Calling all visionaries!  Attention holistic thinkers! In a world that seems so dark and foreboding, NCSC “Hearth,” is a campfire that can unite people. But we need your energy, fuel for the funding fires and protection for the negative winds. I have spent the last few days on the phone with several well respected professionals in the field of sustainability, only to feel that somehow I am speaking a different language.

I love asking people to define sustainability.  Here are links to just a few, if you want to see what I’ve found:   Merriam – Webster.com, United Nations  , Environmental Protection Agency. These are the most concise definitions I’ve seen, other than the one that we use.  When I ask people in “the field,” either I’ve met prolonged silences or long, drawn out definitions, often revolving around the particular issue that they serve.  That got me wondering, and honestly, fuming. Do people go into “sustainability work,” because they have a pet issue, or do they go into for a more holistic reason? I don’t have an answer for that question, but I think it’s something worth asking.  

When I got involved in the environment, back when I was nine or ten, I could never answer the question, “Which issue matters most to you?”  To me that was like asking “Which parent do you love better?”  Now as an adult, though I have only one child, so that answer is easy. But when people ask me which is my favorite goat, I really can’t name one that is consistently “my favorite.” Some are in more urgent need than others. But I have also learned through farming, that sometimes in order to make life better for the herd down the road, that heartier, more resilient goats also need to be attended to.  The same goes with sustainability.

It is human to choose issues that are particularly dearer than others, but like nature in general, each issue is connected to the others. Sustainability can’t succeed if we chop it up into little pieces.  Global warming can’t be solved unless we look at how we use fossil fuels, AND how we adapt to the reality that we are currently facing.  The oceans can’t be healed unless we look at the way we raise our food AND dispose of our goods.  We can’t prepare for the future unless we factor in growing health issues, challenges such as Traumatic Brain Disorder, PTSD or autistic adults. These are realities that are part of building a sustainable future for the planet.

Thank God there are people who are dedicated to particular issues, but without an integrated approach to sustainability we won’t have a cohesive plan for our future.  We need to look at how issues overlap, and use our resources wisely.  In the wake of Newtown and Aurora, and countless other day to day shootings, we need to address societal violence.  Children are born with an innate curiosity and optimism, which somehow they are losing. If sustainability is going to work, we need to nurture that hope in our youth, and restore it in our adults, or the world will be an even scarier place.

When people ask me how dogs connect to local food, it is usually with skepticism.  I’ve been told that we need to have a “quick definition,” and stop trying to be “everything to everyone.” But I disagree that NCSC is a Pollyannish windmill that we are tilting at.  When I think about how our system works, and granted there will be stumbling blocks, like in all worthwhile endeavors, I am reminded of a neighborhood bully. You know the one.  He’s the one standing under the basketball hoop refusing  to move so you can’t use the court. He needs it, in a little while.  The space we are looking to buy has plenty of room to let many small businesses grow, providing services to community members who might otherwise not have access to them.  If we can provide a space that 4H kids can use, why not make it available to others when 4H isn’t using it?  Since 4H struggles with finding physical and financial resources like all non-profits, why not let others use it, such as dog trainers and animal-assisted therapists use it?  If they can use it to assist autistic people and disabled vets, what else can we make available to those populations, since they are going to be here anyway?

But this is a big idea is more than a sound bite. If we are to be a stronger, wiser society, we have to stop demanding that all issues fit in a commercial.  We need to stop protecting funds and resources for single issues, and see how we can share those resources.  In many ways we’ve become a nation of specialists, where generalists are sometimes needed.  There will always be a need for specialists, but if they are going to be doing their best work, they need to focus where that specialty is needed.  It is the general practitioner, whether a physician or a neighbor, that can make life function more smoothly, and integrate many factors into their solutions.

Our program is not going to grow if we have to rely on corporate or philanthropic forces. It needs individuals with a few dollars, and lots of connections.  Just like our preferred old building, it will be constructed of thousands of individual bricks, not a goliath cement mold from a major donor. There’s certainly room for that concrete, but that mill has held up since 1860 because the bricks worked together to keep it in place, just like sustainability.  Please visit our donation page and give what you can. Tell others about this blog, this project, and help us get more attention.  We mean it when we say we want to help others duplicate our efforts, but let us get up and going so you have a proven model to point to. If you want to see how our project grew, visit our youtube site at the hamesfarmer channel and see our video story there.

Our definition of sustainability is the perfect sound bite, one that leaves you thinking about the answer. What do you need to keep living where you live?  How long is your list?  I doubt it would make a great tag line, but it’s nonetheless, vital.  Thanks.  

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