"Sustainability" is such a buzz word these days that I wonder if we've forgotten what it really means. Is it possible to produce and consume in a way that not only doesn't diminish the planet but actually improves it? From what I am learning in my research so far: yes, but we're going to need to change our whole way of thinking about food and how it fits into our lives. The good news is that even small choices help: buying seasonal produce when you can, seeking out local growers, asking questions about where your food comes from, composting, growing things in your yard or on your windowsill, cooking more. I have done these things, but I need more.
I want to learn about sustainable agriculture, as much as I possibly can. In my mind, this means continuing to read up on the history and present state of sustainable farms, visiting -- and working at -- a variety of farms and community gardens in a range of settings, getting my hands back into the earth, listening to as many people as are willing to share their knowledge and experience with me, their views on why they have chosen the path of sustainable agriculture, their successes, what challenges and bottlenecks are preventing more widespread access to local, sustainable food.
I have read about some of the issues and possible solutions in Pollan's writings, in Kingsolver, in Schlosser, but I want to know more. I want to see more and do more, learn more and help more. My plan is to begin more intensive research in my home town, our nation's capital -- reading, meeting with people who have devoted their energy to addressing these issues, visiting farms and community gardens in the general vicinity -- and start writing about it. Meanwhile, at 31, I suspect it's time to really learn to ride a bike. (There you have it: true confession.) I've been a patron of public transit most of my life, and DC has one of the finest systems in the country. But to truly embrace a lifestyle that allows me to live lightly on the land, and because I fundamentally believe in so many aspects of the bike-friendly life, and, finally, because my choice to leave my most recent job to do this full time has left me with a good deal of time and energy but no source of income, I have chosen to learn to ride a bicycle... and to ride it around the country as my primary means of transportation. (I am accepting all manner of tips on biking and finding good, used bikes and equipment, to be sure. This is, perhaps prematurely, assuming that my readership extends beyond my parents who have told me all they know about bikes. "Wear a helmet." Thanks, mom.)
In about three months, I plan to hop on my bike and head north, following the growing season in a giant loop around the country, stopping to learn and work at farms and community gardens along the way, cooking for whomever will let me into their kitchens. I imagine this will take about a year, maybe longer. I hope that by learning from and listening to others who are equally passionate and more knowledgeable in matters of local, sustainable agriculture, I, in my small way, can help to tell some of their stories and be a part of the growing consciousness about how the choices we make about the food we grow and buy and prepare for ourselves and those we love matter.
Change is coming. I've seen it in the eyes of the millions surrounding me during the frostbitten Inauguration Day ceremonies downtown. I've heard it in the voices of the people I have been talking with about my project during these first few weeks, who have kept me in their thoughts as they go about their days, stumbling across and passing along great ideas and contacts, and starting to make small changes themselves. This journey is about learning from each other, sharing what we know, taking the time to listen and to consider how our choices about food affect not only our bodies but our communities and our world. It's about celebrating the at once simple and complex joy of food and the company of good people.
And so, mom and dad, I know you're anxious. There is a lot to work out -- including learning to ride a bike without crashing, which I'm working on -- but this is a labor of love. Food is too important to me to take a more passive approach. Dream big, right? I'm not exactly sure where this will take me, but I have a feeling I will enjoy the ride. I hope you do, too.