Sustainability is a frequently used word in today’s world. People talk about sustainable buildings, sustainable agriculture, sustainable economics — even sustainable medicine. I’m not sure a clear definition exists within any of these contexts, but I’d like to share what sustainable means to.
Particularly in the context of food and agriculture, I take my cues from a book by Thom Hartmann, “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” as well as the work of Rudolf Steiner. Hartmann gave a very interesting and, I think, precise definition of sustainability when he claimed that to be truly sustainable, one must harvest only the products of one year’s sunlight. In other words, because of the influence of sun, soil, air and rainfall, you will get a certain amount of vegetative growth in any one year. To be sustainable, that is all you can harvest and no more.
Related article: A Tale of Sustainably Farmed Ramps
You can harvest all the wheat, corn, beets, etc., grown in one year with the expectation that you will be able to sustainably grow this amount year after year. With trees, they will add a certain amount of growth each year, and when you average this amount over an entire forest, that is the sustainable amount of wood to be used in one year for such things as shelter, fiber, and tools. This definition of sustainability precludes the use of any mined products, as these are the stored reserves of the earth, built up over millennia; when they’re used, the reserves of the earth are depleted.
Amazingly, traditional cultures, by and large, lived with this level of sustainability for centuries, and to a certain extent, it worked fine. Modern agricultural practices, even the ones that claim to be sustainable, are nowhere near this level of sustainability, largely because of infrastructure demands and the need for industrial tools. The drip-irrigation systems we all use are made of non-sustainable materials. The solar panels on today’s sustainable farms are made from materials mined from the earth’s reserves, as are the materials used to make modern farm implements. So, although I agree with this useful and technically correct definition of sustainability, I don’t see it as a doable goal at this point.
Steiner’s agricultural system of biodynamics gives us a perhaps more lenient view of sustainability. He taught that once the basic infrastructure was in place (tools, buildings, irrigation), the farm should produce all its own needs from then on, with no outside inputs. All the fertility, all the pest and weed control, all the energy used by the farm needs to be derived from the farm’s own harvest. This picture captures the essence of biodynamics, which inevitably brings one closer and closer to the ideal of using only the products of one year’s yield of sunlight. In the biodynamic approach, we should eat the vegetable products of a single year, feed our livestock with the grasses and fodder produced in that year, and build our dwellings from the wood harvested from one’s year’s growth (averaged across one’s forest).
This approach is one of the main reasons I am so excited about working with biodynamic farms and produce. Not only do we get the most nutritious plants possible, but we also are supporting a worldview that promotes true sustainability. If you think about, if we are not promoting sustainability, then we are harvesting the reserves of the earth and robbing future generations of the very foundations of life.
The other day I was asked what I do most days. My initial response was that I see patients two days a week and go to the garden two days a week. The obvious follow-up question was, what about the other three days? After giving it some thought, my answer was, I go for a walk on the beach twice a week, but mostly I process food. That is especially true this time of year.
Our Powders Easily Add Nutrients to Soups and Stews
My good friend and co-author Sally Fallon Morell used to say that her rule with her four children was that they had to eat the breakfast and dinner she served them, and then they were free to eat what they wanted during the day. She was banking on them getting enough nutrient-dense foods during those two meals to keep them well nourished and even well fed enough so that they wouldn’t be looking for junk food.
We’re Looking for Growers!
This past weekend we hosted a small group of people who are interested in working with our company to help us create new products. We toured the Napa garden and spoke about new and innovative approaches to using plants as medicinal food. I had many ideas and examples of plants for them to see, feel and even taste, but I focused on five that I am particularly excited about and that will help us fulfill the dictum “let thy food be thy medicine.”