Living in Oak Park, Illinois, or any suburb for that matter, one tends to lose focus of the products we consume and from where they come. Having watched the documentary Food Inc. propelled me towards a hands-on experience filled with tools that could set the foundation for a sustainable lifestyle. What I found was a not-for-profit organization, Sustainable Summer, that gives teenagers the opportunity to learn more about sustainability. I chose a program focused around permaculture and sustainable agriculture, and best of all I was headed to Ecuador.
The immersion into a new country was absolutely enlightening and exciting; the people of Ecuador are friendly, and the culture is rich. We traveled through the many climates of Ecuador via bus, from the soaring Andes to the tropical coastal region. Along the way we met fantastic teachers and ate scrumptious food. Travelling aside, the real objective of the trip was to learn. Sustainable Summer’s motto is to cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders.
Part of the program included lectures form local experts. Each speaker was incredibly knowledgeable in sustainable agriculture and permaculture. The most impactful lecture was by an Ecuadorean named Javier. Javier is a passionate environmentalist and believes heavily in permaculture. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The lecture was in regards to seed saving. Seed saving is the idea of saving seeds every year to ensure that the species of plant continues to grow in a healthy and adaptive manner. We learned that major U.S. seed companies force farmers to lease seeds, essentially forbidding them from reusing seed. The farmers are then dependent on the monolithic seed corporations and the seed is used in monoculture (single crop) applications. Almost all commercially available seed is used because it is resistant to fertilizers and pesticides as opposed to being used because it works well in that environment. When a seed is not adaptive, it will only work well in select environments. Large corporations own 82% of the world’s seed market, and it is up to organic farmers and gardeners to preserve seed biodiversity.
Our actions as a country are incredibly impactful on the planet. If our food system becomes dependent on corporate seed, we will be more susceptible to famine and drought because the seed cannot adapt to the environment. In the past eighty years, we have lost 93% of variant of food seed. We must preserve what variants of seed are left on the Earth to ensure diversity.
There are of course ways you, the consumer, can make a difference. One such step is to stop buying non-organic processed foods. A great source of organic food is your local farmers market. Try going to restaurants that serve organic local food. Use heirloom seeds in your garden and never use fertilizers and pesticides. Every person can make a difference and together as a community we can live both more sustainably and healthily.
Sustainable Summer changed the way I view what is put inside of me and what is purchased around me. It put in perspective the beauty and benefit of permaculture and the power of knowledge. If each one of you changes one part of your life to live more sustainably we can make the world a better place. What will you change?
– Alex Hoffman