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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Memorial Day weekend
May 31, 2010 - 9:41pm

I know that, for many families, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of summer. Here, it's more like the end of winter. The last frost is now safely past, so it's time to put in the kitchen garden.

Cash crops on my side-hill are pretty much limited to hay, corn and apples. Folks lower down can do root vegetables and some cruciferous crops, but I don't have the dirt for one or the growing season for the other. At least, not to do them in marketable quantities. A few rows for domestic consumption, on the other hand, can get dug, and covered, and tended.

It's the digging that's always interesting. This land has been farmed for a couple of hundred years or so, and it shows. Not only is the soil pretty well played out, but as soon as you get down eight or ten inches, it's full of stuff you wouldn't necessarily think of as "dirt". Pottery shards, old Mason jars, pieces of scrap metal (some of them real good size), all sorts of junk.

See, up until recently, "throw away" didn't mean far away. Stuff rarely left this farm or, indeed, any of the surrounding properties. What wasn't wanted anymore that would burn got burned. What wasn't wanted that wouldn't burn got buried. The county didn't have a land-fill; folks didn't have county stickers in their rear windows. You took care of your own trash, one way or another. (I don't think there's anything nasty at the bottom of my pond, but only because it got redug a while back. The old pond -- the one that's silted in -- Lord knows what's a few feet down there and, truth be told, I expect never to find out.)

Now I'm not saying that the old way was better. Not at all. Too much got burned, and some of it certainly put nasty gases into the air. Too much got buried and some is still (I'm sure) slowly seeping toward the aquifer. In many ways, having a regulated land-fill run by trained professionals is a far better arrangement.

But, in one way, the existence of centralized landfills has done as much harm as good. Consumer products would never have become intentionally disposable goods if "disposal" still meant digging a hole in your back yard. The constant pipeline of natural resources to international shipping to mass production to international shipping to big-box retailers to short-term utility to long-term land-filling would have been inconceivable.

When the previous generation -- whether they were veterans or not -- speaks of "the good old days when stuff was built to last", they're not making it up. Because if it didn't last you didn't just throw it away without thinking. And if you had to bury it while you could still remember buying it, you made sure not to buy that brand ever again.

"Buy it new, wear it out, make it do or do without" was a watchword which led to fewer but better consumer goods (functional enhancements aside), resulting in less natural resource depletion, less transportation, and less fuel consumption. Not to mention, less trash.

 

 

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