If you’re wondering how to support sustainable agriculture, here’s a quick guide to get you started.
Supporting sustainable agriculture might seem like an impossible feat. The truth is, it’s nothing more than a series of small daily choices. As we like to say around here at Chickadee Hills Homestead, “You vote every time you put a fork in your mouth.” In fact, you vote each time you do just about anything at any time of the day. Every choice you make has an impact on the world around you.
That makes all of us very, very important. We need to parlay that importance into becoming much more accountable to each other and to the environment. If you want to be responsible for the sustainability of your world, you have to look at every single thing you consume. It starts with agriculture, which is the root source of many (if not most) of our consumables.
Just “being accountable” is a pretty overwhelming task, though. It’s not easy to wake up one day and start doing everything right. It takes conscious choice and incremental changes over time. Here are the best ways to start.
Local Is Critical
According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the average American meal travels 1,500 miles before it ends up on your plate. Think about how far that is: halfway across the country. Compare the distances traveled for items from a conventional store versus a farmers market. You’ll see that items are, on average, traveling about a tenth as far when you buy locally.
It’s critical if you want to reduce the travel time of food, to start supporting people who grow and make locally. Set yourself a radius outside of which you will not buy. Maybe it’s 50 miles. Or perhaps it’s 200. The critical point is that you’re conscious of the distance your items are traveling. The easiest things to start buying locally include:
Yes, even wood, which we will discuss below. Bottom line: Start a conversation with people who are passionate, reasonable and responsible about our local environment. Then use your dollars to support them.
Local Is Not Enough
Many people think merely buying locally is enough, though, when it isn’t. The phrase “locally sourced” is a pet peeve of ours here at Chickadee Hills, because it’s very misleading. Just because you buy something from a local distributor doesn’t mean it’s local. The palms weren’t grown here, and the oil wasn’t harvested here. Instead, it has to travel across the ocean and then get loaded onto a truck and sent here. That’s a long way to go for an ingredient that you could substitute right here at home.
Let’s say you want to use palm oil for soap or beauty products. You can actually walk out 100 feet in any direction and come across a pig that is loaded down with lard. The ingredients for soap are lard, lye, and water. That’s all. You don’t need palm oil. You don’t need olive oil. You don’t need coconut oil. You don’t need shea butter. No matter how many claims distributors make about them being local, they aren’t. You can easily bring your awareness to this truth and avoid them.
Turn Waste into Worth
Lots of so-called worthless products are actually worth quite a bit if you take the time to get to know them. Take the black locust. It used to be a very popular tree, but has since fallen out of style and now people call it a weed tree and essentially snub it.
Interestingly, despite this reputation, it’s actually a precious tree: a fast-growing hardwood. Most hardwoods are slow-growing, and so are very expensive. Black locust is a fast-growing locust that makes excellent timber. But it is also excellent for honey production as well. It’s critical we start reexamining our prejudices and using what’s right in front of us.
Look in Your Own Backyard
There’s more happening in your own backyard than you might think. Take textiles, a product we’ve been importing great deals of for decades. But do we have to? There’s a beautiful farm in Wisconsin called Black Cat Farm. It’s currently undergoing a feasibility study on small-scale linen production. Linen comes from flax, which can be grown here and can be made by hand. That’s something to watch.
Or what about yarn—a primary ingredient in plenty of clothing? Let’s say you buy it at the yarn store. The fleece is typically from sheep raised in South Africa or Australia. Then it is processed in Japan and shipped to the United States. That’s a long way to go.
Right here in the U.S., though, kids are growing lovely sheep for 4-H and county fairs, and can’t sell their fleece. They have to give it away for free. This isn’t a complete solution, yet. But it certainly means you could be looking at local alternatives and supporting a local industry of yarn spun and died right here in town.
One of the best examples is a company called Good Shepherd Insulation. For years now, they have been making insulation for your home out of sheep wool. Think about that. You could say goodbye to unnatural and dangerous products such as fiberglass and start insulating your home with a renewable, local product. But only if you vote with your wallet!
Thoughtfulness over Austerity
Lastly, it’s important to note that we’re not advocating austerity, just thoughtfulness. We’re so busy thinking about our wardrobes, our budgets, our appearance, and our comfort. We forget to think about the Earth’s needs. If the premise is correct that a nation is wealthy according to its natural resources, we need to think about our natural resources. We need to think about water and soil and inputs and animals, and we need to think about them now.
Want to learn more about how to support sustainable agriculture in your own life or on your table? We invite you to get in touch with us here at Chickadee Hills Homestead. We would love to tell you more about who we are and what we do and answer any other questions you might have. We’re passionate about sustainability, and anything we can do to pass that on to you, we’d love to!