Sustainability is such a buzzword these days. It’s one of those words that reflect a way of thinking about the world. It evokes renewable resources, carbon-neutral living, eco-friendliness, and organic food. Conservative talking heads hate the word because it implies a move away from big agricultural subsidies, mono-farming, and corporate globalization. It’s about getting back to basics—growing your own vegetables, shopping locally, and composting. But the word has academic implications too. It calls for a cultural shift away from blind consumerism and towards accountability. In many ways sustainability is anathema in the United States. It seems that way to me. I grew up in a generation of consumers: plastics, Styrofoam, and waste. When I was a kid, I wasn’t conscious of the damage my consumer habits were causing. I think many of us have had a rude awakening in the past decade or so.
One of the organizations that really got me thinking about sustainability was Heifer International. I remember when they had advertisements on television. Their mission seemed so simple—to “seed” farms for poor people, literally. To give them a cow to make milk and chickens for eggs. It was honestly one of the first times I realized how removed I was from the food chain—how disconnected I was from the process. My experience with growing vegetables was sprouting a bean plant in science class. I’d never milked a cow or set foot in a chicken coop. Even though my grandparents were farmers, I didn’t know the first thing about farming. Heifer International is built on the idea of sustainability—the idea that, once it is established, a family’s farm can continue to support them for generations.
This philosophy of sustainability goes beyond the first needy farmer. Through their “Passing on the Gift” program, recipients of Heifer International aid agree to share the offspring of gift animals with others in need. It’s the growth of sustainability and it has resulted in the exponential expansion of the program. Heifer International also works closely with the farmers, helping them learn how to protect their livestock from illness and predators while also keeping the animals from harming crops and other vegetation.
Heifer International is always looking for committed volunteers. Volunteers help educate the public about Heifer International’s projects and about the harsh realities of hunger and poverty. They also help to raise funds to support ongoing projects overseas. Heifer International won the prestigious World Food Prize in 2010.