An Interview with a “Modern Day” Farmer

Living a more sustainable lifestyle is based on higher principles.

An Interview with a “Modern Day” Farmer

      Ed Perkins owns Sassafras Farm in New Marshville, OH. He and his wife, Amy, live in a small  house on the property. They have pledged to live simply and work close to the land. They collect rain runoff for their water and also have an outdoor pump they draw from, most of their power comes from the solar panel on their property and they use 800 watts less of electricity than a typical American household, and additionally, they sell their organic produce for great price at the local Athens Farmers Market. They are true sustainable agriculture practitioners.

      Looking for something different to do this past Spring Break, I found myself on an Alternative “Exploring Appalachia” program. One day was spent volunteering on Sassafras Farm. According to Ed, the three hours the six members of our group spent helping him saved the farmer three days’ work! I was intrigued not only to learn how much work this sustainable farmer puts forth, but also mesmerized by the steps the farm has put in place to be environmentally friendly. After being charmed by the great efforts of this lovely couple, I held an interview with Ed-below are the details of our conversation. I challenge you to try not to be blown away with their wonderful way of life.

Q: What sustainable efforts are in place on your farm in New Marshville?
Ed: The most prominent feature of the sustainability efforts at our home is the PV system.  It is a 1.8 Kwh system, grid-tied and just this winter we added a battery back-up.  So now when the grid is out we have electric from the batteries and PV panels.  Averaged over the year this system provides most of our electricity.  The average Ohio household uses 1000 Kwh a month.  Our usage is usually under 200.  So the key is to reduce usage with efficient appliances and just using less.  For water we are self-sufficient with cisterns to collect rain water and a well.  With conservation, it is enough water for our needs. We heat the house with a wood-burning stove using wood cut on the land. Waste management includes recycling, composting, burning and one or two trips to the landfill a year.  The area where we are lacking most is transportation – we have to drive a lot.  My pickup truck is essential for the farm getting produce to market but does not get very good mileage.  My wife Amy drives a Prius with around 46 mpg.  I ride my bike to town very occasionally.  We hope to get a hybrid/electric car someday.  It will be charged partly by solar power.

Q: Why you are dedicated to your sustainable efforts?
Ed: Hard to answer.  My Amy and I were both OU botany students in the 70’s – the beginning of the environmental movement.  Our mutual interest in environmentalism brought us together and we were committed to living the best we could from the start.  It just makes sense.  How can anyone justify living a wasteful extravagant lifestyle at the expense of the future generation, including our 2 granddaughters?  Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Q: What are the difficulties you face in undergoing your sustainable efforts?
Ed: Our consumer culture is predicated on convenience, comfort and entertainment.  Living a more sustainable lifestyle is based on higher principles.  Living this way is more work and not always comfortable.  For example we don’t have AC.  We use fans when needed, close the house in the day, open and run a whole-house fan at night, shade the house as much as possible.  In a heat wave it is certainly less comfortable than AC.  Heating with wood is a lot of work.  But we do have most of the modern conveniences at a fraction of the energy use.

Like our efforts at sustainability in the house, trying to farm like this is more work.  It is easier to open a bag of fertilizer than make compost.  It is easier to run a roto-tiller than work the beds with hand tools.  Sometimes I am sorely tempted to use insecticides when a pest cannot be controlled by organic methods.   It comes down to sticking to the principles.

Q: Why should other people be concerned about sustainable farming and what can they do to practice these efforts in their own lives?
Ed: People should be concerned about sustainable living and farming if they want to leave a habitable planet for the future generations – our children and grandchildren.  What should they do?  Make one change in your life at a time, stick with it until it becomes normal and routine.  Then take another step in your life toward sustainability.  Examples:  Buy locally grown foods as much as possible, eat less meat and only from local pasture raised animals.  Recycle.  Ride a bike or take a bus as much as possible.  Replace incandescent with CFC or LED bulbs.  Keep making these changes and never go back to the old way.

But living and working in this way has its rewards.  It is endlessly interesting and challenging trying to figure out how to be less wasteful, more efficient, more self-reliant.  Having a conventional job and living in a typical home would drive me crazy. Our lifestyle seems perfectly normal and routine to us, not something unusual.  And it shouldn’t be.  More sustainable living should be the norm and someday it must be if we are to survive.

In the English course the authors of this blog are in, we often explore writers and explorers who have taken efforts toward sustainable living. We have read countless books and articles that articulate a similar theme as this interview with Ed: How can others justify extravagant lifestyles at the expense of future generations? The answer is always is not justify and change must take place. My purpose of holding this interview was to provide a tangible, real life example of someone who is living the lifestyle we have read about week after week. Now that you have heard th words of Ed Perkins how did you fair in my challenge? Charmed, right? Take his words to heart—and support his efforts by stopping by his booth (identified by a sign labeled Sassafras Farm at the Athens Farmers Market Saturday mornings.

What to get more of Ed and his wife, Amy? Check out this slideshow of images of their farm compiled by Julia Marino:  http://2008.soulofathens.com/story/159

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