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Observations in Sustainability

Sustainability is almost entirely about your perspective. The goal however, is to help people understand that having less or buying local, can often provide more value than initially thought.

What do we need to sustain ourselves?

How much __________ do we need, objectively speaking?

(food, water, square footage, etc.)

Where is the line between what is sustainable and what is excessive?

Even seemingly simple things can become extremely complicated just under the surface of perspective and value.

Food, for example, is simple for some people, but can be a daily struggle for others. Local diets and customs surrounding food can be both misunderstood and offensive to other cultures of people. There are laws, regulations, and codes about food imports and exports. Each person has their own favorite food and drink; of which all of the ingredients could come from who-knows how far away.

What's the sustainable choice? Where are the guidelines for how to make good decisions when everything is expensive.

When a head of lettuce costs the same as a 12-pack of Coke, where can sustainable choices even fit in? How can you eat healthy when costs are so competitive?

Perceived value, longevity, price-per-wear, and total cost are things that we consider at the store, but for some reason, it's been made to be about the perception and desire, more than sustainability and true value of the product.

For example

What's the "price per tomato" on a home-grown tomato plant?

Let's do some math and find out:

$2.99 would be enough to seed 50 square feet, but let's just say for simplicities sake, that it's per plant.

From the table below, we can see that, in Orange County, averaged across all consumption sources, water costs $4.02/1,000 gallons according to Orange County Municipal Water Service.

Soil is another hidden cost. Do you need nitrogen or fertilizer? Do you need any at all?

Let's say we use one sandbag as a pot for $0.30 and 3 cubic feet of soil $3.99.

Once sustainability cycles are established, soil could potentially be very cost effective and reusable, if a cyclical planting schedule is applied.

So far, we have the following,

2.99 + 4.02 + 0.30 + 3.99 =

$11.30 per tomato plant

Last year, I was able to harvest over 200 tomatoes, at about an ounce each.

If we get 200, one-ounce tomatoes during a season from the plant (absolutely possible from a husky cherry tomato plant); then we end up with a total of

200 oz / 16 =

12.5 lbs of tomatoes per plant.

Total cost per lb = $0.90 / lb. (if you use all 1,000 gallons of water)

Total cost per tomato: $0.05

Not only is it half the cost of store bought, but they also required effectively no transportation cost, no plastic packaging, no pesticides, and no hassle. Pick them when you want them! Eat them fresh or cooked.

Thus, we save both money and the environment. And since I can't remember the last time that I needed to eat 200 tomatoes over the course of a few months, I gave some away to family and neighbors. If this were done with most of the foods we see at the grocery store, I believe major changes to the landscape of food would occur.

Although it is not easy, I believe that we should consider these and other similar questions while working in our gardens and while we cook. Sharing is caring as they say.

If we "invested" more time and energy into measuring our water usage, I believe that our food awareness and the value of our ecosystems would be seen more clearly.

It follows then, that environmental services would be seen and experienced by people more and the value of the would be felt in more meaningful ways. If we interacted with our food from the time it sprouted until the time it was consumed, I could only imagine how much more impactful, intentional, and real our choices would be.

Thanks for reading,


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