Sustain What?

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This post was almost ready for scheduled posting 4/5 – but illness delayed it. And yesterday the chickens discovered the star of today’s show….they were very pleased with themselves.  Luckily you can always buy more seedlings – and these guys will come back. Like I said about kale – well, read for yourself…

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The way we were

The morning after I studied the Food Pyramid in the doctor’s office, I spent an exhausted day in bed.   After a couple of nights of brutally interrupted sleep  I had to crash. While in bed I read up on Sharon Stronger and her family, and their sustainable life in Texas. Sharon writes the blog Nourishing Days. Her posts are very real (gritty) and also pretty unreal, in the sense that I do not believe they represent a large-scale solution to the question “how to live sustainably.”  Returning to the land as the Strongers have done it is not a model for many modern families – although a fun read.  Reading about their sustainable off-grid adventures satisfies my life-long fantasy about “living off the land.”  As a third grader, I tried making jam from berry pickings without a recipe or any knowledge. As a starry-eyed 12 year old I pitched my mom on the value of getting a chicken in our back yard, only to be wearily rebuffed.  As a young woman I made crazy claims about having a wood stove before I would ever own a microwave. What Sharon is doing is what I thought I always wanted to do.

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Some of the first crop for 2017: kindling from pruning the crape myrtles

And Nourishing Days is a pretty popular blog, so there must be plenty of others  harboring those kind of dreams. Still, modern America is not about to climb off the grid.  There are too many real advantages to what electrical power brings.  Life on the grid has made possible huge advances in science, medicine, and the arts – literature, theater, music – and farming!  In order to live sustainably, Sharon and Stewart Stronger spend all day long, every day, cooking or growing food with their cute kids — or harvesting food — or hunting for food (or water) —or putting up food for later use.  Yikes.  I realized as I read along that I just couldn’t do this. True she also writes blog posts and takes photos, and posts them online. But this life wouldn’t be enough to sustain my spirit.

So as I lay pondering the latest events in the Stronger household and sustainibility, I asked myself this question: “Sustain WHAT exactly?”

Maybe for me, living sustainably means something completely different – or includes something more: sustaining my artist self in the face of constant demands from every quarter to do something else.

Sustain my sanity?

Sustain my health?

IS THERE a way to grow some of you own food as a part of modern suburban life, without renouncing the world, taking on a vow of poverty, or adopting a full blown alternative lifestyle??

This is the question that I have explored for a decade or so now, that still captures my imagination, and is the subject of this blog. I write for all of us who love their day jobs, and running water, and cell phone texting, those like myself whose burdens of care make them reliant ont the machines that do our work – like my wonderful huge washer – but who also feel the call of the soil. Paying big dollars for organic green peppers from California or Mexico doesn’t make sense when delicious organic peppers grow just great in my own east coast yard, for pennies each.  Nor does it make sense to me to pay $6-7 a dozen for organic eggs that don’t taste that great – not even half as good as the eggs from chickens that roam my lawn eating ticks [oh yeah, and savaging baby plants and kicking the mulch off the beds…].

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“Is she talking about us again?”  “Sustainability?? Ha! Why can’t that woman go — scratch up some bugs or something?”


I want to grow some of my own food, I thought, but I don’t want to be consumed by that job. I love the goals of food and energy independence, but also love being part of a larger system of growers whose focused hard work sustains my life. If being “sustainable” means me hand washing all Owen’s bedding in a tub of water each morning…aaacckkk!

But thinking of sustainable leads me to kale. Naturally.  Kale, the ugly duckling of health foods! Here is a plant that is highly nutritious and pretty easy to grow (as long as you keep the bunnies off it) [and chickens] for many months of the year in my climate, particularly if you have a greenhouse structure to extend the season – and tadum!! we do now!

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Nowadays, we use kale at breakfast, sautéd with our bacon and eggs and butter in place of toast. (It’s delicious, as long as you don’t expect it to taste like toast.)  Sometimes we throw it in soups or sauces. Sautéed greens and onions make a great side dish at dinner too.  The point is that growing dark greens and lettuce is feasible, time-wise and space wise, and it’s feasible money wise considering an organically grown  bunch costs $3, and so does a tray of seedlings. Well – feasible money wise if it works. [If I beat the bunnies and chickens to it…] Check back next fall.

To live sustainably – to sustain all the things that need sustaining – is a balancing act. For Sharon Stronger, leaving the grid behind and adopting a slower paced kid-centered life has meant mental health.  For me something a bit different is required. But like so many other subjects, “sustainability” is a nuanced, many layered topic once you get into it, and a conversation worth having.

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