Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sustainability and Compassion

Sustainability is a tricky thing.

In agriculture, it is often easier to be environmentally sound than it is to be either economically viable or socially just. Someone, somewhere, inevitably gets the short end of the sustainability stick.

With the start of a new era of hope in our country, I want to talk about sustainability and compassion. Compassion is what it takes to make an endeavor fully sustainable.

Economic disparity leads to dissatisfaction. The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow globally and locally. This lack of fairness is not sustainable because it is not just. Want leads to instability and dissent. Free markets do not ensure social justice: it seems the wealth just never trickles down quite far enough. As individuals we need to accept the responsibility for creating social justice in our small ways. Through compassion, we can move toward becoming a more sustainable society. We all need to try to understand the plight of farmers who are struggling to be economically viable and farm workers who deserve social justice.

When I hear a relatively wealthy person complain about the high cost of spinach, for example, I ask them how long it would take them to plant, nurture, grow, harvest, pack and transport that spinach. The inputs are huge for a pound of spinach and the rewards to the farmer are small. The rewards to the farm worker who actually does most of the back breaking labor are even smaller.

So, how much is a pound of spinach worth? Is it worth ensuring that we will have farmers growing spinach in the future? If so, then we need to purchase our food with the compassion that comes from knowing who is growing it for us. We need to be willing to seek food grown with the concept of social justice embedded with each seed. The choice will help to make our food system sustainable.

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