In January of this year I wrote Our Story and mentioned that I would eventually share with you why we believe a micro-farm provides health (sustainability) not only for our family but also for the community. Since that time, I’ve used the term sustainable living several times. Now that the main growing season is over and my focus is turning to more of the non-gardening aspects of the farm, this seems like a good time to share those thoughts with you.
If you do a quick Google search for sustainable living you’ll find many different definitions. All of them have shades of the same concepts. I believe that these definition variations exist not because the what and how of sustainable living is so different from group to group but because the why is different. The Arcadia Farms definition of sustainable living (coming in the next paragraph) contains the same concepts as many other definitions but reflects our values and reasons for choosing this style of life.
Sustainable living is a system of living that maintains its own viability by seeking to optimize the use of naturally and locally available resources, often including reuse. Said more simply, it’s a lifestyle that can go on unhindered (or at least only slightly inconvenienced) in the face of shortages or stoppages of modern resources we’ve come to rely on such as electricity, gasoline and Wal-Mart. This type of sustainable living means that families become producers of more of the things they use rather than consumers only. It also contains a component of environmental stewardship since many of the resources needed to make the system effectively work come from nature. A healthy environment provides for both usable and ongoing resources.
Our micro-farm exists to provide an avenue for our family to develop a lifestyle of sustainable living, as well as to share information about and products of that lifestyle with our community. After some research, thought and experience, we’ve come to believe that our (and other) micro-farm(s) can contribute to both family and community health. This is an important but detailed topic. For those of you who are inclined to look at the length of this post and skip it all together, I thought I’d first provide a summary of the main points.
Sustainable living is a system of living that maintains its own viability by seeking to optimize the use of naturally and locally available resources, often including reuse. It’s a lifestyle where families become producers rather than consumers only and that can go on unhindered without unnatural and non-local resources. Sustainable living requires stewardship of natural resources and habitats. Developing a sustainable lifestyle takes time and practice; those who aspire to it should not feel condemned for not being farther along than they are.
The outcome of sustainable living is health – both for families and communities. Family health is realized in three areas: Physical, financial and mental. Sustainable living is natural and includes naturally grown/raised food which is free of chemicals that studies show have bad long-term effects on human health. It also involves a degree of exercise which benefits physical health. Sustainable living improves family financial health by saving money on everyday items that are produced at home or locally rather than from a chain store that receives goods from all over the world. And sustainable living improves family mental health by providing peace of mind that you have the skills and resources to provide for your family even in the event of a crisis such as a natural disaster or the loss of a job.
Sustainable living also contributes to community health and does so in four areas: Physical, economic, environmental and social health. The physical health of a sustainable community is the cumulative health of its families. Sustainable communities will also be more focused on addressing the non-food factors which contribute to public health. Sustainable living impacts economic health by keeping money local and creating local jobs. Also, families who have saved money by living sustainably are able to invest more into the community through their spending and their charity. By focusing on repairing and maintaining things like soil health, plant diversity and animal habitats which have been harmed by chemicals and conventional farming methods, sustainable living practices can also have a positive impact on the health of a community’s environment. Community members who don’t feel they can contribute to this health by being producers can still have an impact by joining local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. As the Illinois Farm Direct Project states, “CSAs provide more than just food, they offer ways for eaters to become involved in the ecological and human community that supports the farm.”