A Perspective on Sustainability from a Farmhouse in Minnesota // guest post by Daiton Tietz

Hi! My name is Daiton. I’m 23 years old and I live with my boyfriend (and a bunch of worms, but we’ll get to that) in SE Minnesota. My boyfriend and I just bought a home together on an acreage in what some people may consider to be “the middle of nowhere.” Turns out, my favorite place in the world is “the middle of nowhere.” 

Emily, the creator of this wonderful blog, is my cousin, and she asked me to share my perspective on sustainability. Here are a few of my takes on some issues involving rural living, sustainability, and agriculture. 

It gets trashy.

Our house was built in 1894 (but added on since then), so it needed a lot of love to get it to a state of livability. During all of this, I learned just how tough it is to keep your waste low while moving. Before the move, I lived in an (extremely) small apartment in the Twin Cities. I never realized I could miss a (free!) garbage program, but I sort of do. The apartment complex had two different dumpsters on site- one for regular trash and one for single-sort recycling. I was very vigilant about sorting my compost, recycling, and trash, and I could take them out at any time to put them in their respective places. It was so easy, and I felt good knowing that about 80% of my total waste was composted or recycled. 

One good thing I did bring with me from my little suburban apartment is my worm bin. Approximately 2,000 red wiggler worms currently make their home in a cozy vertical tray system in the corner of our kitchen. We add food waste to the bin, the worms eat it, and it’s transformed into the best fertilizer you’ll ever find. I use the finished product on my houseplants and I’ll also use it on my garden this spring.

check out her worm bin and her beeswax wraps in the basket beneath the “love grows here” sign

At first, it honestly confused me as to why I would ever have to pay for trash removal services. I grew up on a farm, and we never had this. We were so rural that no garbage truck would come that far out, so we always just burned the majority of our trash. The compostables, however, were fed to the cows and anything not burnable was held in an old, blue trailer until someone took a trip to the landfill.

Today, on our farmstead, we’re not allowed to burn our trash. I know burning trash isn’t great, but once you figure in the cost and emissions of rural waste removal, it’s probably a horse apiece. The bigger problem is that both the recycling and trash are only picked up every other week. This is a bit of an issue for us as we are settling into our home and going through so, so many cardboard boxes. All this to say that rural waste management kind of sucks and ultimately turns people off from recycling. 

Working remotely is underrated as hell.

During the time that we were buying our house, I was offered a new job. I now work completely from home, with the exception of occasional travel. While this was a big shift for me, I couldn’t be happier with this arrangement. Every morning, I roll out of bed, wash my face, maybe pour a bowl of cereal, and belly up to my desk to start the day. No fussing over what to wear, no makeup routine, no sitting in traffic on the interstate for an hour, no forgetting my lunch on the counter at home. It’s heavenly and also far more eco-friendly.

When I was interviewing for the position, my (now) boss said that the company operated with a totally remote team, which allowed them to have a much wider talent pool. I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it before then, but she was totally right. Additionally, by not having to maintain a physical space, the company is saved thousands of dollars each year in rent. I know this won’t work for all businesses, but I hope more and more employers will start realizing the value of working remotely and allow or even encourage their employees to take part.

Seven days without beef makes one weak.

I grew up on a beef cattle & row crop farm, I have a degree in agriculture, and I’ve worked with and around farmers every day of my life. I feel like I would be wasting an opportunity here if I didn’t tell you what I know. 

  • Farmers were working on sustainability matters long before it became a mainstream topic of conversation. I believe that every industry can and should improve in the area of sustainability, but agriculture has gotten a pretty good head start. 
  • From an animal welfare perspective, there is no one who cares more about their animals than the farmers that care for them. There would be no reason for my brother to wake up three times a night and trudge to the barn in the cold during calving season if he didn’t care about our cattle and their wellbeing. 
  • Not everyone in the United States has access to affordable, healthy food options. Lower income communities are disproportionately becoming food deserts, which only grows the disconnection between a consumer and the origin of their food. I see this phenomenon as a major issue that too few people are aware of. 
  • An omnivorous diet can be as eco-friendly as an herbivorous one. It really comes down to the location the food is grown or raised, and how it travels to the consumer.

If you have any questions about agriculture, rural living, or basically anything else, I’d love to chat! Shoot me an email at daitontietz@gmail.com.

Hi, this is Emily. I just wanted to say thank you for Daiton for writing this guest post, say a few words, and to direct my readers to sources that they might find useful and interesting.

I think Daiton’s perspective is both interesting and crucial: Netflix documentaries, books, etc. often like to portray the worst of farming methods, and there are no doubt factory farmers out there that are extremely damaging to the environment and horrific for animal welfare. However, when I visited Daiton’s childhood home in Iowa when I myself was a child, I was impressed by the happy cows, how hard she and her family worked, and how much her dad could fix and maintain himself. This, alone, is impressive in an age where many can’t fix a car or say where their food is from.

Speaking of “where our food is from,” I also wanted to discuss Daiton’s claim that an omnivorous diet can be as eco-friendly as an omnivorous one. There are many factors at play here, and she raises an interesting point: let’s take avocados as an example.

If you’re trying to get your “healthy fats” from avocados shipped from Peru, they’ve not only contributed to emissions to get to your door. You also don’t know the farming methods, how workers are treated, how much water was used to produce avocados on such a massive scale, or how that’s effecting the local agricultural system as a whole. You might save on methane, but while methane has a very short half-life of seven years, Co2 has a half life of 27 years.

Both are dangerous greenhouse gases, but food miles and carbon emissions need to be taken into consideration. In addition, fruits and vegetables grown in greenhouses can actually have a greater carbon footprint that many animal products. There are few easy answers when it comes to dietary choices and sustainability. I’ve listed sources on methane and carbon emissions below.

Take, for example, buying butter from a nearby farmer who has happy cows out at pasture and farms in a sustainable way: these cows aren’t just producing methane. They’re also producing food just down the road. While the research definitely suggests that consuming beef from thousands of miles away is definitely not a particularly environmental or low-carbon food choice, there are other ways to consume animal products. I’ll dig more into my thoughts on farming, hunting, and eating local in a later piece.

Personally, I don’t think there’s an easy answer when it comes to dietary choices and sustainability. I think a lot of it is about where you’re located and what you have access to: for some, a vegan diet might well be the most sustainable food choice, and for others supporting nearby local farmers will make the greatest difference. Regardless, more we can become connected to where our food comes from–the more we can consume in-season, locally-produced food–the more we become aware of our choices, the better.

Recommended Reading: research and perspectives from multiple sides of the issue

Carbon Emissions Factsheet:

http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet

Co2 & Methane:

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.METH.AG.ZS/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/methane/

Multiple Perspective on Food Miles:

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/035012

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es702969f

https://www.reuters.com/article/environment-usa-environment-foodmiles-dc/do-food-miles-make-a-difference-to-global-warming-idUSN0521281920071017

Racking up the Food Miles

Several perspectives on plant-based diets:

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/suppl_1/476S/4576675

https://qz.com/749443/being-vegan-isnt-as-environmentally-friendly-as-you-think/

https://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn-blogs/helen-breewood/are-modern-plant-based-diets-and-foods-actually-sustainable

https://www.dairynutrition.ca/are-plant-based-diets-necessarily-more-sustainable

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