This article was originally written for the March edition of Hi-Line Farm and Ranch.
Sustainability is such a buzz word right now, but what does it really mean and how does it affect us?
Dictionary.com defines sustainability as “the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.”
Google defines it as “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”
Thwink.com defines it as “Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.”
Merrigan-Webster defines it two different ways… a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>
I heard Rick Haines from the Independent Ag Network define it as the continuing on of an Ag operation from generation to generation of the Ag family. He said, if you don’t have that, you don’t have sustainability.
That is my favorite definition, but I’d take it a step further. Sustainability to me, is the ability to continue farming or ranching to your fullest potential while taking care of yourself and your family. We are a resource just like our livestock, our farm/ranch entity, our land, our equipment, etc.
If we aren’t personally “sustainable” in the Ag lifestyle, then we won’t be able to pass the Farm or Ranch on, and sustainability (as the non-rural and non-farming/ranching community defines it) will not be achieved either.
There are 2% of us who call Agriculture our profession. But it goes beyond a career. We know that Agriculture is a lifestyle and a lifelong, heartfelt mission. Due to the overwhelming nature of Ag, we have seen our communities rocked by suicide. We see farm/ranch kids choose not to come back to the farm because they have seen the amount of stress and strain their parents go through and don’t want that for themselves.
We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the markets. There is struggle even with the most forward thinking, innovative plans. We can thank Adam and Eve for that struggle.
But in the midst of our Ag lifestyle, we can control how we care for ourselves, our spouses, and our children. We need to see ourselves as an important commodity that must be sustainable.
You’ll notice that I listed “ourselves” first. Remember the safety spiel when you get on an airplane? They always say to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping someone else. If you are passed out from lack of oxygen, how helpful are you going to be?
Not much! In fact you could be more of a liability to those around you.
It’s the same with caring for ourselves. If we don’t grow our own faith, find ways to find reprieve or a mental break…sustainability for ourselves, for families and for agriculture will not occur.
Taking care of oneself is going to look different for each person, but here are 3 things to consider…
God– I know that not everyone believes in God. But it’s hard to deny His hand when you work in Agriculture. Considering God gives us an opportunity to consider Someone greater than ourselves. So at least consider God. Search Him out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Face to face – Social Media is great especially for those times of the year that it’s your best option to connect with friends outside the tractor or combine. Ranching still has something that farming doesn’t. “Brandings” still take a few hands, especially if your branding with a fire and horses and it is usually a family affair! I don’t hear of any “seedings”. Some may have a harvest crew, but they don’t usually bring their families, even for the evening meal. Unfortunately this may be a downside to farming: being able to do so much farming with fewer hands. But, let’s consider the “in between” moments and the seasons of less work. Connect with your neighbors face to face. Be mindful of the spur of the moment opportunities to celebrate birthdays or catch a meal together. Generations before us did this well. We need to get back to this.
Family and community is a priority! Speaking of past generations…if you talk to your parents or grandparents, many of them were very involved in community and church organizations. Their family was a priority. Church and fellowship was a priority. The way they did this was by getting involved and putting as much emphasis on family and community organizations as they did their Ag operations. Our family has the best of intentions, but consistency is our struggle. Its hard to be involved in a community project or a church organization, when you “drop off the face of the earth” from seeding to harvest. But we are working and will continue to work on those “in between moments”!