and a “no-till” approach to protect the soil. It also may carry over into other activities, like choosing a renewable energy supplier, replacing plastics used in the kitchen with glass or stainless steel, or getting involved with an organization that protects open space and preserves local farms.

The next few posts will look at other actions that can make our lifestyles more sustainable in numerous ways. In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you’re doing to connect the sustainability dots.

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2 thoughts on “Connecting the Dots to Live More Sustainably

  1. Great tips for living more sustainably. I garden on and off but keep a steady herb garden outside my kitchen door. Since I began to use a CSA, it’s less important that I grow food.

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