Sustainability – Does It Matter?

I have been trying to figure out what to write next for quite some time. I like sharing our travel stories and information we’ve learned about farmingsustainabilitypermaculture and food. No, actually, I love it – especially when readers respond with wonder, advice and gratitude. It makes me hopeful; like we are actually doing something meaningful and good.

But the world, it seems, is coming apart. Yes, in our global information age we see and hear more about conflict in far off places more immediately than ever before. And yes, for centuries we have had war, idiotic politicians and the trampling of human rights as the ignorance and arrogance of the powers that be wind themselves through shadow and light. But these times feel different, more dire and more lopsided.

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Palestinian mourners cry at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City after an explosion killed at least seven children in a public playground in the beachfront Shati refugee camp on July 28, 2014. Current death toll in Gaza: 2,133. Photo credit: Mahmud Hams—AFP/Getty Images

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A police officer aims a sniper rifle at unarmed protesters from atop an armored personnel carrier in Ferguson, MO. Aug 13, 2014. Photo credit: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters via nbcnews.com

Maybe it feels so dire because I am more mature and I now allow myself to care more deeply. Perhaps I just have too much time on my hands and I should go out and get a job. (Or stick my head in the sand.) Or maybe, we as a human race have reached a nadir in our humanity – where we care more about our own comfort, security and proximity to power than we do about what’s right or just.

Regardless of the answer, I remain angry, despondent and feeling silly and impotent. How can I write about canning tomatoes or developing patience or even about food programs in urban centers when innocent people are being repressed, maimed and killed? Does it matter if I convince middle-class people to buy organic produce from a farmers market when millions of people are starving? What is the point of blogging about climate or food awareness when the last weak-kneed legs of our “free press” have been rounded up in parking lot corrals?

 (Photo Credit: NGT)

Slavery is not a thing of the past. From brothels in Thailand, London and New York to the tomato fields in Florida to the brick fields in India, women and children are sold into slavery. By some estimates, there are more slaves on the planet now than ever in our history. Photo Credit: NGT

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Child refugees from Central America are held in overcrowded detention centers near the southern US border while awaiting immigration hearings, placement with family members or deportation. July 2014. Photo credit: Diocese of West Texas

I keep coming back to the same dilemma: How do I work on the Good Foot Project’s sustainability objectives when the problems of the world are so critical?

There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself. – Leo Tolstoy

When I moved in with JC, he shared his plans to build a garden in the southeast corner of the yard. We staked out the dimensions and then broke out the pickaxe, as the grass that covered the nearly 300 sq ft plot needed to be removed roots and all.

I went to work on the patch each weekend. It was slow going. It took me a long time to figure out how to wield the pickaxe effectively and the grass had been there a long time with deep, deep roots. But each time I went out there, I just focused on a little square and did the best I could. Eventually, the grass was cleared. We added topsoil and we laid in brick for the walkway. JC built a fairy-tale fence using old limbs trimmed from the avocado and oaks trees on the property. We laid out a garden design on graph paper and then dug furrows. DSC02991 DSC04011 Planting the seeds was kind of anti-climatic, but when the first shoots came up I was ecstatic. We took to walking through the garden each morning to check on the babies and pull weeds. We built a tripod like structure for climbing beans and cucumbers. We peppered a few rows with tomato cages. Over the summer, the garden matured. DSC03971 At parties and BBQs, guests would always wander out to the garden to marvel at its slightly wild beauty. Toddlers invariably plucked cherry tomatoes and we pulled baby carrots from the ground. One mother even remarked “Is THAT where carrots come from? I had no idea!” Don’t laugh, I had no idea how eggplant and broccoli grew until I planted them myself.

We shared tips and seeds with friends who subsequently started gardens of their own. We started a melon patch beneath the avocado tree. Which then became a brassicas patch. We made lots of mistakes and we probably could’ve achieved higher yields, but we loved it like a member of the family.

We held our wedding in the backyard and the garden became our thematic centerpiece. From the invitations and the parting gifts to the vows and the communal table, sharing the garden became a physical manifestation of our values, our love and our passions. 00136_DSC02873 I’d like to think that our garden inspired others to grow food at home, or at least to think a bit more about where their food comes from, but even if it affected no one else, it was lovely, therapeutic and nourishing for us. It gave us insight into organic food – it was the second year of our garden when we stopped shopping for the cheapest produce and started searching out the cleanest. And the garden was an important cornerstone of the Good Foot Project.

