By Chef Centehua
Living a more natural and sustainable life is really about making the best choices with the information and tools you have. Our journey began by reducing paper and plastic products, and now we are composting, growing our food, raising chickens, collecting rainwater and using a grey water system. Evolution is ongoing and, as we continue to learn, we make refinements. Our children are naturally influenced by the way we live. They observe everything: the way we relate to the environment has deep implications for their future connection and response to the earth. The best way to teach is by simply doing; the more authentic we are in our efforts to live sustainably, the more of an impact we’ll have on our kids and our community.
Whether we intend to do so or not, we are always teaching, as our examples speak loudly. We of course involve them in the gardening process at home. We encourage them to plant with us, as it is fun and everyone reaps the benefits. They are at an age that they, too, can take on more responsibilities like making sure the chickens have water and changing the hay in their coop. They also help us harvest kale, Swiss chard or whatever we have growing at the time. And then it ends up in their plates. They know how important it is to grow our food and how good everything tastes when it is homegrown and homemade. The kids also water the garden and know what is compostable and recyclable. It is natural. It’s what we do.
And when their friends come over, they take pride in sharing this information with them. They love how excited their friends get when they meet our chickens or take a peek into our worm bin. I love listening to our kids explain why we keep a box of worms and why we have a toilet that, well, is actually a bucket you can’t flush. Adults have a harder time with change or maybe even a fear of the unconventional, but kids just get it.
“Yeah! Cool!” they say.
“We have a compost toilet because everything we flush is chemically treated and then ends up in the ocean,” our kids continue.
“ Gross!” is their reaction.
“ We like to swim in clean water, plus Dad empties the toilet bucket into our big compost bin and it magically turns into really good food for our garden eventually.”
That’s how we used to do it and many cultures still do. While our kids know this method of sustainability is not available for everyone, especially people living in condos, they know that’s how we close the nutrient cycle: we plant, we harvest, we eat, we poop, we fertilize, we plant, we harvest, we eat, etc. … on and on … sustainable. The system our society currently subscribes to is linear and won’t sustain life for much longer. It is polluting everything we need to survive. One of vital importance is water. The grid is becoming even more unstable and our kids know that what we do to be self-reliant is our key to the future. They still call us hippies, but they know it’s because we care and love our family and our earth.
Another way we encourage sustainability is the way we gift our friends or family for birthdays or special occasions. We always make sure that, if we purchase a product, we support a company that is ethical and/or organic and most often local. We talk to our kids about our carbon footprint and how, by supporting local artisans and farmers, we reduce environmental damage while supporting people like us vs. big corporations that massively produce products that are unethically made in third world countries. Our kids are old enough to understand what many brand names really stand for, and why they are so popular and spend so much money on advertising while polluting and using slave labor to produce their goods. Suddenly the glamour and glitter fade into reality.
Our kids no longer ask for clothes made in Bangladesh or gadgets that everyone in school has. While they might want something initially, they see through the consumption madness. Often times it is hard to be counterculture and live in a way that will do less harm, especially when young; however, when our kids find something cool made in the USA or by a local artist or a company using hemp, they scream for joy and say, “Look! It’s awesome and environmental … Can I get it?!” which is sometimes hard to say no to, but we are still reminding them that not all wants are needs. Balance in all things is key. We believe that spending more time and less money on our kids is healthy and teaches the what is truly valuable in life … family, nature, love.
We have an art and craft room at home where we keep our materials and find inspiration to create unique and personal gifts. They see the effect of gifting someone something they made with their hands. Whether making truffles, a painting or a crocheted scarf, the gift took time and effort; so it is greatly appreciated and cherished.
The environment we provide our kids also has huge implications. They are bombarded with information from friends and media. Though we don’t have a TV at home, they are exposed to it somehow, whether by friends or family. While we do live in the world and not a bubble, by providing a space where creativity is encouraged and nature explored, the kids will resonate with a more natural, overall perspective. When it’s appropriate, we point out how every purchase has environmental consequences, so we naturally avoid malls and places where mindless consumption is encouraged and promoted. We have teenagers now, so of course they are into fashion and fitting in; however, they also take pride in being different and not following every trend. My girls have found beautiful handmade accessories on etsy.com and at local art events. Connecting to the local community is empowering and opens up doors for our kids to live in a sustainable and creative world if we choose.
On weekends, there are also lots of workshops where entire families are welcomed. I recommend taking the kids to community events like these. I find that they bring families together and strengthen bonds. Workshops also provide a space where the children are part of a meaningful project, and it’s not just Mom and Dad asking them to help compost or garden, but a group of new friends working together to make it better. This coming weekend, we are taking our family out to the countryside for a straw bale building workshop. Now, the kids may not be very excited about straw bale building, for it does sound like work and — yes — it is work, but they will also meet new friends and we’ll be camping in nature, creating memories and learning new skills. Usually, once we get there, they end up having fun and more importantly they know that what we are doing is connected to the life we are creating, and why we are choosing to live and to learn the methods that will give us more power for self-reliance. They know that what we are doing is so they may have a better future, and that their involvement will show them how to carry this lifestyle forth for future generations and help regenerate the health of our planet. It does take a village and it starts with one family at a time.
Our time here is short but we can make it worthwhile. As we continue to learn how to take care of ourselves and our earth, remember to take time to simply breathe and feel the grass between your toes. Every day is a gift and we can be grateful for this opportunity to make our world more beautiful. Every effort matters and every smile inspires.