An article in a recent issue of the Hattiesburg (Mississippi) American featured a young family living on a small acreage, practicing what we now refer to as “sustainable living.”
The couple is raising chickens to have fresh eggs. They have garden plots they hope to expand in the future. As their available produce becomes more abundant, they plan to become regular vendors at the local farmers’ markets.
Their property has two houses, a smaller one they are living in and a larger one, not immediately livable, that they are renovating with hopes of occupying it by next year.
While building their farm life, the couple has “kept their day jobs” to help with building their property. Their goal is to become increasingly self-sustaining.
The article was interesting to me because I know this family. In addition, reading how their chosen lifestyle is described and that it is considered unusual now made me think how much we’ve changed.
Think about it: a so-called “sustainable lifestyle” was – well, every day living back in the day for those of us over 60. Whether you grew up in the Plains States or the Deep South, many of us helped plant and harvest large gardens. Our mothers “put up” – canned — quart after quart of tomatoes, green peas and beans and whatever else we picked from the garden.
Some of us lived on farms where animals were raised for milking and for meat. Some had sheep raised for the wool.
In my case our mother made most or all of the clothes we four girls wore. We wore hand-me-downs and coats made from cloth reclaimed from rummage sales. Such sales were also the source of the wool our great-grandmother used for braided rugs she made – the rugs we had on our floors rather than store-bought ones.
Writing this, it sounds as if I’m describing my early life as a later version of Little House on the Prairie – all folksy, warm and fuzzy. In reality, however, what I describe is simply how many of us lived. If it was, in fact, sustainable living, we had no such “avant garde” term for it.
Even those of us who lived it don’t think about it much now. Instead we read articles in the paper or posts on Facebook extolling the virtues of “going green” and “living sustainably.” It all boils down to the fact that as a society we have crossed way over into the land of consumerism, becoming users – not producers – in every aspect of our lives.
This level of consumerism extends to using barrels and barrels of petroleum for plastic drinking bottles and other containers such as jars and bags. Thousands of trees are cut down and whole forests destroyed for the sake of paper and cardboard containers for all the stuff we buy. In order to restore some balance and to keep damaging materials out of the landfills and oceans, we’re urged to recycle.
By living as we did in earlier decades, we made it possible for the creation of a large middle class. Dwight Eisenhower, who presided over it, saw the drawbacks: he wrote about a new generation growing up not knowing how to take care of itself by learning how to do basic chores or to understand the value of conservation. They did learn about acquisition of things – cars and TVs and store-bought everything.
The generations behind us will have to deal with what our world has become. Rapid climate change and other factors are indicating, however, that we all got the message too late.
It would have been a good thing for the environment if more young families had started more “sustainable” living years ago.
Now I’m reminding myself of things my grandmother used to say, but that’s okay because she was one heckuva smart woman, one way ahead of her time.