Something that changed you forever. For me, I was a teen employed at a national retail chain when they rolled out the brand new plastic bags. We were told to use them in place of paper bags, unless a customer requested otherwise. We were also told they were “photodegradable” and would naturally break down in sunlight within a short period of time. We were asked to assure our customers that this was an eco-friendly option to save our rain forests.
Fast forward a few decades and what we have learned about plastic and its hazardous effect (including its inability to break down) on the environment has forever tainted our view of this product. All plastic is bad plastic, right?
But wait. Is this about Bisphenol A? BPA as we affectionately call it, is the unlabeled hormone-like substance that is found in plastics. We have
come to suspect that it is toxic and since we like to store food in plastic containers, we are slowly poisoning ourselves with this mystery chemical. This has lead several countries, including Canada to regulate its use in plastic. The plastic industry has responded by developing a BPA-free plastic. Which is still plastic. Which is still polluting the earth and filling our oceans with muck.
Suppose you are a canner. You have grown up some beautiful organic, pesticide-free produce (or
perhaps purchased some from a farmer) and would like to preserve this bounty for your family. You have the option of using the traditional glass jars with bands and lids that we have seen for generations, but which we now understand are laced with BPA, or you can use the new latest greatest BPA-free plastic lids. Wait. What? BPA or plastic? Those are the options? Well, actually, you can purchase a very lovely all-glass canning jar that is priced out of the market for most canners and which, interestingly enough, comes with plastic lids for refrigerator storage.
So, if you are a canner, you are likely using a BPA product or plastic to store your wholesome, fresh from the garden, produce. If that sounds like a spot between a rock and a hard place, you'd be correct. But you are not alone.
Let’s talk about lawns. At some point in your life you’ve probably cultivated and nurtured a green patch of grass for the benefit of your property values and your neighborhood. I know I have. Hey, it feels good to run your bare feet across a nicely mowed lawn to play with the children and the dog and host your backyard BBQ. It’s a piece of Americana! It’s tradition! It might also be required by your HOA or local ordinance and in many places you can receive a fine for not maintaining your lawn.
It is also a multibillion dollar industry. Lawn products, mowers, fertilizers, yard maintenance services…the list is endless. There is a corporate
machine behind the image of the perfectly manicured lawn. What is the best way to maintain that look? Well, you might need to apply some chemical laden fertilizer, maybe some toxic weed killer. You might install an underground plastic pipe watering system. You could even get your trowel out and dig up some of those pesky, but possibly edible and nutritious, weeds by hand. And by all means, drag out that noisy mower that burns gasoline and run it over and over the grass until it reaches that uniform height that we all know and love. At least once a week. Maybe twice a week in Spring.
Green grass regularly mowed makes your house look nice, makes your neighbors happy, and keeps you a law abiding citizen. It also takes a toll on the environment. Another quandry.
Should we even get into GMOs? Farmers have been forced to use genetically modified seed in order to keep their farms afloat. The big money behind GMOs has bankrupted most of the farmers that have tried to resist. We think these modified crops can cause health issues, including cancer. We quiver at the thought that our food supply has become tainted with this product. We don't even know when we are eating it because our government does not require labeling. Instead of buying the contaminated produce that comes from these farms, we purchase seed and grow our own corn and tomatoes. That solves the problem right? Not exactly. Very little heirloom corn seed is available today. Most of our corn seed supply has been cross contaminated by the GMO strains. Once it is contaminated, the process cannot be reversed. Additionally, most of fruit and vegetable seed market is owned by the companies who sell the GMO products to farmers. Chances are, you are growing your own GMO laced produce right in your own garden.
