Consumerism in the time of climate change, life on the farm, and why every little bit matters.
“I was in a place where I was ready to learn”
The food that we eat has a dramatic impact on the environment, animal welfare, our health, and the footprint that we leave on this earth.
There are times when we feel that our efforts are negligible. How can tiny actions matter, to address a vastly overwhelming, and ever growing issue such as global climate change? Those three words alone are enough to feel out of control. Global? Seems too big for one person. Climate? Definitely no control over that on my end…and change? Yeah, I have been working on that my whole life. Results pending.
However, after talking to Kelsey, I thought, wow, here it is. She has got the whole three word package down, and then some. Its not about feeling guilty, or fitting in to a trend. Its about doing the right thing. Period. Her projects are vast, countless almost, but whatever she is working on, it has her whole heart behind it.
A Natural Relationship
“Nature has always been home.”
How we treat the environment is essentially how we are investing in our future. Living on the farm, Kelsey understands that, “it’s a positive feedback loop. The better we treat the earth, the better we treat the animals, the better we do. If we continue to feed that positive feedback loop, continue to take care of the soil, and our animals, then we ultimately take care of ourselves. It’s altruism, but it’s also selfish at the same time in a really wonderful way. We are all connected.”
Kelsey and her fiancé are not from a typical farming background, and chose to follow this lifestyle out of a need to live better. “My journey to this point, to being on the farm, to having a farm stand, having the chickens, having the
garden, that’s fairly eclectic.” The decision to live a sustainable lifestyle was an active choice, with many steps along the way.
“After watching forks over knives, the documentary, that really pushed me in the direction of understanding our food system, and factory farming, and how it has such negative effects on the environment, and public health, and of course animal welfare. So I launched into veganism, and as I was reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I realized, oh wait, there is a different way to farm livestock, and it actually helps the environment, and it’s better for our health and it’s better for the animals too.”
Starting a farm was the natural next step. “Something inside me woke up. After reading about this, I was like, I have to do this. I have to stop just reading about this and supporting it with my money. No. I want to put animals in pasture, I want to grow my own food and basically rekindle my relationship with nature.”
Today, “chickens are in pasture, we have a large veg garden, we do maple syrup, kombucha, and on top of that we have some workshops and class to try to get people to understand what it’s like to have a farm, and how we’re doing things, why we’re doing things the way we’re doing things.” She is even waging battle against an aggressive and invasive buckthorn that has taken over the region, without using chemicals or pesticides.
“No journey is the same.”
Climate change and sustainability is such a broad issue, and taking it on as a consumer can be frustrating. “People feel overwhelmed, that they are just one person, what can they do?”
Making changes can be difficult because it requires making adjustments to the way that we live, choosing a different routine. The impact of these changes can add up, especially if everyone decides to move forward together. Kelsey believes that it is a choice: “Ultimately, it is really is up to me. Up to each and every one of us individually to make a change.”
So often we think of committing to a sustainable lifestyle as an extreme or dramatic change to our lives. This can be prohibitive for people who may be considering taking steps towards a sustainable lifestyle. We need to create “this little space where people can feel welcome…come as they are, start where they are, and start making choices at their own pace.”
Kelsey argues for taking incremental adjustments to reach an accumulative, long-term goal. “It’s small steps, and I always say, don’t guilt yourself, don’t feel bad because you can’t do it all at once. That is where the overwhelm comes in. I don’t like using guilt as a tool, and would rather use benchmarks to say, this is where I’m at, and this is how far I have come. Take it one step at a time.”
“Simple changes that you can make are shopping at your local farmers market for your vegetables, or some of your vegetables, and some of your meat. Putting local capital into your community, and back in your community, and supporting your local farmers.” Additionally, these experiences can be enriching and fun. “It is such a wonderful experience. You can ask the farmer how they raised their pork and they are delighted to tell you…If you can afford sustainably farmed meat, then go for it.”
“Starting on composting your food scraps is another great way, and you can still do that, even if you live in an apartment. People think you need a whole operation in order to so that, that you need a back yard, but you don’t. You can do it under the kitchen sink, you can do it with worms. There are cities that are opening up food scrap curbside pick up. Composting is another way to get into being a part of the solution. That could cut down on methane emissions from your landfill.”
In terms of getting a different perspective on our impact on the earth, “going to your local landfill is such an eye-opening experience,” says Kelsey, “I will never forget the first time I saw a landfill. Seeing where the stuff goes, that I have been putting in my garbage …The way it smells, the way it looks, even the way it sounds. This isn’t right. Something in you makes you realize that this is just not ok.”
