09 October 2012

Living Sustainably and Resourcefully

A lifestyle that separates ones needs from ones wants is something to behold. How often does that happen in an average American's life? That distinction is a task worth mentioning from both Thai village life and an American life. As an American, what we define as a need can often times be convoluted with what we simply want badly. While staying in Yasothon Province the CIEE community learned about sustainable living and growing. I stayed with a family of rice farmers who grew six local varieties of rice. They only sold their surplus yields and used the rest to sustain themselves for the year. They also harvested squash, herbs, flowers, and chili peppers and raised cows and pigs for organic fertilizer. Staying on a working organic farm was an exciting experience. They sustained their family almost entirely based on the products they planted with their own hands. One of the few food resources they bought was their meat and poultry, which was raised organically. Their whole life, from the way their home was decorated to the way they cooked their food was resourceful. Resourcefulness is the word.

Getting down simply to what was hanging from the walls and what was around my family's home. I seem to be painting a picture of a life without any luxuries, but this is untrue. Luxuries come in many forms. A life with enough healthy food and animals, a sturdy home and family near by is a life full of stability. Isn't stability the aim of every career? Although this is quite a unique situation for many Americans, weather and climate dictates a farmers yields and therefore their stability. Farmers who have transitioned from chemical to organic farming realized they needed good health (of land and people), which is more sustainable than the faster yields and work involved with chemical farming. In the end, organic farmers are working with more stable land because it is not degraded by chemicals and they are able to produce higher and healthier yields, something conscience consumers are looking for.

The garlic clusters hanging from the ceiling all around the house was decoration enough. And what seemed to be an empty refrigerator only told me that they buy what they need and make enough food for each meal to enjoy fully. No food goes wasted or unappreciated. If it is unfinished by the human, the dog is fed well. Resourcefulness is the word. Everything in their home, especially their kitchen, is useful. Utility is their decoration.

Living a sustainable lifestyle is also something to mention. You can only imagine the way they live with their land in harmony. Every day they watch and help heir crops grow. They know their land like many people in America could never understand. The connection they have with their surroundings is a relationship filled with knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. They learn about their land by dealing with it, watching it, and understanding what it needs to flourish. With organic farming, they create a positive relationship between the land and their lives because they care for it. Chemical farming ruins that positive relationship and makes it completely exploitative and unfair. By upholding their organic practices and looking at what the land needs, they will, in turn, get what they need from the land.   

Lucy Lehman
Beloit College


Anya Chang-DePuy said...

I also stayed with this family with Lucy and witnessed all the things that she did. I think a lot of people, especially in America could learn a lot from our host family. I had never previously studied the benefits of organic farming, and just growing your own food before this unit. I new it was a good thing to do and was beneficial somehow, but I really did not know any details. After the readings, discussion and unit I have come to the understanding of how important it is to farm organically, grow your own food and waste as little as possible. The future of our earth depends on people coming to this realization. I never knew how dire the situation actually is and I don't think many people do know. I've been trying to think of ways to bring back what I experienced and learned from this unit to change my food consumption methods and to influence others to do the same. It took me as much as to come to Thailand and stay with villagers who are a real life example of how important it is, so for those who cannot have this experience will anything I say or do really make a difference?

Anne Sledd said...

The entire mindset you’ve described is so different than that of an average American. In America it seems people are rarely content with what they already have, always wanting something more. To be honest I’m a little concerned about returning to the States during the holidays when consumerism will be at its peak. After staying in homes where a tiled floor and western toilet register in my mind as luxurious it’ll be a shock, I think, to handle people clamoring for the latest smart phone or ipad. I doubt all the villagers are content all the time living just enough to sustain them, but when we exchange with villagers they have generally expressed a desire to maintain their traditional ways of life. They don’t want extravagant lifestyles; they want what they have. I don’t think you have to strip down your life to bare bones and be content with it just how it is, but being able to distinguish a want from a need is an important ability to have.

Marissa Strong said...

I also learned a lot from my time spent with my family from this same village. The fact that these families care so much about their health to sacrifice more time and energy by growing organically instead of chemically shows true dedication and passion. It’s not easy at all and the close relationship that my family had with the land is something that is rarely seen in America. Most Americans do share the same concern as the Thais as far as their health and eating good foods. They want to eat organically because it is more healthy. Unfortunately the actual farming is where the disconnect is. Consumerism is the main focus in the states. Despite sharing concerns of eating healthy, the Thais seem to be proactive to do it themselves by farming. Meanwhile in America, the trend seems to hold true to our consumerism background. Many people do not have the time or energy (or simply are too lazy) to actually grow their own produce. It’s definitely not an easy task, but I think there would be less waste and a better relationship with food if Americans actually grew their own food instead of just taking the simple way and going to a supermarket and buying it with little effort. One thing I want to do now is to spend some time on an organic farm so I can understand and appreciate food more.

Nicole Hale said...

I really enjoyed reading about the ideas in your blog, Lucy. I agree with pretty much everything you said and find myself reflecting on my village stay experience in a very similar way. I think it is very vital that our society today starts thinking more about sustainability and what that means for us on the an individual level. I believe that sustainability will be more likely to happen on the national and global level if we as citizens of our respective countries start living a life that exemplifies and demands for sustainable ways. I think this can start with applying the very lesson we learned from the villagers into our own lives: living by needs and not by wants. If we started buying, consuming, and using on a need basis rather than a want basis our world would be in much better shape and the future generations might have a brighter outlook. Yet, that is our problem in America. We use like there is no limit and its hard to change because we do not fully understand and pay attention to the consequences. We don’t think about how we are sacrificing the planet for our lazy habits or how we are causing our own future destruction. It’s hard for me to speak on this because my lifestyle is also supporting the problem. I rarely consume based on need and am very much want based. I never fully understood the implications of this until visiting the villagers and I cannot wait to return home and start living a more sustainable life.

Ryan said...

Similar to everybody else I noticed very similar things while staying with my host family. Many famers in Thailand have found a way to live very functionally and responsibly with the land and it is a process that has been perfected over hundreds of years. I feel similar to you about the stark difference in sustainability and appreciation of land/food that many people of Thailand have. Sadly, I am one of those folks in America that do not live a sustainable life when it comes to food and using the land and unfortunately there are millions of other people in the America that share my lifestyle. This experience has greatly shifted my understanding of living sustainably; thinking more critically about the food I eat, and how land is used/misused for the creation of food. I believe there is much that could be learned from the people of Thailand and their perfection and efficiency in their farming and livelihood.