OUR SUSTAINABLE FUTURE: The small efforts that are making a BIG difference
- Photo by Bryan R. Van Devender
So if the goal in helping feed the world is to get people to the point of meeting their own needs, then I am going to focus on organizations who are thinking beyond and doing more than just giving hand outs. As Dennis Prager pointed out, if the National Park Service warns, “Please Do Not Feed the Animals” because they may grow dependent on hand outs and not learn to take care of themselves, perhaps (with the exception of emergency relief and short-term help) we should treat humans with the same respect. If that sounds harsh, know that even leaders in poor countries and ex-pats working within them are acknowledging this concern as well.
(On a personal note, a team of friends just returned from a humanitarian trip to Haiti and were surprised and discouraged that one of the few phrases many of the local children could speak in English was, “Give me a dollar.” Let’s teach the next generation to say, and do, more than that.)
For a detailed critique of past and current development efforts, and some inside-out recommendations for improvement, see When Helping Hurts. I would also highly recommended a set of podcasts that delve deep into the questions of poverty called Poverty Unlocked.
And, of course, this is just scratching the surface of what’s out there, so please share your favorite ideas or resources for sustainably feeding the world in the comments.
Redeeming the Land – Deforestation, soil erosion and a host of other issues have destroyed the quality of the land in which our food grows. See how these folks are wisely restoring it again.
Eden Reforestation – This multi-faith organization has planted over 47 million trees in desertified countries. This couple in Madagascar is employing locals who once cut down trees to plant them and they are passing this wisdom on to their children. These missionaries also run a women’s health/midwifery ministry to boot!
Farming God’s Way – Using simple biblical guidelines (no plowing or tilling, 100% mulch covering, practicing rotations, and biodiversity of species) this organization has equipped the poor and broken the yoke of poverty in countries all over Africa (pictures).
The Savory Institute – Developed by a Zimbabwean farmer/biologist/rancher, they empower locals to use Holistic Management (grazing large herds of herbivores on grasslands) to save the savannah and it’s wildlife in Southern Africa.
The Permaculture Research Institute – These folks out of Australia are working with nature to green the desert in the Middle East. Despite very little rainfall, arid weather, and salty soil, they are able to harvest all the water, mulch, irrigate, and plant various fruit trees. (Watch the videos to see the amazing transformation.)
Managing Water – No one can live or grow food without water. These ideas involve saving and using water so resourcefully that you are able grow more with less.
Managing Wholes – By observing the natural water cycle, this group has learned to biologically manage soil to absorb water (even in a flood) and retain it through a drought. Watch the fascinating side-by-side video experiments at the bottom which explain and demonstrate how this works.
Dry Farming – This is the profitable production of useful crops without irrigation on particularly arid/dry land. We have dry-farmed tomatoes at our farmer’s market that are so sweet because the flavor is not diluted through over watering.
Seawater Greenhouse – Through just seawater and sunlight, this company has created greenhouses to grow a variety of foods year round in the world’s hottest and driest regions.
Harvesting Water – Through this free video, Geoff Lawton (producer of Green the Desert) shares how to survey land and build a dam to harvest water.
Keyhole Gardening – Based on an African creation, Deb Tolman in drought-heavy Texas has figured out how to garden year round, using some household materials (stones, cardboard and phone books!), that decreases water usage by at least 30%.
Sustainable Energy – Billions of people worldwide depend on burning wood to cook. Not only does this lead to deforestation, but if they are cooking inside, it leads to unhealthy exposure to smoke and fumes. Solar ovens are a wonderful, inexpensive resource for countries that are “sun rich but fuel poor.” They can use the pots they have to cook their familiar foods without taking much longer than over a fire. And they save lots of time not collecting firewood.
of how they give a demonstration, teach people to build them, and then train locals to demonstrate and teach to other nearby communities.
Solar Oven Society – These folks have taken solar ovens to Afghanistan and Haiti during the crucial times of rebuilding needed in countries ravaged by war and catastrophic events.
Mixed Farming – Mimicking nature, mixed farming includes multiple species of flora and fauna interacting symbiotically together. Mono-crops have never been a natural part of God’s creation.
Many of the resources already mentioned are using mixed farming techniques. Here are some that are happening on a smaller scale nationally.
Chaffin Family Orchards – At this five generation family farm in the Sacramento Valley cattle graze under the olive trees, sheep mow the grass under the fruit trees, goats trim the blackberries, and chickens clean downed fruit and bugs from the orchards. And they return the favor by providing their manure as precious fertilizer.
The Modern Homestead – The Usserys of Virginia describe their amazing journey toward food independence which they have reached on their 2 (yes TWO) acre homestead. Their line up includes: honey bees, plants that encourage beneficial insects, vermicompost, a forest garden, “stacked species” (2 different animals grazing on the same pasture), a huge variety of mushrooms, an extensive vegetable garden, poultry, and of course, earthworms.
Growing Power – And on the urban home front, Will Allen, has created a Community Food Center on 2 acres in the middle of downtown Milwaukee. They are providing access to healthy food, education, and employment to the inner city. Their composting operation is unreal (180,000 pounds of waste a week, keeping 10 million pounds of waste out of the state landfills annually.) And along with an impressive amount of vegetables, they have created an aquaponics system raising Tilapia and Yellow Perch.
BOTTOM LINE: There are some sustainability rock stars out there and just because they aren’t making the mainstream news or manipulating politics doesn’t mean they aren’t making a difference. JOIN THEM!
What We Can Do…
- Grow something! Even if you live in an apartment building, you can container garden. Continue to add to what you provide for your family over the years. And invite nature into your home/yard through worm composting, bird/butterfly friendly plants, or chickens/bees if you have the space.
- Buy from local food producers. Try to purchase a large percentage of what you can’t grow from local farmer’s markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and “You Pick” farms.
- Support sustainable projects. Choose one (or more) sustainable organization/ministry and support them financially and prayerfully. Consider foregoing typical gifts and replacing them with a goat or chickens for a needy family. The following organizations’ gift catalogs offer great options: Food for the Hungry, Agros , Heifer Intl., and World Vision.
- Read labels. Even though labels are not yet required to list GMOs in food, if it’s not labeled as organic and is produced by big agribusiness companies, you can pretty much guess that the quality is compromised. Eat Wild is a great resource for finding sustainable foods near you, as well as farms that will ship their products.
- Learn and share more. If you cared enough about this subject to make it this far, then you will start to notice related resources and information everywhere. Watch one of the recently produced food films and host a discussion group. Read eclectically and widely. Ask questions of food producers. Start conversations at dinner parties. And leave your thoughts in the comments below.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead