Thoughts on sustainability

Alternate title for this post: Why I am a selfish b**ch.


“Sustainability” is a buzzword that is cropping up more and more in books, magazines and news articles. Quite simply, it is the process of being sustainable. From the Environmental Protection Agency site:

Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have,  the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what this concept means to me. Man-made resources are finite, but nature-made resources appear to be infinite. Who wouldn’t want to tap into that abundance? But it’s so harrrrd! When I need more fruits or vegetables, I’m more likely to pop down the road to the closest grocery store instead of making plans to visit weekly farmers’ markets, or- God forbid- actually grow my own.

I have to figure out what makes me so complacent. Gardening & raising livestock takes Time, with a capital T! If I’m away from the house from 7:30AM-5:30PM (50 hours per week total), and sleep about 8 hours every night (56 hours per week total), I’m left with 62 hours of free time. That’s about 5 hours each weekday and the ENTIRE DAY on weekends. So what do I do with this bounty of time to myself? Do I plant & tend to a garden? Do I build sustainable things like rain barrels or composters? Do I make my own cleaning & laundry products & use organic pesticides/insecticides, use cloth napkins, make meals & baked goods from scratch, buy products from “green” companies, grow herbs, keep bees, feed birds, go fishing, hunt & eat wild game, or raise meat birds or rabbits?

The answer is obvious, and beautifully illustrated by the fact that it is currently 100+ degrees outside and because I’m too lazy to put up a clothesline, I *gasp* ran the dryer last night, while the air conditioner was on. Bad Hannah! Instead of finding ways to be responsible about the environment and embrace sustainability- far beyond just raising chickens!- I find ways to be selfish. By frittering away hard-earned money on things that I could easily grow/make, I’m being selfish! By budgeting $$ towards home renovations over investing in sustainable pursuits (gardens, animals, etc.), I’m being selfish! By putting my current wants above the future needs of future generations, I’m being selfish! By knowing what needs to be done to protect & sustain the earth and deliberately not doing it, I’m being selfish.

Yeah, I’m being a little harsh on myself, but I figure that I’ve earned it. For some reason (maybe I have a mental problem. Wouldn’t surprise me!) I’ve been guarding my free time like it’s gold. I buy convenience foods & products so that meals take less time, but for what? So that I can sit and read a book or magazine, watch a TV show, work on my art. It’s 100% necessary to have time to relax and unwind, but I’m wondering if I can’t give just an hour a day to sustainability. It’s not a passing fad. It’s not something that we can ignore or that will go away on its own in a few years. This isn’t Wall-E. There are no spaceships waiting to scoop us up and take care of us after we use up our planet! (Now I want to watch that movie again…)

Unfortunately, I can’t trounce my inner selfish b**ch by just talking about it. I wish that it were that simple! So I’ve put together a game plan, and like any game plan I’ve come up with so far, it’s going to take some investing of both Time and $$. This game plan is going to take Time (capital T again) and I’m definitely not expecting to wake up in a week and be sustainable! Or even in a year, for that matter. These are some ideas that I think would be not only fun to try, but reward our little homestead with produce, products and cash flow. Let the games begin! (yay for a Hunger Games reference=P)

Sustainable Livestock:

Goal- to know what is in the meat I eat, never buy eggs again, enjoy raw milk, homemade cheeses & yoghurts, and shop less (increase food storage).

  • Expand chicken coop and add meat birds (as long as I don’t have to butcher them, I’m fine cooking the meat. Mark gets that lovely responsibility)
  • Raise ducks- duck eggs are higher in nutrition than chickens
  • Build/buy rabbit hutch and start raising rabbits (rabbit manure is one of the only types of animal manures that don’t have to “season” before using- it can be put straight on plants and it’s so yummy for them! Plus, rabbit meat is supposed to be delicious. Fried rabbit, anyone?)
  • Raise goats? This gets complicated as we’d need to fence our back field and build a barn. But then we’d have fresh goat milk, and I could try my hand at making cheese & yoghurt! Plus goats are frickin’ adorable.
  • Participate in Mark’s family’s yearly tradition- hog butchering. Buy a deep freezer for the garage to handle all the meat. Try not to think about Charlotte’s Web.
  • Find a local butcher who purchases beef from a free-range cruelty free ranch (no more Walmart burger patties!) Actually, there’s a butcher shop down the road from our house. I should check it out!
  • I WANT A MILK COW. There, I said it. The cow-craving can’t be satisfied for several years (if at all) but at least you know the desire is there!

