Posted by: mesabimisadventures | April 18, 2010

Sustainability?! I just thought we were poor…

Yesterday I attended the Iron Range Earth Fest in Mountain Iron.  Speakers and exhibitors covered topics ranging from energy conservation to sustainable agriculture to making blankets from plastic bags.  If you weren’t able to make it yesterday, I definitely recommend attending next year.  Absolutely excellent job done by the organizers and volunteers.

One of the seminars I attended was “Eating Locally in Northern Minnesota” presented by Maggie Montgomery from KAXE.  She discussed her quest to only eat food from a 100-mile radius for one year.  It was clear that she has inspired many people to take an honest look at the source of their food and their impact on the environment based on everyday food choices. 

I couldn’t help but wonder what my Grandma Rose would think of the seminar if she was still alive.  Sustainability ran through my Grandma’s blood, but as historian Pam Brunfelt would say, it was called survival, not sustainability.  As a child living with her who had a strong desire to be cool and fit in, I just called it being poor. 

In 2010, we look at the these eco-friendly concepts as revolutionary and cutting-edge.  Rain barrels, compost bins, being a locavore (eating locally grown food), energy conservation, reduce/reuse/recycle.  How is it possible that in so few generations, we’ve devolved so quickly that we find raw milk to be a novel concept? 

When our jeans tore, Grandma patched them up because, after all, 99.9% of the jeans were still in good shape.  When socks got holes, she darned them.  We spread manure on the garden, we harvested seeds for the next year’s planting, we canned tomatoes.  We shook our milk before we drank it, we picked eggs and we knew our meat as living animals before we knew it as pork chops and roasts and hamburgers.  

Grandma Rose wasn’t revolutionary, she was surviving.  The Great Depression may have ended in the 1930s, but Grandma saw no reason to forget the lessons taught to her from previous generations.  Cabbage became sauerkraut, cucumbers became pickles, and the dining room table became a place to process venison come November. 

I desperately wanted to be like other kids whose food came mostly from the grocery store.  I wanted my cheese slices individually wrapped and my lunch meat to be pre-sliced.  I wanted noodles that came in fancy shapes and green Creamette boxes.  I wanted to not know how blood sausage and head cheese were created.  I wanted to not feel like a poor farm kid.

I never would have guessed twenty years ago that someday I would be wishing I had taken the time to learn all that I could from my Grandma, the old-school environmentalist who would have cussed you out if you called her that.  She was organic, before organic was the cool thing to be.  She was sustainable before it was a buzzword.

We don’t need fancy books and professors to tell us how to be sustainable, we just need to listen and learn from the area’s old-timers.  Miss you Grandma…



  1. Wasn’t there a justification/reason for having our modern lifestyle? Like we now have more time to do other things instead of the chores of “sustainability?” How ironic that allot of us use that time to sit on the couch and watch TV, and our children play video games.

    I need to plant a garden.

  2. I interviewed a 100-year old lady from Buhl a couple months ago. She led a “sustainable/survivor” life. I asked her about the changes in our social lives now vs. then, and she said, “Even with all the modern conveniences now that do your work for you, people are too busy. People used to visit each other. Now people are too busy – sitting in front of their televisions.” Amen.

    Julie – may I use this essay in Hometown Focus?

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