Even as an individual consumer, every action can make a difference. “Understand that you matter, and your purchasing decisions matter, your habits in your home matter, and here are ways that you can change those habits and those purchasing decisions so that you are helping and not hurting….In a apartment in the city or a house in the burbs, how you can live more sustainably and make choices that, as a consumer, along the lines of what the earth needs, and help curb climate change, ultimately.”
“Being a farmer has helped me understand death more.”
Life on the farm provides a particular perspective about where food really comes from, and the journey that it takes to get to the table. Consumers are often particularly distant to meat processing, as the end product can look so different by the time it reaches the table. “When you are insulated from where food comes from, and you don’t have that transparency on how food reaches the plate, I think you can be ultimately disconnected from closed loop cycles, and what happens when we die, and why is it important that we see that.”
“Being on a farm, and composting, and losing chickens, butchering chickens, understanding that cycle of nutrients for the soil, it has made me have a deeper respect for death. I understand now that it is just a transition point, and it ultimately is an incredible gift. When you are able to bury a chicken, underneath an apple tree, and see that apple tree thrive, you understand that recycling of nutrients goes somewhere, that energy goes somewhere. I was a vegan for four years and then when I decided to be responsible for my meat in this way, butchering animals was a formative experience for me. Finally taking responsibility for my food, understanding death, and being responsible for the death of an animal, while also being responsible for giving it a good life. So I think my biggest shift has ben understanding death on a deeper level.”
On the farm, they try to educate the public about what they are doing, and why it is important. “We talk about the nutritional benefits of eating pastured eggs, we talk about the animals happiness, being out on pasture scratching around in the hay and the grass, running around in the woods. Then we talk about climate change, we talk about how we never use pesticides, we’re not affecting our environment in a negative way, in fact our land has gotten healthier with the addition of livestock, when farmed in a sustainable way. The fact that you are accessing eggs that are down the street, your carbon footprint is so much smaller than grabbing eggs, from who knows where they came from.”
However, even with experience and appreciation for life and death, life on the farm still presents challenges. “Every year when it comes time to butcher in the fall, it’s always hard. It’s never easy. And I think farmers are lying to themselves if they say that it’s easy.”
On the farm, she takes it day by day, and continues to work on her projects that share sustainable living goals. “Slow living has definitely been our mantra these past few years. It takes a lot of shifting boundaries to get there. It’s a shift of consciousness, really. With slow living, you have to accept the present moment, and you have to accept that you are enough. You don’t have to be constantly accomplishing, or plowing people over to feel complete. The winter won’t be over any sooner, no matter what you do.”
Kelsey is a wonderful resource and supporter of making small lifestyle changes to make a big impact on a better environmental future. In order to share her journey for a more sustainable lifestyle and showing others how they can join, she wrote, designed, and published her e-book called the Holistic Home. “I realized that there needed to be a solid resource for any consumer to understand how to do better for the planet…a framework for people to understand how to be conscious consumer….The book is a culmination of what I have learned from the farm, and taking a holistic view…Showing people that, even if you live in an apartment, you can be connected too.”
“Empowering people through this book is one of the things I am the most proud of, because it is a direct result of my experiences here on the farm…We want to empower people to live a green life that they will love…We want to encourage people to go at their own pace.”
ebook here: http://www.greenwillowhomestead.com/books.html
Favorite Tool: One is the 5-gallon bucket. Type number 2 plastic so it’s recyclable, it doesn’t leach. We use 5-gallon buckets on our farm everywhere. Carrying feed, compost, woodchips, plants and tools out to the garden, vegetables back into the house, collecting maple sap, for compost tea, just everywhere, we use those constantly because they are not porous, you can disinfect them, and they just last forever.
And definitely my broad fork. I purchased that two falls ago, I got it from Meadow Creatures. I use that broad fork almost every day in the spring. When I’m planting, when I’m prepping soil, because we have a no-till policy on our property, and we want to keep soil life intact. We use the broad fork to aerate soil and to prep for planting. Definitely the broad fork and the 5-gallon bucket.
Favorite Book: I just finished The Hobbit for the first time which is ludicrous because I am such an avid reader. I love books. I identified so hardcore with Bilbo being like a hobbit like he just wants to be at home…At the same time he has to get out there and…take risks like there’s this side of him that craves adventure on this side of him that great comfort and I just identified with that 100 percent. I loved it.
“Respect for nature and seeing the wild as a place that’s not hostile. It’s actually friendly and welcoming and it’s home.”