08 March 2011

A Sustainable Life

Picture a farm. What do you see? A red barn, beautiful green pasture, rolling hills; perhaps you even imagine the sweet smell of cut hay and warm air brushing against your arms? Or do you imagine acres upon acres of corn. Or do you find yourself imagining a feedlot filled with mooing cattle and the stench of manure invading your senses.

Farms are something we grow up learning about. Old McDonald had a happy little farm with chickens, cows, pigs, horses, and a beautiful garden. We can only imagine that he also lived organically and sustainably. Of course his family was happy, well fed and had everything they could ever want. They weren’t worried about making a profit, or protecting their land from pollution.

Where is the reality in that story, I wonder? We are told everyday that farmers are disappearing and corporations are snatching up the scraps. Food is unsafe, filled with chemicals, and production is destroying the world.

Of course there has been a move towards living sustainably and organically, but until last week I didn’t see how we could ever go back to the happy story of Old McDonald.

Not until I saw my 73-year-old Pa plow his fields barefooted with a water buffalo did I see the truth and beauty in organic, sustainable farming. It’s not as if I didn’t believe it was best for the world and ourselves but I just wasn’t sure if it was possible to go back to the time before big machinery and chemicals.

According to my Meh who is 61 years old, they plow their nearly 15 acres of land with one water buffalo, use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, grow nearly 100 varieties of plants, and loves her life. When I asked her if she had difficulties raising five children while farming, she said “No.” They grew their own food, didn’t owe anyone money, and didn’t need buy candies, or motorcycles to be happy. Her children have since gone to school to study agriculture but are planning to return in the next two years to begin learning from their Meh and Pa.

After seeing this perfectly sustainable system of life, I find myself confused. How can this family exist in rural Thailand living in such a way that they aren’t in debt, and have extra food to share and money to spare? They aren’t involved in contract farming; yet still find a market for their produce. They don’t suffer any health problems but are at the top end of the average life expectancy in Thailand.

When I was standing in the field watching my Pa plow his land with the dirt crumbling between his toes my Meh was nearby gathering long beans. The sun was setting; I could hear the cows grazing in the next field and I suddenly realized that this is what a real farm is. Organic and sustainable farming doesn’t mean having a sticker that says you don’t use chemicals; it means living in such a way that you understand the world around you in a way that is completely new to most Americans. It means working with the world to sustain ourselves not against it. It also requires considering what is necessary in our lives, what can we do without and what is just extra.

The first step is to just be aware of our impact. Once we do this we can begin to live a life that is more sustainable. And eventually, when we imagine a farm with a big red barn and green pastures, it will be a reality all over the world. Perhaps for me, I’ll imagine a Pa plowing his land with a water buffalo as the sun drifts below the horizon.

Kristi Huckabone
George Washington University

1 comment:

Maddisen Domingo said...

Kristi, looking back on this homestay experience that I shared with you still gives me chills. Not only because of the unrealistic beauty of their property and lifestyle, but because I’m left wondering where I fit into the entire picture. I also walked away from that homestay having a new depth of understanding regarding what real sustainability looks like.

I also agree that the first step towards an individual’s attempt to be sustainable is to investigate their own impact on the world and become aware of how their daily choices can alter the world around them. But I don’t know if I’m convinced that this is the only step necessary in order for Americans to become more sustainable. I feel like there will need to be a complete reworking of our consumption systems- a change so great that it will need more than people to change. I’m also unsure how we Americans who live in bigger cities are going to be able to be sustainable when cities are so based on unsustainable practices.