And what about our meat supply? For those of us that aren’t vegetarians, we should be worried about the quality of the product that is commercially available. Again, BIG MONEY is behind the feed lot system of producing beef, pork and poultry. These animals are raised up in cramped, overcrowded, unsanitary conditions while being fed GMO laced grains and processed under often uninspected facilities and labeled with vague tags that don’t tell you what all you are buying. To counteract that mess, you have decided to raise up your own chickens to produce eggs for your family. Fantastic! If you only feed your chickens organic food, you'll have some lovely eggs for the table. Why organic food? Because the rest of the feed commercially available is made from the same GMO corn that you are trying to avoid. Feed GMO products to your chickens and you'll get GMO eggs. And that's just eggs. What about chicken, pork and beef? Are you raising your own meat supply organically? No? Maybe you are an animal lover and you have a hard time understanding how people can raise and butcher their own meat. Those poor animals! Omg! You could never do that! How awful! So, even though the quality is likely questionable, you’d rather get your chicken/pork/beef from the store, thank you very much!
So, what exactly is sustainability? What does it mean to you? Is it all or nothing? Can you only apply for membership if you have a perfect record of zero negative impact on the environment? Is it a competition? Do you need to point out the harm your friend or neighbor is doing while hiding your own? Are we becoming sustainability snobs? Is it possible to be sustainable in some ways and not others? Is the process imperfect? Is it a work in
progress? Are we learning as we go?
Look folks, it took us a while to get to this place of understanding. New data comes out every day. We are trying to make the correction. It won’t happen overnight. Or all at once. It is baby steps. Some of the skills required, we have to relearn. Our grandparents knew more than we do about this kind of stuff. Thank goodness for the internet, where we can research just about anything we want to learn. I’d like to suggest though that we approach this whole sustainability
movement with a little common sense. Otherwise, we’ll lose our footing. As Pam, our Canning Granny suggested, “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel”.
Last week I offered an alternative, environmentally friendly, weed killing solution to those that might still be using the name brand toxic chemical to eradicate weeds in their yards and gardens. A chemical, which by the way, is manufactured by the same company that brings us GMO seed. I inadvertently tested the product on what must be the poster child of beneficial weeds, The Dandelion!
Now, while I have become familiar with the edible and medicinal properties of dandelions and posted several recipes and articles on the topic over a year ago, my love affair with dandelions has a limit. I have, in fact, eaten dandelions and while I enjoy the honeyish flavor of the dandelion jelly I made, I don’t exactly enjoy the dandelion greens. I've also dug up and dried several dandelion roots last fall to use for medicinal purposes, but I will have to report back later on that project as I rarely use anything “medicinal” and therefore this has not been a high priority for me. I also know that honeybees enjoy the nectar that dandelion flowers offer. Suffice it to say, that I am familiar with the beneficial properties of dandelions and don’t make a point of targeting them for removal at our homestead. However, as I mentioned before, they aren’t my favorite thing to eat and I can also admit to not loving broccoli, cabbage and beets. You’ll find none of these growing in my garden. What you will find in my garden are all the fruits and veggies we love, that I can cram inside our fenceline, and as few weeds as possible. Ergo, the weed killer. The weed killer that doesn’t harm the soil, does not alter human cells nor cause mutations and birth defects. The weed killer that doesn’t harm beneficial insects and which does not get into our food supply and create mayhem down the road. Oh yeah, THAT weed killer.
Can we agree that sustainable living is a messy, sometimes frustrating and imperfect science? Every right turn has an unintended consequence. But let's focus on the BIG PICTURE for a minute. If someone isn’t doing things exactly perfect, but is working towards our common goal, don’t pile on! Let’s embrace our canner, farmer, homesteader or even the lawn maintenance guy for the changes they are attempting. Yes, we do need to find the best products and processes moving forward. But we are making progress! Is it better to use vinegar instead of toxic herbicides to kill your weeds? Maybe. Should you frown upon your hardworking blogger who is trying to share new ideas that you don’t exactly agree with? Maybe not. Why don’t we take the information we are offered and tweak it and improve on it so that we can all learn from each other?
That’s why I’m here. If you already know all there is to know about sustainability, I suspect you’ll be bored with this site. If not, feel free to share with me. I have a lot to learn yet. I’m open
to new ideas and will do my best to encourage and promote, without condemning or judging. I don’t want to be a sustainability snob. Do you?
To learn more about sustainability or to leave tips and ideas about sustainable farm and garden practices that you are using, please stop by to see us at www.facebook.com/thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there!