My husband, Bob, and I have been living a sustainable, organic lifestyle for over 35 years. We grow most of our vegetables in our backyard garden for year-round use, heat our home with wood that Bob cuts and we keep chickens for eggs and meat — all while living mortgage- and debt-free.
While our lifestyle may seem extreme, you don’t have to live off the grid. Even apartment dwellers can adopt more sustainable habits and reap the considerable benefits.
Here are five reasons why we live sustainably, along with five tips so you can bring these benefits into your life:
1. It’s good for your health.
In 1971, when I was coming of age, I read Adelle Davis’s 1970 classic book Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit. At a time when processed foods were the norm and fresh produce was an afterthought in the U.S., she wrote that if you want to be healthy, you have to pay attention to what you eat. Wow! That made so much sense. You wouldn’t put bad gas in your Ferrari, so why would you want to put junky food in your body? I became an organic consumer immediately.
In perusing various and sundry organic texts, I discovered that our bodies need quite a few nutrients to perform at an optimum level. These vital minerals and co-factors have been largely stripped from our soils over the past 200 years. I became aware that the best way to ensure that these nutrients were in my food was to grow my own, so I started to garden.
Tip No. 1:
Become aware of where your food comes from. We eat fantastic, nutrient-dense foods from our garden and other sources. We get our other meats and milk from local farmers who pasture their animals. These cows, pigs, lambs and turkeys have wonderful lives; they see sunshine, breathe fresh air and get to roam around on real grass.
We have virtually no aches and pains and take no medications, and I believe that has to do with our lifestyle.
You can eat this way, too. While our veggies are better than any we could buy, more and more grocery stores and restaurants offer ingredients that come from local and organic suppliers. Learn about and, whenever possible, support your local farms as well as the markets and restaurants that carry sustainably-raised food.
2. It puts you in touch with nature.
Luckily for me, my first garden was in a very fertile field in the middle of a dairy farm. An elderly gardener lived next door and she was happy to take me under her wing and share her knowledge. I loved digging in the dirt and watching things grow. All of my crops did fantastically well. And everything tasted so good. I was hooked.
Tip No. 2:
Go to a farm, and can or freeze the fresh produce you pick. If you live in an apartment, teach your children about nature by growing a tower garden, tomatoes from a starter plant or fresh herbs on your windowsill. Sure, it’s great to eat blueberries in January, but eating with the seasons puts you in touch with nature and nature’s cycles, which is something far too many people are disconnected from. If growing your own food doesn’t appeal to you, consider eating with the seasons. It’s a way to get in touch with nature without growing food yourself.
3. It teaches you respect for resources, especially the scarce ones.
In the ’70s, people were becoming aware of the “unsustainability” of the typical lifestyle in the U.S. Scarcity of oil and gas caused an upheaval in the U.S. economy. We were devouring other raw materials at an astonishing rate, too. Individuals paying attention could see that we couldn’t continue like this indefinitely. Not wanting to be part of this problem, I began to seek out solutions.
That’s when I met Bob. He had already built a moderate octagonal home, which he heated with a central wood stove. It stayed very cozy in the winter and the gas cooking stove made cooking easy.
Tip No. 3:
Recycle and upcycle. We recycle glass, metal, newspapers and plastic. After composting and recycling, the trash we bring to the dump once a week typically fits in a woman’s purse. Start with simple things, like bringing cloth bags to the grocery store, bleaching sponges so they can be reused or carrying a lunch box. I choose pretty cloth napkins to brighten our dining experience.
Before buying something new, consider repurposing something you have or buying secondhand.
4. It’s economical.
Although Bob owned the octagonal home outright and there was no debt, there also was no sink, drain, plumbing or electricity. Since we both strongly dislike debt, we decided to add the amenities when we could afford to buy them. He put in a sink, drain and greywater system [gently-used water from things like bathroom sinks, showers and tubs] the first summer I was here. After three more years, we dug a well and attached it to a hand pump at the kitchen sink. It felt like I had moved into the Hilton. Eight years later, we brought in electricity; nine years later, we installed solar panels and began raising chickens.
Tip No. 4:
Buying from local farms and vineyards is a great way to support your local economy. If your budget permits, invest in energy-saving items, like solar panels or energy star appliances. We catch rain in a rain barrel and use it to water our garden. Small steps can lead to big savings.
5. It’s an independent, self-sufficient way to live.
Yes, we have had more chores during our lives than most, but they have been of the chop wood/carry water variety, which grounded us and made us strong. We also didn’t participate in the incessant to-ing and fro-ing that most people have to do to pay the rent. And, at a very early age, we had a beautiful, complete and mortgage-free home. We do still have more chores than most because we farm and cut our own wood, but that keeps us spry and agile.
Tip No. 5:
People often ask, “How does it feel to have been on the forefront of organic and sustainability?” It feels wonderful. We have virtually no aches and pains and take no medications, and I believe that has to do with our lifestyle. Young people tell us that they are inspired by us. Because our bills are limited, we don’t have to work 9 to 5 jobs.
Before World War II, growing your own food was just a part of life for most Americans. During the war, many people relied on their “victory gardens” to feed their families. Becoming self-sufficient in any area can ease your mind and help you feel less vulnerable, especially during troubled times.
Few would argue that our current, unsustainable lifestyle has put our planet in jeopardy. When I hear people talk about this, it often sounds like they feel powerless. I disagree. Everything that we do to live more sustainably is like that rock which, when thrown into a pond, creates ripples that disperse in all directions.