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What does Sustainability mean to you?

posted Apr 19, 2012, 8:04 AM by Dan and Caroline Swansey
As an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara I remember taking the small scale agriculture class series from Prof. Cleveland and the first question he asked the students was: "What does sustainability mean?" 
This in fact is a pretty huge question because the term is used pretty loosely these days to describe a concept or a practice that has been given many definitions. So what does it mean to me?
Firstly, I believe sustainability involves thinking about the future and planning ahead. Thinking long term instead of short term. Thinking about the next generations and their well being.
At our farm, this includes establishing lasting relationships with our customers. This is why CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, is such an important part of our farm. Through our CSA we ask our customers not just to think about their next meal but to think about their supply of vegetables through the whole season. We also ask them to think about their veggies at the time when the crops are planted, as people were forced to do traditionally but with grocery stores everywhere it is now a conscious decision we ask our CSA members to make. We are starting our program this year but only plan on improving and building it as time goes on. In the future we would like to include our egg sales and nursery production into a CSA type program. Asking people what plants they would like to plant in their garden during seed buying time and starting those plants in our greenhouse is a service we would like to provide for gardeners who produce their own vegetables but don't have a greenhouse and the time to start all of their starts. 
Thinking long term also involves other aspects like buying resources that are beneficial to the farm and to our environment while these resources should be renewable at the rate that we are using them. Choosing the products and material inputs we include into our farm carefully is in my opinion very related to sustainability as well. Of course price can sometimes limit what we can buy but buying local, supporting other small farms, buying organic, natural, and "sustainably produced" are always considered in our decision to which products we choose to include into our system. As we are on our way to being certified transitional next month, which is the certification we will receive for 3 years before we receive our certified organic that certifies that we farm our operation organically, we want to show to customers our dedication of never using chemicals which are not organic and also buying our seed and soil raw materials from organic source. This is very important to us.
Limiting our inputs and maintaining the biological cycle of the system we are a part of such that our system can self sustain itself is the goal ahead of us that we strive for. Our system includes us farmers, our child (our next generation), our grazers, our birds, our browsers, our workers (horses), our protectors (dogs), our pest control (the cats), our wild life and polinators, our plants but lets not forget our soil. We may not ever reach a time when we don't purchase any inputs, as we also have sales and outputs, but having that goal in mind allows us to stay focused and have something to continually make changes to get closer to. Each member of our farm has a job and produces products that are useful to our system. Nothing should be a waste!
Staying local and being a part of a strong and growing community is of course part of it all as interdependence is a part of sustainability. It would be naive to think that we could do it all on our own. We depend on society and always will because we cannot do it all. So to us what you do is part of our sustainability. Whether you are a chef, an insurance agent, a teacher, an engineer, a carpenter, a farmer, you name it, you are part of the larger system that allows us to do what we do and therefore you are part of our sustainability.
And there is more...I could probably write a whole book about sustainability as it is something that I think about every day, but that is not the point of my blog post. My point is that I would like you to think about what sustainability means to you and how sustainability can be part of your life, because ultimately it is a concept that should be important to all of us, however we define it for ourselves.