Remember when you were a kid and you heard the story about Jack in the Beanstalk? Remember that Jack was on his way to the market to sell the cow so that he and his mother could eat when he met the man with the magic beans?  As children we get so caught up in the adventures up the beanstalk, we forget about what happened to the cow? Why was she sold at all? Wasn’t she a friend to the family?
As a I child, I felt bad that she was totally overlooked in favor of some golden goose up the beanpole.

When I became a park ranger I decided to do a puppet show, and since I was working at a dairy farm, answering that question seemed finally apropos  Whatever happened to the cow?  I got to decide. But now I look at the fundamental question, why didn’t anyone care?  

I’m a cow lover from way back, but more than that, I’m an animal lover. Sorry plant people, the cow and the goose were more exciting to me than a beanstalk.  I think for most people the adventures with the giant excited more imaginations than simple livestock. But I think we are now facing the reality that the cow represents sustainability, and while the beanstalk was exciting, Jack had to come back home and face the reality that the family still had to eat,have housing and be able to survive, with or without that golden goose.

That’s what we’re just discovering now.  Owning that boat, that super set of skis, or that palatial home still doesn’t put food on the table. People are facing that they are not the “emperor” who can convince people that they are wearing clothes, when they aren’t. But we need those skills, to sew, to weave, to milk a cow, or we need to know someone who can do that for us.  How many of you actually know someone who can milk a cow?  Do you know someone who could make you a new set of work jeans if you couldn’t afford to buy one?   How many of you have checked out the difference in fabric weight and workmanship between men’s jeans and women’s jeans?  If so, then you understand the difference in value between those two things, and what that assumes about “women’s work.”

It’s time we start examining the strength of our ability to “milk that cow.” We need to rediscover the skills that make life sustainable; food and how to cook it, textiles, how they are made and how to work with them.  Knowing how to build, repair and maintain our houses used to be commonplace, but it was taken for granted and then “outsourced” to contractors.  Those people still have those skills, and while many are still business, others are retiring and seek to make some income sharing their knowledge.  The people with those skills are today’s “wise wizards,” but finding them can be difficult.

So we’re gathering those wizards in one place so that people can find those sages.  We are working to create the “laboratories” for their experiments and lessons, the gardens for their herbs, and providing a destination for curious pilgrims to reach for their wisdom.  We’ve found a “castle on a pond,” where we can put these labs, stores, stages and exercise areas all under one roof, or at least set of roofs.  But we
aren’t “wizard enough” to make it happen without help.  But once we do, we’ll gladly aide others in creating their own “skill castles,” so that their region can be more sustainable.

As we face a major storm barreling down on the east coast, I only wish we were up and running now. Rebuilding after the storms will be much easier for neighbors if they had the skills to prepare and repair themselves.  It may be a boon for the contractors, but for many families they won’t be able to afford that labor, and will have to “deal” with the aftermath of this storm and others, making them fell all the more needy.

Sustainability is Jack’s cow. It is the means to the beanstalk, to the market, and to peace of mind. It may not seem “sexy” but I find self-reliance to build confidence, which makes everyone more appealing.  If you want to know what happened to the cow in my puppet show, send $5 to Pat@northcountrysustain by PayPal, and I’ll send you the script. That $5 will help bring our “cow” to life and make NCSC available for all who will need it in the future, as a resource, as a laboratory or as a model.