Sustainability–The Downside

I read many blogs, articles, and books on sustainability, self-sufficiency, permaculture, and so forth. So far, one of the main items missing in most is mention of physical exhaustion. It’s plain hard work. It’s exhausting.

One particular blogger, a rather well known one at that, speculated on the joys of sitting around in lawn chairs after a day of tending the organic garden. Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

After twelve hours of weeding, hauling, sawing, digging, and everything else that goes into tending a smallholding, sitting around in a lawn chair discussing my innermost thoughts isn’t high on my to-do list. In fact, after a full day of physical labor, most of us will actually feet rather good, but most of us will be lucky if we have any innermost thoughts.

I can vouch for this. This spring and summer has been a series of twelve hour days. Except for a few paint touch-ups, the duck house is finished. The ducks are a month old and thriving except for a couple with signs of a niacin deficiency that should be cured by my infusion of niacin into their water and a dose of dandelion greens each day. The rest of the day goes to repairing fence, irrigating, sawing firewood, hauling horse manure, and other exciting tasks. Small repairs to the house eat up more time.

All this, and we don’t even have any grain planted, one of the missing links in our attempt at self-sufficiency. Next year. If we live that long.



6 Responses to “Sustainability–The Downside”

  1. T. Caine Says:


    Some measures of being more sustainable do carry degrees of real work that drastically change a normal routine, but I think they are at the end of a very wide scale of options that can make a serious affect on your environmental footprint. Growing your own food is great, and localized gardens are fantastic for the environment for numerous reasons, but like you said, it’s pretty intense. A real time commitment.

    That being said, sustainability interacts with just about every decision we make in the course of the day. What fixtures use for water, what appliances we choose, what light fixtures we turn on and, especially in America, what products we buy. I think there is a long list of possibilities that can bring significant result without requiring back-breaking time loss.

  2. babz Says:

    And it ain’t even harvest time! 12 hour days of canning. Talk about exhausting. My beau’s family farm could be self-sufficient except for milk. They manage to fill the root cellar every year. The old outhouse is even still there.

    • uncommonscolds Says:


      For us it’s mostly preparing and freezing peppers and tomato sauces. Mexican and Italian food is big in this household.


  3. uncommonscolds Says:

    T. Caine–

    Reading your response, I agreed with much of what you said, but I also wonder how many acres you work. Your response sounded, uh, urban. We have twenty acres, mostly clay. Also, our land sags in the middle. This means we have to irrigate both from the east and the west. Twelve hours of walking a quarter of a mile down then up and then a quarter of a mile down then up is exhausting, and if I want any hay to grow, that’s what we need to do.

    Even from an urban standpoint, to me, being sustainable means Americans need to cut use of mainstream energy by 80%. To me, that means we will eventually have to resort to a lot of animal energy from both humans and stock. Right now, we are doing this by choice. I want to feel the future while knowing the a/c would come on if I flipped the switch. If the decades distant future is anything close to what I foresee, those who live then will think the current Amish had it pretty posh.

    I’m well aware of the sustainable possibilities for today. They strike me as worthwhile but sadly inadequate. Through the use of fixtures, appliances, and awareness of use, we’ve cut our current consumption of car gas by about 60%, electricity by 40%, and natural gas by about 80%. Water has been the most difficult for us. We’ve cut our domestic use through appliances, planting native grasses, natural landscaping, and using our irrigation water both around the yard and in the fields. We use about a million gallons of water a year. For context, the typical suburban family uses around 100,000 gallons a year.

    Flood irrigation, although cost effective and necessary for our twenty acres, is the most back-breaking of all our tasks. So far this season, we’ve only irrigated once because of a slow, delicious three day rain, but that one day we did irrigate was still a strain, and that was with us using a gas pump and having four other people helping us. On irrigation days, we spend most of the day running from one ditch to another, making sure the water reaches its intended targets. In other words, our land is far from level.

    I suspect that a few decades from now, people will think, wow, they had irrigation water.


  4. T. Caine Says:


    No doubt, I live in New York City. It does not get much more urban than that. If I owned a plant I could work about two square feet in a 450 square foot apartment, but that is about it. I do have dreams of working a rooftop garden on top of a warehouse eventually. A number of those are cropping up in Brooklyn across the river.

    It sounds like you have made a lot of progress in your own endeavors–a impressive compilation of efforts. Granted, the urban view and response to sustainability is very different from a rural setting.

    Irrigation is definitely a huge issue. As I’m sure you know, irrigation is the second largest source of water consumption in the U.S., second only to thermoelectric cooling. In my limited knowledge, advanced irrigation systems can save considerable amounts of water, but pack a punch when it comes to price.

    -T. Caine

  5. uncommonscolds Says:

    T. Caine–

    At least our irrigation water, which comes from yearly snowpack, is sustainable, for a few more years at least. I couldn’t allow myself to irrigate from a well. Aquifer depletion is major concern of mine. Elevated pivot sprinklers pumping off wells are a particular concern since 80% of the water doesn’t even reach the crops.

    Our actual irrigation system is a relic. We have water coming to us via a mostly hand dug network of ditches established in northern Colorado in the nineteenth century. Storing and using mountain runoff, early farmers here turned this area into a regional farming hub. The annual snowpack dictates our yearly allotment and local farmers, despite having mostly unlined ditches, are masters of conservation. Like many, we followed their lead and use a thin, flexible plastic tubing to direct water. Unfortunately, that yellow tubing is a fossil fuel product.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: