Lessons in sustainability


When I left the urban life of Atlanta for a decidedly more rural (and potentially sustainable) home in the country I did so with my eyes on the proverbial prize.  I didn’t want to just “get away from it all”, I wanted to use the opportunity to test myself and to see just how committed I was to the concepts of homesteading and the sustainable lifestyle.  It has been four months now and I wanted to share two of the lessons I’ve learned thus far.


Lesson #1:  In a Battle of Wills, Mother Nature Wins

This is possibly the toughest lesson for control freaks like me to learn, but it is one that you will learn one way or another.  If your goal is sustainability and you are aiming to do it as naturally as possible then you are going to have to accept the fact that Mother Nature knows best and look for ways to accomplish your goals that are in line with her ways.

I was reminded of that lesson when I moved to my farm at the beginning of June and attempted to plant a garden in soil that had likely not been touched in several decades.  A tiller and bag of fertilizer are not enough to make a garden grow especially in a hot, dry and humid summer when the soil is heavy clay.  Out of nearly 100 feet of tomato plants barely a handful of them were usable because I let my impatience get the best of me and tried to grow things in soil that was not ready.

To get immediate satisfaction, build simple raised beds or grow a few things in containers.

If the soil is bad or not well suited to what you want to grow, it will have to be amended and worked with over time.  That means if you aren’t composting yet, you’re wasting time.  Horse, cow, goat, rabbit and chicken manure are all excellent and sustainable ways to build the strength and viability of your soil.

Lesson #2:  Don’t Be Afraid of Failure

This is perhaps the most perplexing of all arguments I have heard against individual action on behalf of sustainability.  People tell me they can’t be sustainable because they have the proverbial (and entirely false) brown thumb and can’t grow anything.  First, there’s no such thing.  Second, so what?  What is it going to hurt you – or the environment – for you to try?

Let’s take Rosemary for example.  It is a delicious, readily available and easy-to-grow herb that is hardy in many growing zones.  A small plant can usually be purchased for around $3.00 (US).  Take a walk into the fresh produce section of a local supermarket and you will likely find rosemary there with one major difference.  The Rosemary in the produce section is going to be about the same price and it will (probably) be pretty fresh, but that rosemary will be a few scant sprigs cut from a plant and packaged “Ready to Use” in plastic.


You could buy a rooted plant in the garden section, cut your own sprigs for a recipe and just add sun and water to keep the plant alive for the next time you need it.  After the danger of frost outdoors, the rosemary can be planted in a sunny, well drained spot outdoors and will usually do quite well.  Even if you end up letting it die, you’re not out anything and at least you made an effort toward sustainability.


Let me be clear: Living a sustainable life is not easy, at least not at first.  We are largely a lazy society who would rather eat from a fast food drive-thru window than take the time to grow our own meals and that transition is not one that happens overnight or without a sizable learning curve.  If we slow down just enough to start listening to nature again we will start to see how sustainable living gets easier the more we do it.

Those mistakes that we’re afraid of?  They become fewer and farther between and in the end, each and every mistake is a lesson that we probably needed to learn anyway.