But after exploring sustainable living on this one piece of land for 11 years, sometimes I think a lot more about the limits to sustainability.
We can do a lot with self-sufficiency here; we build with our earth, create shelter that heats with the sun, get energy from the sun, we can provide nearly all of our water heating and cooking needs with the sun too. We live off harvested rainwater most years. But when it comes to the ever present need to fill our body with calories, we fall short in the sustainability department.
I love the rhythm I have developed here with the cycles of the seasons. Spring means a big harvest of Egyption Walking Onions. I chop them and fill my fermenting crocks, adding some garlic and ginger. I love how my garden is so tightly packed with a variety of tender greens that eating large salads daily has become a necessary practice. That season will be over by the time I can glean local fruit from forgotten trees and use my solar dehydrator to render them store-able for the rest of the year, and longer.
But to be honest, sometimes it feels these delicacies are more the exception than the rule. While I feel so lucky to have created my nest in a beautiful and comfortable landscape, I realize it’s quite a challenging environment for food production. We have no running stream through this patch of high desert. If we had a well we would be mining deep aquifer water that really doesn’t get recharged from rains in order to farm our food.
But we rely on rain catchment instead, and grow all the vegetables we need in the summer. We mostly limit our veggie consumption to what is local and in season, and what can be stored like potatoes and onions and carrots. As far as dry goods, we can source pecans, peanuts, quinoa and beans locally (from Colorado to Southern New Mexico), but not rice and lentils. Limiting ourselves to local producers for all dairy products is outside our price range(I’m still making up for my vegan years).
Sometimes I feel our sustainable eating occurs in homeopathic doses. But there is something to that. Harvesting the barberry flowers to make a tart and aromatic beverage is quite joyful. Munching the wild mustards growing plump in the sandstone cliffs makes me feel connected to my land. Eating these wild harvested foods synchs up my heart with this place, this season. It feels wonderful, important, and even better when shared.
Basing my diet on whole grains and legumes gives me the protein I need on a daily basis. I won’t be getting it from factory farmed meats, as that is something I just can’t stomach. Beginning my meals with the seeds of plants helps me stay connected to the cycles that bring such a harvest. Even though brown rice is not local, preparing it feels way better than tearing off the plastic film from a prepackaged meal and putting it in the microwave. I’m still cultivating a consciousness of connection with the Earth.
With all my sprouting, solar cooking, fermenting, dehydrating and gardening, I still fall far short of my sustainable eating mark. While I don’t generally buy bananas, I do live in a globalized world, and the economy does not incentivize supporting local small scale agriculture like I wish it did.
Alas, sometimes attempting sustainable food systems in this location feels somewhat patchwork and piecemeal. But if you can’t cultivate your land, then cultivate your mind, your heart, and your experience of connection. I feel the Earth wants that from us.
Meanwhile, join our eight new interns for their first Ampersand class Sustainable Kitchens and Solar Cooking (May 24) to learn about how far you can go with harmonizing our kitchens and bellies with the cycles of our seasons.
Written by Amanda Bramble