What Sustainability Means to Me

Sustainability icon on a leaf

My daughter Mary points at the tree in our front yard.

“Da da?” she asks?

She is one and a half and she isn’t asking if the tree is her father.

“That’s a tree” I say. Mary has just started to say words and what sounds like “Da da” is in fact her efforts to say “what’s that”.

She points at herself. “That’s Mary” I say.

A few months ago we gathered all the leaves that had fallen onto the lawn into large bins. Together we scattered them over the garden beds in the back yard to protect the soil from the winter rains. In the spring we will turn them into the earth, add our compost and start our garden again.

“Da da?” she asked me then.

“These are leaves” I told her.

There are many definitions of sustainability. For me, the first step is understanding that we are all connected. From the leaves on the trees, to the compost in our gardens, to the vegetables that we harvest and eat with our families.

I hope that through this time together, Mary will understand how connected we really are. That when we eat our vegetables next summer, she’ll recognize that a part of those vegetables came from the same tree in our front yard, and understand where we are within this cycle.

Part of our challenge today is understanding our connection to nature. It’s never been easier to be disconnected. At times, it may seem that we have a closer connection to packaging than we do to the farms, communities, plants and animals that produce (and are) our food. The effects of our uninformed decisions compound the problems we share as a global community.

Yet there are small opportunities that help us to remember – In our homes, in our gardens, what we value and how we live our lives. These modest and incremental things in aggregate are powerful. A part of sustainability is to know, remember and teach these things.

I tell myself this as my back begins to hurt carrying the final bin of leaves to the garden bed. I remind myself of this when I shop for the products we will consume as a family, when we support sustainable organizations, and when we sit down at meals together and talk about the foods that we are eating.

We don’t make these choices lightly, and of course they are not always easy. But we do make them because we know that the costs of taking require for us to give back. When we do, it’s because we want more for our future, for ourselves and for others. Because someone showed us once too. Because we know and understand the repercussions of our actions, and because we choose to remember.

In the spring Mary and I will plant our vegetables together for the first time. I am very much looking forward to it. This past summer we saved tomato seeds from the best looking tomatoes, and the garlic that we planted in the fall is from a part of the Kooteneys where Katie, my wife, is also from.

I expect that she will ask me again, this time with better English, about our garden. I will tell her that our garden also includes us and our family and the process is something that we should remember. I hope that it is something that we can do together for a long time. If so, those small and incremental efforts will be well worth while.