Sustaining Mother Earth

By Riggs Fulmer

Here in Oregon, where we can be justifiably proud of our pro-ecological heritage, we are at the forefront of new “green” industries.

A leading figure in this movement is the brilliant winemaker and businesswoman, Susan Sokol Blosser, proprietor of her eponymous winery in Dundee.

She was the keynote speaker at Oregon Business magazine’s “100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon” event held in Portland in June. Sokol Blosser Winery placed sixth out of 372 entries in the publication’s annual Best Companies survey.

Pointing up the potentially dire consequences of a global economy teetering precariously on the brink of collapse and a planet in ecological peril, she emphasized the double whammy of drawing down our natural resources in the face of overpopulation.

She criticized traditional methods of providing the world’s food supply from agribusiness farming practices that contribute to soil depletion and water pollution, to factory fleets that overfish the oceans.

She made reference to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who postulated the repercussions of our current behavior in a recent article.

“What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession,” Friedman asked. “What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall—when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more’.”

Not merely lamenting the negatives, however, Sokol Blosser offered solutions. “Crisis is disaster, but it is also opportunity,” she said. “If the new ways are to take hold, then it’s only natural that the old ways fall aside, just as the ashes of a burnt Ponderosa stand provide the best space for new pines to grow.”

We need to move away from irresponsible, unsustainable business practices, practices which, in agriculture, are exemplified by the massive factory farms and near-universal (ab)use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which Sokol Blosser describes as farming on steroids:

“Chemical farming only increases production in the short term and, like steroid use, eventually does more harm than good.”

This is what happens when one group or ideal within society is given preeminence over the rest. If we would think holistically about our society, these decisions would not be made.

We would consider the poisonous run-off from chemical fields, and the subsequent degradation of wildlife and habitat—ill effects that have a resonant harm in the economic sphere—rather than short-term profits for the few who happen to own the farming conglomerates.

Sokol Blosser pointed out that Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else, and she proposed a three-part strategy to address the steps we need to take to truly “green” our economy. The idea is collaboration among small, sustainable business entities (rather than mass conglomerates); the observation and emulation of Mother Nature, that she might inform the way we conduct our business; and acknowledgement of our global interconnectedness and its ramifications.  

“We are a part of Nature; we’re not above it; we’re not separate from it,” she said. “We’ve tried to control Nature and what we’ve done is pollute the planet and cause disease and disfigurement of ourselves and the land.

“Let’s trade our arrogance for humility and learn to work with her. This is the essence of sustainability—not taking from Nature what can’t be replaced and not taking more than can be quickly restored.

“Running my business,” she said, “has proved to me it is possible to work with nature, think globally, act locally, collaborate and be successful, while mindful of the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

“I think of our wonderful farmers markets when I think of this collaboration. Together with their fellows, these small, organic farmers are able to bring their produce to a much larger audience, allowing lucky consumers access to delicious local foods, which are healthier for our bodies as well as-in their embrace of organic farming and reduction of carbon footprint-for our planet.

It is through a careful, empirical observation that we have come to embrace newer, cleaner practices, just as was the case in the development of biodynamic farming practices in response to the near poisoning of European farmland in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

And, in an ever-smaller world, where factories in China redden Oregon sunsets and American over-consumption strains the resources of the entire globe, we can no longer think of ourselves as a society apart.

Indeed, no country is an island, with apologies to those that are, at least in the literal sense.

Sokol Blosser asserts that, “Sustainable organic [farming] is the antidote to this [chemical farming and its effects], with a mindset that looks at the world through a different lens, emphasizing quality and the health of both the people who work the fields and those who consume the product, as well as the health of the planet.

“If we follow the history of the wild salmon, whose stocks have steadily declined, we can see the ramifications of policies that look at particular needs of one sector of the economy at the expense of the good of the entirety,” she said.

Here in Oregon in the 1970s, the Oregon legislature put the good of the general populace above individual interests and passed the bottle bill, the beach bill and the land-use planning bill.

The urgency of today’s crises is our opportunity to do something equally courageous, profound and difficult: to create a lifestyle based on an economic structure that incorporates the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.” This is a powerful, timely idea.

What we need in the face of all this turmoil—military, economic and environmental—is courage and the resolve that we can find a better way. In Oregon, we are uniquely situated to be leaders in this effort.

Poised as we are on the Pacific Rim, looking across the water at the emerging Chinese superpower, who justifiably wants to pursue its own economic growth just as the Western countries have, we can learn from our past mistakes.

We can, together with the Chinese, explore and implement much healthier ways to go about this, while still providing a better quality of life for everyone involved.

These are really not novel ideas at all; they have merely been buried in the rush towards acquisition and conglomeration, the headlong pursuit of increasing profits, regardless of the cost.

Job 12: 7-8 advises, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; or birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you; or let the fish of the sea inform you.” We haven’t lost this connection, we’ve merely forgotten it, and if we are to survive as a species, we must remember—and soon.

Sokol Blosser, whose own endeavors in organic, sustainable viticulture embody the best aspects of this emerging movement, sums it up perfectly: “Nature is our ally and teacher; we will do well to treat her accordingly.” 

Riggs Fulmer is a language-loving wine writer and musician. He resides in Portland.

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