The Oxford Dictionary defines the word sustainable as – a state of holding up, maintaining, enduring, or suffering a defeat or injury.
Thanks to the effects we are experiencing from our changing climate these days, the subject of how we can become more sustainable is taking over our conversations and news headlines…especially here in Nova Scotia. Just what does living a sustainable life mean to most people who are stretched to the limit with the demands of our modern-day society? Most of us have been taught by parents, teachers and society in general to follow the customs handed down to us by the generations before us. We were put here on this earth to get a good education… if we were lucky enough… find a good job, marry, have children, go to church, and be kind to our neighbours. If the word, sustainable ever entered our minds or our vocabularies, it was probably used to explain how to keep things steady like holding on to a job to pay off the mortgage or have a bigger car. It might also have meant meeting an endurance test where we faced the reality of keeping a job which we hated, to maintain all the things we thought we needed.
Today the word sustainability or to be sustainable is used more and more. Using the word in a broader sense has given it a whole new meaning for us. Now we are being asked to look at how being sustainable is an action that needs to encompass our whole way of living. It means we must learn and understand how the choices we make can be carried out with consideration on how they will affect the world we live in.
For example, a recent article in our daily newspaper commented on Ways to improve Canada’s sustainable fisheries. This headline actually helped cheer me up because it went on to say that Canada is one of the world’s leaders in keeping our fish stocks at an acceptable level as compared to many other countries especially those in Asia, where we must note, there is a much larger population to feed. Their record for sustainable fishing is abysmally low at something like 14% while ours is rating an A at around 80%. Keeping all countries at an acceptable level of sustainability is a necessity if we are to meet the demands for fish in today’s world and for the future.
Reading on, I found a second article in the same edition on how fund managers should be practising sustainable finance by shifting their portfolios to those companies dealing with solar and wind power. This is a fantastic idea especially for those of us who want our hard-earned money to be doing good for our planet rather than harm. Michael Sabia, CEO for Caisse de Depot et Placements, one of Canada’s largest pension fund companies, is on the band wagon to get government and other large corporations to start investing in companies who are leading the way in developing the need for alternative energy resources. He is saying that our leaders need to see climate change as an opportunity rather than a risk. For years many other great minds have been saying the same thing but to little avail. Perhaps now ‘the powers that be’ will wake up when more of us with money to invest want to see their profits coming from these new resources.
Even if we have no money to invest or aren’t involved in any larger body toting how to be more sustainable, we can do what a man in Halifax has been doing this summer….growing his own vegetables on a small bit of land at the back of his apartment building which was going to waste as a garbage dump. With a ton of hard work and initiative, he has succeeded in making a garden of varied vegetables which he has been able to eat all summer long. His yield has been so abundant that he has been able to share his fresh veggies with his neighbours. This guy’s creativity doesn’t stop at growing his own food. He also collects the trash left on the curb sides in his neighbourhood, such as old furniture and anything else he feels he can restore. From other people’s ‘throw a ways’ he has been creating newly restored items which he sells at his own local yard sale. Not only has created a small business for himself with great satisfaction in doing it, he has also been able to extend his efforts into the community. He shares his product which in turn has spurred others to reciprocate with help in financing the manure and topsoil he needed to improve his soil. He is delighted with their enthusiastic response and interest in creating a community garden.
The list for similar sustainable projects grows longer as more people are slowly realising they need to make choices that are beneficial rather than harmful to Mother Earth.
Down our way in Annapolis County where I live, sustainable farming is beginning to take hold in various ways. This movement is being spear-headed by an influx of newcomers to our area. They may be young couples wanting a life style away from the stress of big city living, parents who want to rear their children in a healthy environment, or those who have taken an early retirement to carry out their life long dream. Many of them are realising that sustainable farming is the way to go.
Medea and Allan Holtz, a middle-aged couple who took an early retirement from living in Florida, chose Port Royal as a place where they could create a life style that would allow them to be more “self-sufficient.”
After looking all over Nova Scotia, they found the perfect place close to The Habitation in Port Royal. When Samuel de Champlain first sighted this peaceful area in 1604, he was so impressed with it that the following year he returned with a group of men who would become the first settlers from France, thus, creating Canada’s first European settlement. He soon discovered that the original inhabitants, the Mi’Mkaw, rather than to be feared would soon become his friends. Like Champlain, the Holtz’s soon discovered the same thing:
“Here we found a community where the people are kind-hearted, where there is a peaceful atmosphere, a vibrant history, a view to die for, and a pretty decent climate for growing things.”
They remind me of how their dream to be self-sufficient in the foods that they can grow is similar to what the first settlers and succeeding generations have been practising here in this area ever since. So what is it that makes sustainable farming different from the farming practices we have been using for the past 100 years? In my continuing conversations with Medea, I learned something about permaculture. This concept addresses the need to use every inch of your land for growing whatever kinds of plants or trees the climate in your area will support. This includes those farmers who raise animals as well. If you have both plants and animals all the better because this type of farming forms a closed- loop system which emphasises using the one to help out the other. Nothing gets wasted. With a copious amount of work and knowledge, the objective is to grow whatever your soil will bear, as well as what your climate will allow. It is surprising what this couple are growing: Jerusalem artichokes, ever-growing strawberries…. still available as I write this… are just a couple of plants I never would have thought could be grown here. Any produce left over after freezing, canning, and processing can be fed to the animals or be shared with neighbours. They then point out that the loop can be completed using any animal waste or plant compost to replenish their soil. No chemical fertilisers will ever be used. Everything in their gardens and their chicken coops gets used in some fashion. Like the chap in Halifax they are learning how to recycle other odds and sods that could easily end up in the garbage. For example, old tires, bits of lumber from old sheds, old scrap metal or anything else they can get their hands can be used to enhance their gardens.
While carrying out the work required to grow most of their own food, they are also working hard to establish a meeting place at a nearby community hall where all farmers, newcomers and older local farmers alike, can come together to share their methods and ideas. Medea is very happy with the response they have had so far. As she says, “We’ve all heard the saying ‘Knowledge is power’. Yes, knowledge is power, but shared knowledge – that’s community.”
The list could keep growing for how we can become more sustainable in our every day living. We have much to learn about what and how we as individuals and communities can do to become more sustainable. I truly sense a growing trend here in Nova Scotia. In a province steeped in history, with a small population, and abundant resources, our eyes are gradually being opened to how we seriously need to start preserving what we have left. We know that opening up our hearts and minds to making choices which will benefit our province rather than harm it, and to come together to share and understand how to do this is the way we will successfully fit into our new emerging world. After writing on this topic, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps we can in some way thank our changing climate as the catalyst for this change of attitude.