Early this year, I sold a small organic farm on the outskirts of our city, and moved back into the suburbs.
I didn’t really have a choice, to be honest. I was divorcing, and the place needed to be sold for financial reasons anyway.
But prior to that, being on the farm for nearly a decade had made me rethink what sustainability means, and how we can move forward in a world that seems intent on, well, not moving forward much at all.
Petrol…the fly in the ointment
We were extremely car-dependent at the farm. There was no public transport. The nearest supermarket, bank, school – all of it was a drive away. There were no buses or trains. This was a huge hurdle to sustainability.
I was routinely spending $100 a week on petrol, and my partner was spending the same. Getting around drained our energy, our time, and our finances.
It was lovely living on the farm and having heaps of space – and animals! – but there was a lot of work behind the scenes that I didn’t expect and that cost a lot as well.
Did I make a mistake moving to a farm? No. But I don’t think that type of lifestyle is the way forward for humanity, as a whole.
It’s appealing, and it stirs in us a vision of an idyllic past, but it’s not practical for a sustainable future.
The present…around the corner to everything
When my new partner and I bought a home this year for our four kids (two of his, two of mine), we bought a very, very walkable home.
The bank is a two minute walk around the corner. There’s a park just across the road. The supermarket is five minutes’ walk, with shops and cafes and restaurants in-between.
Our Walkscore at our new home is 74. That translates as “Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.”
By comparison, our Walkscore at the farm was 0. “Car-Dependent. Almost all errands require a car.”
The difference is striking. Our kids walk to school, unless the weather is bad. My partner can walk to work – and does. I can walk into the city, or a bus runs right past our door every few minutes.
Most days I don’t use the car much, if at all.
I’d been wondering how I’d possibly be able to stay at the farm should I ever stop driving. Living here, that’s never an issue, because I simply don’t need to be able to drive.
What does sustainable really mean?
There’s no point in running an organic farm if you’re using three tanks of petrol every week to get anywhere.
You’re trashing the planet, no matter how organic your veggies are!
By comparison, the suburbs can be more sustainable if you live with a large group of people together, share your energy costs, walk for a lot of your journeys, and the journeys you do need a car for are short.
Plus, from a purely financial point of view, I’m not spending massive amounts of money on petrol every month. I don’t particular want to make oil companies richer. Does anyone?
Of course there’s more to being sustainable than petrol and cars. Suburban chickens, worm farms, backyard fruit trees, and an unpackaged, locally-produced diet can all play a part.
So can handing-down clothes, buying locally-manufactured clothing or secondhand, using a capsule wardrobe, and limiting imports.
Finally, reducing family size through access to contraception, ease of access to abortion, education, and solid welfare support all play a role, as can voting on environmental lines and social welfare concerns.
Moving forwards to a new sustainability
I’m not sure what genuine sustainability will look like in the future. But, looking back, I know what it isn’t.
I know we need to reduce car usage, and we need to make our cities more walkable, and lobby to make public transport better and easier to use.
Perhaps we need to open our minds to new ideas, and discard old dreams that don’t fit with a modern reality.
My farm was lovely, and it was organic but sustainable?
No. I can’t say that.
However, I hope our new home in the suburbs might be…one day.