To the Editor:
While I was initially excited about my prospective involvement in the Williams garden project, on the day of the first work party, I found myself holed up in my room, shoveling mouthfuls of processed cereals. As much as I possessed a sincere desire to contribute, I felt out of place in today’s sustainability movement.
Americans have incredibly ambivalent feelings toward sustainability. Some people dedicate their entire academic careers and personal lives to creating sustainable communities, while many others feel that a sustainable lifestyle would require giving up the comforts they have worked hard to achieve.
For most of my life, I fell into the latter group. Sustainability was sacrificial. You had to constantly give up: give up money (green products cost more) and give up comfort (it gets cold when you turn off the heat). Since I was neither that rich nor that radical, I lacked a role in the sustainability movement.
Then, I read an article in YES! Magazine by Shannon Hayes, and it reversed the way I think about sustainable living. In “Meet the Radical Homemakers,” she explains how people across the country have adopted more sustainable lifestyles by building skills that reduce their reliance on less sustainable products and practices. Some learned to preserve local harvests, while others learned how to sew.
Thinking about sustainability as an opportunity to learn rather than an obligation to sacrifice makes the movement seem more accessible to the average person. After all, if you want to buy from a farmers’ market, it helps if you can cook. If you want to stop buying new clothes, it helps if you can mend old ones. If you want to keep the TV off, it helps if you have a replacement hobby. When we frame sustainability around skill building, it becomes about more than preserving the environment; it’s also about developing self-efficacy.
This is why the Williams garden is great. We have the opportunity to learn useful gardening skills without having to spend three months roughing it on a farm in Iowa. Hopefully, the project will help promote sustainable living as an enriching lifestyle, rather than a simply sacrificial one.
So, caretakers of the Williams garden, you rock. And I would really like to help out at the next work party. You have this in writing – don’t let me back down. All I ask is that you teach me something new, because I have a lot to learn.