(image from great article about backyard goats here)

Sustainable Gardening:

Goal- to not purchase fresh or frozen produce at the grocery store, achieved through gardening & going to local farmers’ markets.

  • Build raised plant-beds
  • Plant & care for: tomatoes, okra, green peppers, carrots, potatoes, sweet corn, snap peas, strawberries, lettuces, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes
  • Harvest, clean & freeze wild blackberries (growing in abundance along our back fence!)
  • Harvest, clean & eat/freeze garden produce- what isn’t eaten immediately is saved for later.
  • Visit farmers’ markets/parents houses (LOL) for produce that isn’t grown at home
  • Freeze produce- canning is not happening until I get a major infusion of courage
  • Go apple picking in the fall and preserve the bounty
  • Freeze homemade spaghetti sauce (tomatoes!), homemade applesauce (apples!) and apple pie filling (apples!)

Sustainable Living:

Goal- to reduce our electric/water/carbon footprint, and stop choosing convenience over health.

  • Make own bread (buy bread machine). Do you have any idea what is in store-bought bread? Yeah, me neither.
  • Use said bread machine to make pizza crust dough, etc. Homemade pizza > Papa John’s!
  • Stop using paper towels- buy material to DIY dishtowels/cloth napkins
  • Put up clothesline and use it! Do NOT use dryer for anything except bath towels & jeans (those things need fluffing)
  • Make rain barrel like the folks over at Young House Love. Use water from the barrel to water gardens
  • Build compost bin like Young House Love or set up a backyard compost pile like in this tutorial. Skeptical about composting? Read the benefits here.
  • Stop leaving so many lights on!
  • Recycle. I know…it’s so bad that I don’t already do this. Separate metal cans & plastic bottles/containers into bins and take them to a local recycling center one a month-ish.

(image from DIY tutorial here)

So… now I’m exhausted. That’s a lot! There are some things on those lists that I can’t do right now- and others that I should begin immediately. For starters, this weekend I’m going to put up a clothesline (finally) and start separating out recycling materials from the regular trash. Until I start a compost bin, veggie scraps get tossed to the chickens (and you should see them fight over watermelon rinds- scary!). Mark & I are picking up some ducklings from a local farmer this weekend- that should be an adventure! Also, I’m hoping to find a cheap bread maker over the next week or so. Unfortunately for gardening, not only is it late in the season, but it’s unseasonably HOT outside! We’re currently breaking temp records that have held since the 1930s- four straight days over 106+ degree weather. So yeah, I’m not planting anything. I’m going to start taking advantage of the gardens that both of our parents’ grow, and hunt up some farmers’ markets.

Come Fall I’m going to bling out our flower beds with clearance herbs & perennials (the main reason I’m not buying plants right now is because it’s the height of the season! Everything goes 50%-off in the fall, even perennials), freeze homemade sauces and butchered hog meat (a fall tradition on Mark’s side of the family), dry herbs, and hopefully make that rain barrel. I really don’t see it raining enough to justify the expense any time soon! When it gets cold again we’ll need to make some changes to the coop- we could take advantage of that and expand enough to add the meat birds. By the time Winter rolls around we’ll have a freezer full of meat and frozen produce, and the knowledge that next Spring the garden goes in=)

That’s that! This post will definitely provide much-needed motivation for the months ahead. Don’t let me forget my grand schemes. I’m going to need someone to hold me to it.


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