As I stand on the cusp of another new year, to me it looks as blank as the snow covered fields in Heath. The deep snow covers any mess, weeds or brush, and presents me with a new blank page. Mistakes are forgotten, the page is waiting for my imagination and energy to mark it.
Most of us feel the energy of possibility as we face a new year. This year, with a new president and a new administration, that feeling is even stronger as we all look for ways to get beyond the mess of the past year, to put our imaginations and energy to work, and to act with hope and confidence that we can make a difference and bring about
That confidence is reflected in Obama’s phrase “Yes, we can’. There is so much to do, so many problems that demand new thinking, practical solutions, and patience that it is only by approaching them with the old American ‘can do’ attitude that we can keep from feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
My friend Jane Beatrice Wegscheider, is a concerned artist who recently won a prize from the Pioneer Valley Sustainability Network (PVSN) for her Table Set for Forever. The table, just one part of a multimedia, portable exhibit, is a mosaic comprised of glass tiles in a design of twining vines and leaves interspersed with broken bits of china (pique assiette technique) suggesting interconnectedness. This exhibit is currently on display at the Northampton Town Hall and will be traveling to other venues.
When I look at that beautiful table I wonder, through an interconnectedness lens, where my next meal is coming from. Will it come from 1500 miles away? Will it have huge costs in terms of transportation, and costs to the environment? Fortunately, I have a garden and produce some of my own vegetables and berries. We live in a rural area that has an increasing number of farms, Community Supported Agriculture farms, farm stands and farmers markets where I can shop for local food.
Will my meal come from soil that is healthy? In my own garden I enrich the soil with compost, rock phosphate, greensand and lime to build long-term health in the garden. I concentrate on feeding the soil, not on feeding the plants with chemical fertilizers that will kill the vital teeming bacterial and microbial life in the soil.
Local farmers also use these organic fertilizers as well as cover crops and practice crop rotations to sustain soil fertility and moderate the cost of doing so.
My garden is small enough that my labors are moderate. However, I cannot help thinking of farmers whose labors are demanding and whose labor sometimes comes to naught when Mother Nature sends severe weathers in any season. Without farmers I would have little to eat. Their labor is so basic to our existence they surely deserve a living wage and health care.
If local food production is vital to my own health, the health of the environment, the health of the local economy and even national security, then I have to think about the infrastructure that is necessary to support local agriculture.
CISA, (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) has worked to help farmers with training, and with marketing, notably by working to promote sale of local produce to institutions and to urban areas. CISA has also studied and produced reports on the demand for a local slaughterhouse and food processing facility.
I raise chickens for meat and eggs. Because chickens require very little care I think many more people would raise chickens for meat if it were easier to have them slaughtered. I take responsibility for killing my chickens, but the labor is substantial. I had hoped that the new Adams slaughterhouse would include a ‘chicken wing’ but it was not to be.
Farmers have a much greater need for a slaughterhouse than those of us who tend a hobby flock of chickens or turkeys. Perhaps there would be more local meat production, not only beef, but pigs and sheep if a slaughterhouse were available. I know thoughtful debate is currently going on about this need.
When local residents talk about why they live in this area, they almost always talk about the pleasure they take in the landscape, the beautiful views of fields, pastures and woods. Developers cast their eye on the monetary value of that open land, but if the land can produce crops and a living wage, and support the community with necessary produce and meat, we can all continue to enjoy the beauty of our landscape, while we enjoy delicious fresh food.
A local system of sustainable agriculture is what I see being developed in our region.
Sustainability is a word frequently used these days, but what does it mean? The PVSN gives the United Nations’ Bruntland Commission definition as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
I have children, grandchildren, and even a great granddaughter. I have future generations clearly in my sights and I know what they will need – healthy air, water and food.
Can we implement sustainable systems? Yes, we can.