My Sustainability Blogs – 2012


Well, seems like everyone is writing their end of year (beginning of the new year) blogs….. so here is mine.  As I look back over 12 months of blog posts, there are several themes:

  1. Localization as a Solution
  2. Personal Sustainability and Responsibility
  3. Systems Thinking
  4. Sustainability Education and Change in the University

This pretty much sums up most of my interests these days, so lets take a closer look at what I wrote about in 2012.

Localization as a Solution

Last winter, I was asked to give a sermon (a real sermon in a church) about eating locally and in the opening remarks I said; “we live in a world that is profoundly unjust and fundamentally unsustainable.  Food is grown, packaged, processed and distributed in a way that contributes to global climate change, is dependent on non-renewable energy sources, and contributes to social inequality.   For me, buying local is a means of uncoupling my household from an inherently unjust global food economy. While I am not against global trade or corporations, I am concerned about the control they have over our lives and our economy.”

In another post, I called for us to “relocalize our money” and reported on one of the more exciting trends in food marketing, the creation of local food hubs.  In addition to supporting more local farms and markets, I think we need to take more personal responsibility for growing, cooking and sharing our own food, as I called for 50 million new farmers in the U.S.!   I also challenged municipal government to provide public spaces to create edible landscapes.

In one of my more “angry” posts (well, it was around election day) I wrote “unless each one of us makes a commitment to changing our behavior, politicians will never find the political will to sponsor much needed policy initiatives.”


In “Burn America First“, I  called for personal behavior change on energy use at a time when politicians seemed unwilling to seriously address both climate change and our dependence on fossil fuel.  One of the more comical experiences of the year was getting blocked from posting to Facebook for a few days when the several “clean-coal” Facebook groups reported my post as spam.  I guess I shouldn’t have posted my blog on their Facebook pages!

Personal Sustainability

Continuing on the theme of personal responsibility, I explored several ethical questions in “Ethics, Self-interest, and Purposeful Life.”  Once again examining the ethics (or lack thereof) for many large corporations, I put the failure of business in general to act with integrity in the context of personal ethics and called for “redemption” through service to community, the earth or perhaps the divine.  And I further explored our relationship with God in “Agriculture is a Business and a Way to Connect with the Divine.”   Finally, the the third of my more philosophical blogs, I wondered why we hang onto old patterns and habits, even when we know they are not working any longer.  The process of navigating change in a purposeful way requires the letting go of old ideas.  Why is this so hard?

 Systems Thinking

Sometimes it is difficult to let go of old ways of thinking because we have nothing useful to replace it with. Our modern educational system trains students to think in a linear, analytical way (at best) or simply to memorize disparate facts (at worst).  College graduates are well-prepared to take exams and write term papers, but often not to think creatively and systemically about the big problems (many of which I’ve written about in the past) like climate change, loss of biological diversity, peak oil, the threat of global pandemic, democracy, economic collapse, globalization, hunger, and food security, safety and quality.  Albert Einstein reminds us that…..

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

Last summer I began to prepare a new course at the University of Massachusetts called Agricultural Systems Thinking.  I had participated in several strategic planning sessions in which my colleagues claimed that if we are going to take sustainability seriously, we will need to teach students to think more systemically.  So, I decided to try to do so.  In a series of blog posts, I examined topics like:

The blogs linked above offer a glimpse into how I believe we must teach sustainable agriculture if we ever hope to address systemic global problems related to food and farming.  Then in Education for Sustainable Agriculture – A Vision, I wrote:

Today’s graduates from university agricultural programs are generally well-prepared to address problems and opportunities from both a practical management and a theory-based perspective at the organism, organ, cellular and molecular levels. Graduates in the future will also need to understand complex food and farming systems at the population, community, and ecosystem levels.

 I remain quite concerned about the quality of education offered by mainstream universities.

Sustainability Education and the Role of the University

I began the year with a post challenging my colleagues to think about teaching sustainability in a way that reflected the values of sustainability.  I celebrated the announcement that my own college at UMass made a commitment to “revitalize the public mission” and establish a strong agriculture unit. We found evidence of this revitalization in a project initiated by a group of students celebrating the United Nations Year of the Cooperative.  Further evidence of change was offered by the UMass Permacutlure Initiative which was recognized by a trip to the White House.

Still, in spite of the progress we are making – I remain concerned about the commitment of the public university to serving the public good.  In a series of blogs called “my truths” posted at the end of 2012, I took a hard look at my personal perspective on the public agricultural university.

If you have any topics you’d like to read about in 2013 – let me know!


Please share this post with friends.  For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more posts.  You may be interested in the 2-year programs in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major or other 4-year majors.  The UMass Extension program provides access to university resources to the citizens of the Commonwealth.