"We have to be careful not to rush from denial to despair," says John Elkington, founder of a British sustainability consulting business. The quote is from a fascinating article in the Feb. 25 New Yorker, on the complexities of measuring carbon footprints. Elkington worries that as we pull our heads out of the sand and realize the scope of our task in responding to global warming, we may just throw up our hands and stop trying.
I'll have more to say about the article later, because it made me question some of my own assumptions about sustainable living, but in the meantime it's online and well worth reading:
I thought about Elkington's quote Monday night at a meeting for the Whatcom Community Food Assessment Project. That's an ambitious effort to quantify the food situation in the county, in order to "help ensure a local food system that will sustain the land and livelihoods that provide adequate, nutritious food for current and future generations in Whatcom County."
It didn't take long for the folks at our table to zero in on the complexities of that worthy goal. If low-income people in the county are going to eat adequately and nutritiously, fresh healthy food has to be affordable. If future generations are going to farm, fish, and thrive here, our agricultural and fishing practices must be sustainable. If sustainable family farms are to survive in a competitive market, they have to fetch a good price for their products and they need to keep their labor costs under control. "It's a three-legged stool," said Tom Thornton of Cloud Mountain Farm. Sustainability, affordability to consumers, and adequate worker wages/business profit: all three elements are essential. Achieving them all can be a daunting challenge.
For example, I admire Rootabaga Country Farm, home of Samish Bay Cheeses among other organic, sustainably produced, top quality products. But their least expensive cheese retails for $16.99/lb. at the Co-op. Their other varieties sell for $22/lb., which means I can only assume they are delicious as I've never tried them. I trust their commitment to sustainable practices, I hope they are making a decent living, but the third leg of the stool is out of reach for most of their neighbors. (The farm will ship cheese to you via UPS for a lower price per pound, but the minimum order is $24 plus shipping.)
I did learn from Amber Dawn Hallet, the Sustainable Connections staffer who facilitated discussion at our table, that the affordability leg will be addressed in one new way this season at the Bellingham Farmers Market. This year the market vendors can accept food stamps.