But what if we did influence a few others? And what if that helped create a ripple effect so large that eventually everyone with a patch of ground grew food instead of landscaping? And if they then shared their harvests with their neighbors, wouldn’t that actually make a real dent in food insecurity and malnutrition? (In fact, a UN report asserts that the only way to fight global hunger is to re-establish the prevalence of the small holder farm.) An upswing in home farming could also decrease the amount of chemical run-off poisoning our water sources, reduce the amount of fuel used to transport produce over vast distances and perhaps even starve Big Ag into rethinking its relationship to petro-chemicals and reliance on salt, sugar and fat in food processing. Maybe, we could even build stronger communities in which the economically and emotionally disadvantaged feel supported and connection, generosity and compassion are rewarded.

And all of that started with me taking a pickaxe to a tiny patch of grass?

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We launched the Good Foot Project in March 2013 with a fundraiser at a gallery in Downtown Los Angeles.

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Militants of ISIS (aka ISIL, the Islamic State), by far the most-well funded and slickly promoted terrorist organization on the planet, prepare to execute “prisoners of war.” They have claimed responsibility for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Photo credit: www.clarionproject.org

Most of the time, I feel like we are in a bubble and none of the things we are doing to promote sustainability are actually achieving anything. I mean, if I’m careful about my water consumption but every other person on my block is watering their driveways and taking 20 minute showers, what difference does my small action make? If I choose to buy only pre-owned clothing but thousands of people are buying cheap goods produced by slave-labor, am I changing anything at all?

The truth is, I have no idea. I have no idea how many people are watching, reading, or listening; seeing how easy it is to conserve water; awakening to consciousness outside of the dominant culture; or being inspired to plant a vegetable garden. We have no idea how our actions ripple outward. More importantly, to reassert our humanity, we must do what is right even when no one is watching.

I cannot go to Gaza and convince both the Israeli and Hamas leaders that bloodshed is not the way to achieve their objectives. I cannot lead a peaceful surge into the northern reaches of Nigeria to rescue the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. I cannot force even a single cop in Ferguson or New York or Los Angeles to practice compassion and earn respect from the communities they patrol.

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A woman shouts during a vigil in Abuja calling for the release of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in the village of Chibok. Such protests have since been banned by the police forces who call them a “nuisance” and “a threat to security”. Photo credit: Reuters

I can however try to make people aware of issues I care about, especially food-related climate change. I can join public relations campaigns to pressure leaders to make better decisions. I can use my buying power to purchase food from local family farms, soaps from pollution-conscious companies and sweat-shop free clothes. I can make a micro-loan on Kiva and completely change one person’s life. I can become more informed on the issues facing my community and VOTE.

I can also practice the compassion, generosity, justice, nurturing and kindness I want to see in my community. I can make changes in my own life that bring me closer to my values even while some of these may make my life less “convenient.” I can continue to decrease my carbon footprint because I believe it’s necessary and the right thing to do.

… climate change—when its full economic and moral implications are understood—is the most powerful weapon progressives have ever had in the fight for equality and social justice…. Climate change is not an ‘issue’ for you to add to the list of things to worry about it. It is a civilizational wake up call. – Naomi Klein

In fact, climate change is the most-urgent issue of our time; for if we fail to stem its effects, the earth may become uninhabitable and all other issues become afterthoughts. Climate change is a social justice issue, a human rights issue, an equality issue and a race issue for when extreme climate events occur, those most vulnerable to its effects are the poor and disenfranchised.

And what is our best tool to combat climate change? Is it new legislation? Regulation? Voting climate deniers out of office? Actually, it’s resistance. Practiced by regular folks like you and me.

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DC saw the largest environmental demonstration ever when 35,000 protesters marched to urge Pres. Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline which will bring the dirtiest petroleum product – tar sands oil – from Canada to the Gulf. February 17, 2013. Photo credit: www.ienearth.org

Is Earth F**ked?:Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism, caused a shock when it was presented to the venerable American Geophysical Union in 2012. The presenter, geophysicist, Brad Werner explains that unfortunately, the answer is YES. He goes on to make the case that attempts to address climate change through legislative and regulatory channels are futile because corporations and governmental agencies are far too entrenched to move quickly and significantly enough. (Read more in the Slate article here.)

The one bright spot in his model? “People or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture – environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

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A protestor in Ferguson, MO kneels as tear gas reigns down on her and the street.Photo credit: Getty Images

Sure, resistance works best when well organized, but real change starts with you, the individual. The first step is a change of heart or mind. Then the hands, feet and wallet follow.

