In Retrospect: Sustainability Student Xuan Du

What an amazing two months it has been. When I pulled up to Better Farm’s driveway for the first time, I expected an immersive crash-course in sustainability initiatives. What I didn’t expect was how close I would become with the people and area around Redwood.

Better Farm is a testament to how easily anyone can implement green practices. From indoor aquaponics and hydroponics to rainwater catchment systems, it doesn’t take much to reduce your carbon footprint. Better Farm’s initiatives may be on a small scale, but its impact spreads. Community members and visitors who wouldn’t otherwise care about sustainability are exposed to all of our various initiatives, whether through conversation, workshops, or tours of the grounds. I’ve heard so many guests marvel at the uniqueness of this place and what a lovely respite it is from city life. After staying on the property, it’s hard not to share what you’ve learned with your own friends, family, and community.

I’ve never felt more connected to the land than during my time at the farm. Working in the garden gave me a whole new relationship with my food, and I derived so much satisfaction from harvesting the vegetables. Even though I picked snap peas nearly every day, I was always excited to see a new pea tucked under the stalks and leaves. It was really quite something to witness the growth of a crop every step of the way.

A passage from What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, one of my assigned readings (and now favorite books), stuck with me: “Any working definition of sustainability must emerge from and conform to a particular landbase – to what that landbase can freely give forever – and not be an abstract set of principles, or rationalizations, imposed upon the landbase. The landbase is primary, and what we do to it (or far more appropriately, with and for it) must always follow the landbase’s lead.” The land comes first. Whatever industrialized society we have permitted can only go so far as what the land allows. At Better Farm, we work in tandem with the landbase. Pesticides and fertilizers are never used, and we do everything with the understanding that everything goes back to the land. The food scraps from the kitchen go to the chickens, whose soiled bedding is used to mulch the garden, which provides us with our meals. “You feed me, I feed the soil, the soil feeds everyone, the soil feeds me, I feed you, you feed the soil, and so on” (Jensen and McBay).

Everything about Better Farm seems to come full circle, which is at the root of sustainability. “For an action to be sustainable you must be able to perform it indefinitely” (Jensen and McBay). Better Farm’s goals are fully aligned with this idea. During my internship, I have been hyper aware of the life cycle of everything we use, be it old wood planks repurposed into the exterior of a sauna or the compost used in the garden. Modern society has been trained to throw things out and never think about them again, but life begins with death, decomposition, and decay.

Every day at Better Farm was a new adventure, and I’ll miss every person and animal associated with this place (even Kiwi, the obnoxious rooster). I’ll never forget how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful environment. Every evening when I closed the farm stand, I took my time carrying the unsold produce back to the house, because the splendor of the property at sunset never failed to mesmerize me. No cars were on the road, the chickens roamed freely in the yard, and everything basked in a warm glow. This is what life should be like, and I’m so glad I got to experience it.

I’ll be back, Better Farm.