Our Sustainability Stories
What I learned on our family vacation – Jeffie Hardin
Our family had just returned from a wonderful vacation to Whitetop, Virginia in the Summer of 2012 where we got our fill of riding bikes the Creeper Trail, hiking a few mountainsides and meandering through quaint towns and the hidden lifestyles of small farms and country people.
We made a couple of observations about sustainable living which I thought were interesting. Amongst the numerous dairy and Christmas tree farms were so many small country houses. Probably 90 percent of these farmers had vegetable gardens on their property. Most of the plots were average in size – enough room to provide vegetables for a family’s summer needs as well as pantry and canning supplies. The houses were located on winding mountain roads, far removed from grocery stores. If the cook needed an onion, a trip to local Harris Teeter wasn’t going to happen. Having a fully stocked pantry and freezer would be necessary during those snowy winter months. Most city families that I know wouldn’t be able to produce a meal without going to the grocery store at least once a week. Us city-folk rarely think, plan and act ahead for our provisions.
Sarah is a friend of mine who grew up in a small mountain town in West Virginia. She told me an interesting story about being prepared for any kind of weather. Whenever a storm threatened her town, a normal practice was to fill the bathtub with water. If the electricity went out, the well couldn’t operate. The water in the tub would keep the family going with their basic needs until the lines were fixed. Even as a married woman living in Charlotte, Sarah continued to take this precaution until her husband explained that filling up the tub wasn’t necessary in a large city. Preparedness and self-reliance had become second-nature to her, as I’m sure it is to those whom we passed on the way to our cabin.
Another interesting observation we made was concerning the crops grown in the more mountainous terrain. While the Catawba area gardens are brimming right now with squash, cucumbers and beans, the mountain area gardens are filled with cooler crops of cabbage, onions and lots and lots of potatoes. Any corn I saw was ankle high, while mine is mid-thigh right now. It was a very vivid example of different climates producing different vegetation and planting calendars. Even though the Catawba area gardeners have to deal with hard, red clay, we are fortunate to have such a long growing season which produces crops long into the fall. These stories and others like them demonstrate that sustainable living is often a matter of common sense, planning ahead and then listening to the weather and changes of seasons.
“Put your boots on, it could be muddy!” – Erin Hostetler
Homegrown in Charlotte, NC the worst thing in the world was when my mom told me we were going to weed the flower beds (of all things). I could never understand why this had to cut into my coveted Saturday morning playtime. “Put your boots on, it could be muddy!” She’d say.
Once I was full-grown, studying Spanish and Global Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC I thought I was preparing for a career in international development. With graduation nipping at my heels, I started to look at jobs. Requirements for entry level positions: Master’s degree and/or five years of work experience. “Put your boots on, it could be muddy!”
After a year at King’s College of London, eyeballs deep in philosophical examinations of massive global issues like international justice, environmental stewardship, war and conflict, contemporary political theory, human rights, ideological conflict, to name a few. I submitted my dissertation titled, “Climate Change as a Violation of the Human Right to Food” to complete my MA in Global Ethics & Human Values. “Put your boots on, it could be muddy!”
Poised for a career in food policy as an agent of change, I paused and reflected. I feel strongly that there are many people who are agents of change but don’t have a firm grasp of what precisely the issues are. I was not going to be this person. Working on farms seemed a natural first step to understanding the system in which I wanted to create change – food. So, I decided to crank out a few years of let’s call it, “field training.” “Put your boots on, it could be muddy!”
The last 4 years I’ve had my muddy boots on farms of all shapes and sizes. Volunteering on an educational, livestock farm in Central London (pretty wild site), WWOOFing in eastern Iceland, being an Apprenticeship on a 250-member CSA farm in northwestern Pennsylvania, working as an Urban Farm Manager at a non-profit urban farm in Charlotte and learning to make cheese at a goat dairy in Waxhaw. Most recently, I started my own business offering consultations, installations and custom maintenance plans for people wanting to grow food in small spaces on their own.
What did I learn about sustainability through this process? To keep pushing the envelope. To take things one step further, but in constructive and practical ways. To reflect and consider my steps carefully. To try to have a vision for the end goal but more importantly to have “common sense” steps to achieve the end goal.
Common sense is critical component of sustainability. If it doesn’t make sense or isn’t practical then it won’t last. This means that things may not happen as quickly as you want them to but the goals you do achieve will be long lasting and provide a strong foundation to build on. You may have roll up your sleeves, feel comfortable getting dirt under the nails and a little sweat on the brow but that doesn’t hurt.
We learn from the hard work. We remember the callouses and they will make you stronger, more viable and teach you to respect any system within which you work. My chosen systems to work as an agent of change are environmental responsibility and stewardship, the local food system and sustainable, organic agriculture.
Practical Sustainability learned in the middle of “coal country” – Chris Hardin, P.E.
The week that Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment was released I was in the middle of Southeastern, Ohio and West Virginia cleaning up coal ash ponds. As a father of four, a part-time organic farmer and environmental engineer I was excited about what the encyclical on the environment or Laudato Si could mean for our world and our children. As a practical engineer, I know it is not easy or possible to address most environmental impacts quickly. Contamination or sins against the environment take time to remediate.
In the months after Laudato Si was released I found myself very troubled and hopeful at the same time. Troubled because I witnessed the longterm impact of environmental degradation. As an optimistic farmer and father, I thought, “Maybe there is a chance that this encyclical on the environment could help the world to see that our planet is really struggling, and needs us to listen and learn from what is happening.”
Any farmer who cares for the land and works hard to raise healthy food, realizes that we are not truly in control. Farmers know that their success and livelihood is highly dependent on interpreting the signs and messages provided by weather, soil, bugs and plants. A good father has similar qualities. Raising healthy, holy and happy children is not easy. It requires adapting to circumstances, and carefully listening to the needs of your wife and your children. Success as a farmer and father requires being strong enough to work hard, while also being patient. It requires wisdom to adapt quickly and respond to a wide variety of potentially negative influences that could hurt “the soils or the crops” of life that are essential for your family.
No Easy Solutions, Except to Live a Simpler Life. As a farmer and engineer I know that quick or simplistic solutions will have little long-term impact. Things will not change until we deal with the root causes of pollution. New laws and global agreements alone are not enough to make a difference unless people have an interior conversion about caring for our Common Home. Excess waste, uncontrolled emissions to the air are directly connected to our throwaway culture, and a lack of concern for the earth and the more vulnerable human beings closest to us.
To be able to respond properly requires listening and learning to develop the best solutions instead of a reactionary approach. For example, quickly eradicating all coal combustion energy without considering a balanced energy portfolio can do little to improve the global environment and result in a substantial loss of jobs for blue collar workers. Even though there is a critical need to discover cleaner ways to extract and use fossil fuels, our societies must also consider the lifecycle impact of all forms of energy. Wealthier countries consuming less resources and offering practical assistance with emission controls and environmental management to poorer countries can curb climate change and reduce pollution. All of these solutions are consistent with the ecological spirituality outlined in Laudato Si that was written by Pope Francis.
Is there a chance that one cause for the indifference about damage to our Common Home is our inability to connect and listen to those who have different views?