If you have made it this far, I hope you will take it upon yourself to do what you can to resist the dominant culture that tells you to buy more and keep to yourself. Instead, promote peace, kindness and compassion wherever and whenever you can. We need to flood the world with good, to use our global connectedness to help where help is needed, to reassure both the despairing and ourselves. We need to do what we can, in whatever small ways that we can, to reassert our humanity – to send a message, not only to the powers that be, but to our neighbors as well.

You don’t have to change your whole life, just step a little outside of your comfort zone. Do things that you love consciously and share them with others.

It all starts with you. Doing good is contagious.

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Throughout the GFP expedition, we’ve met people from all over the world dedicated to supporting sustainable food systems and doing what they can to change the world. The crew at Root n Roost Farm in upstate New York was a prime example.

Do good right now:

Decrease your carbon footprint:  10 Ways   50 Tips 

Find a farmers market near you Spread the good word!

We all need reassurance and good news! Good Magazine is a great place to start

Make a microloan on Kiva

Clean old cans and boxed foods out of your pantry and donate to your local food bank

Send a supportive note or photo to child refugees from Central America

Donate to the Organization for Black Struggle in Ferguson, MO or join the Color of Change campaign to help them raise money for a full-time organizer

Support one of these 23 innovative organizations disrupting hunger in the US

Support these organizations fighting climate change:   350.org   Union of Concerned Scientists   Sierra Club   Greenpeace   IMGP1895

About Anastasia King Jaress

Anastasia is a former media producer who hit the road to sustainability in April 2013 with her husband JC and Mattie, the dog. She writes about food, community, sustainability, travel, family and the myriad questions that boggle them.

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8 Responses to Sustainability – Does It Matter?

  1. Andi August 27, 2014 at 11:35 AM #

    I love everything you said in this post.

    • Anastasia King Jaress August 28, 2014 at 9:06 AM #

      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. These comments mean so much to us!

  2. Michelle August 28, 2014 at 2:27 AM #

    beautiful!

  3. Lloyd Vivola August 29, 2014 at 10:24 AM #

    Thanks, Anastasia. A very elegant and earnest appraisal of the dilemma millions of people face as they work toward creating a sustainable world in so many diverse and often unpublicized ways. In the context that you have so well articulated, it is important to remember that the world that is imploding or exploding is a world born of human constructs that have dominated life on the planet for centuries. But another “world” and its intrinsic truths are far older and resilient to man’s modern desire to control all aspects of the universe, the Creation, and so it is that they will be here long after our generation of humans is gone and in ways, as Tolstoy suggests, that we cannot assume or begin to measure. So all we can do is take the gift of our life each day and put our hearts and hands to the journey and tasks before us knowing that we have more friends and supporters than the mainstream news feed would have us believe. That said, peace and good power to you and JC. And thanks for the Good Foot Project Blog.

    • Anastasia King Jaress September 4, 2014 at 10:49 AM #

      Thank YOU Lloyd,

      Thank you for reminding us of the power and resiliency of Creation. This is a key perspective that is sorely overlooked in my article. Not only is it stabilizing to put these times into perspective vis a vis the millions of years of life on Earth, it’s reassuring to note that the planet is not just the setting for the drama of climate change but an actor in it as well. We may have yet to see Creation’s most amazing adaptations.

      Perhaps we should embrace the emerging faces of the world instead of fearing them. Massive changes in climate may well institute a much-needed correction and produce new beauty, an expansion of bio-diversity and a catalyst for transformation in humanity.

      Thanks again for the perspective. We look forward to hearing more about your journey and experiences. Please keep us updated!

  4. Alysha September 3, 2014 at 7:50 PM #

    Beautifully said.

  5. Paula Koop September 3, 2014 at 10:25 PM #

    What a great article. I grew up w/ a vegetable garden at my parents house. As an adult who loves to cook, I noticed the difference in taste of store bought veggies. Last yr. I planted my first vegetable garden myself. What a great feeling of satisfaction. Your article opened up my mind to things like the local farmers markets etc. you are a gifted writer and have many valid points. I love watching the adventures that you and JC have on FB. Thanks for your eye opening article. God bless you.

    • Anastasia King Jaress September 4, 2014 at 10:53 AM #

      Thanks Paula,

      Please let me know if there are any topics in particular that interest you or questions that you might have for our organic farmer friends. We’d love to share some experience and knowledge that will help those of you growing food at home.

      There are loads of resources to assist the home grower online and in books, but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming.

      Let us know how we can help and feel free to send us some pix of your garden. We’d love to share with others!

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