At Farm and Main November/December 2011 Urban Farm magazine
By Roger Sipe, Urban Farm Editor
Photo by Nicole Sipe
What do you do when you become “one of those people”? It’s happening to me. That image there on the right — it’s my new screensaver at work. Yes, I’ve become one of those people with a picture of their baby on their computer. I used to frown at things like that (so uncool). But as a new parent, I’m realizing that I’m not as cool as I used to be (or maybe I wasn’t that cool to begin with!). The funny thing is that I don’t really care. In a way, I’m becoming, dare I say it, like my parents.
My parents won’t be recognized by any organization as founding members of the modern-day urban-farming/sustainability movement, but they most certainly are/were. When I was growing up in central Indiana in the 1980s, we had to live sustainably. For most of my childhood, only my father had a full-time job. Let me rephrase that: Only my father left the house each day for work. My mom worked at home, tending to three kids (and a few neighbor kids who always seemed to be at our house). She made sure our family was sustainable: cooking, cleaning, baking, doing laundry, etc., etc. She dried our clothes on a clothesline, when it was sunny; canned excess garden items in late summer; and when it was too hot in the house, instead of turning on the air conditioner, she’d turn us outside into the fresh air.
My father’s sustainability started with the utilities. How do you cut back on water usage? You turn down the water pressure (way down, so the kids don’t even like to stay in the shower!), and you use your own well, dug on your own land. How do you cut back on electricity? You don’t leave lights on in a room you’ve left or go in and out and in and out of the house because if you do, you are certain to hear about it.
My dad never used words like “organic” or “natural,” but he must have known that was the way to go. Our cows basically ate local corn, grass from our pasture and hay from our fields or our neighbors’ fields, and we drove them to the local butcher when their time had come. I’ve never eaten a finer steak or hamburger than the ones I enjoyed growing up. Our family wasn’t the only one to benefit, either, as my father typically sold half of each cow to a friend at a fair price, so they could have great meat, too.
My parents’ biggest sustainable endeavor, however, started every spring and lasted until late fall: our family garden. It was so large that my sisters and I had to take a wheelbarrow full of produce to the neighbors each week and sit at the end of the driveway selling sweet corn out of the back of our pickup to passersby (12 ears for $1!). Strawberries, watermelon, corn, tomatoes, green onions, green peppers, green beans, new potatoes — you name it, we grew it. I’ve seen vegetable stands here in California, where I now live, that have less produce choices!
Instead of spending hours in front of the TV, we spent hours outside hoeing, picking, watering, mowing, etc. And if we were in front of the TV, you can bet mom or dad would plop a bowl of beans in front of us to snap. Sustainability wasn’t something new to us; it was just life.
In the 1980s, when I was growing up, my parents didn’t seem cool. Now, their sustainable ways are hip and the things to do. My nephew thinks digging up potatoes at his grandparents’ farm is really cool, and he’s right! So, maybe there is hope for me, yet. Will my son think I’m cool? Probably not, but he’ll be well-fed, well-loved and well, hopefully, his carbon footprint won’t be any larger than it is right now.
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