I recently read a post about defining sustainability on one of my very favourite blogs, and I've been considering it ever since. It is such a buzzword these days and can sometimes be so meaningless, but it is also something that we're striving for, little by little here, so I think it's important to consider it.
Although there is a little part of me, the perfectionist hard-working part, that would love to meet every single one of our needs independently on our property, most of me understands that this is impossible. I can't knit, for one, although I'm learning. We don't have enough room to grow grains and to pasture animals. We have a wooded lot, but not a woodlot--and I refuse to cut down our tiny forest for firewood. There are all sorts of things that I can't or won't do to provide for our needs here.
There are also all sorts of things that I can and will and hope to do. I would like to grow toward supplying all of our maple syrup from our home! This will be years in the making, I am quite sure. I'd like to have a productive vegetable garden and establish perennial crops in the form of berry bushes, asparagus, fruit trees, rhubarb plants and others. I love canning and already make a variety of preserves, which I'd like to continue to expand. I bake all of the baked goods we need at home. I am so incredibly hopeful that we'll be able to have chickens for eggs and goats for milk one day (my presentation to town council went pretty well, I think, by the way!). I'd like to look into forest products that could meet medicinal and culinary needs and potentially be a small, renewable source of income or useful for trade. I'd love to install a greywater system to reduce our water usage and irrigate our garden, and we want to eventually install solar panels and other renewable energy options in our home. With all of these endeavours, and more, I think we will be able to provide a lot for ourselves, quite nicely!
In terms of our ecological footprint, it's big. As much as I'd like to think we don't have much of a negative impact on our precious earth, we do. We use a lot of water. We use a lot of electricity. We mostly use oil for heat and we have two vehicles. We have more electronics than I would like to admit, and we don't always make the best purchasing choices in terms of carbon emissions or agricultural practices, although we've been making strides in changing that one!
I guess the bottom line is, I don't know that we'll ever achieve a lifestyle in which we give back to our earth as much as (or more than) we take from it. I think this is what I would term sustainable. Am I not only refraining from using up all the resources I have at my disposal, but enriching the world around me? I'm not sure if we can, not entirely. But I believe it is a worthy objective. And I believe that even if we can't, every single little step that we make toward such a lofty goal will make a difference. Especially as they begin to accumulate!
As well, I know that we won't ever be self-sufficient. Not truly self-sufficient, and so a homestead that is entirely "self-sustaining" won't materialize in this little corner of the world. But as I thought about it, I realized, I wouldn't want it to. I want to meet many of our family's needs in as healthy and ecologically sound a way as possible. But I don't want to meet all of them. I think if I was working that hard, I'd be pretty darn grumpy a lot of the time. I know that I, and my patience, have limits. I want to enjoy this and share a beautiful, peaceful, rewarding life with my greatest treasure, my family. I doubt it would be very beautiful or peaceful if I was stressed out and squawking at everyone.
Additionally, I don't think it is natural for humans to strive for a lifestyle that eliminates the need for others. We are a naturally gregarious species, and we have developed a myriad of ways in which to cooperate with one another and in so doing, to achieve great things. We love friendship, and sharing, and enjoying one another's company, and I think that is something that is extremely valuable. I think we are so blessed to live in a small province where the sense of community runs deep, and I'd like to see it grow and blossom so that the strengths of each individual further bolster the community at large. We are richer together, I think, than we could ever be on our own.
As a result, I think it is ok that we can't produce our own wheat, or all of our own firewood, or our meat. Because there are others out there doing an incredible job producing those things. We just have to find a way to encourage each other to pursue our strengths in such a way as to enrich the land and the water and the air and the people around us. And then we will be a sustainable community that finds sufficiency within the network at its core.