“Dad, I found another potato! Come look!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 4-year-old have so much fun in an organic garden before. His sister, wearing her best dress and fancy shoes, wasn’t as eager to dig in, but he was practically burrowing in the dirt. I had just shown him where potatoes come from, and he took to the discovery like a puppy to a bone.

As a master gardener volunteer, I help out at the school garden whenever I can. That morning, we happened to have a young teacher and his family visit. Normally, we’re harvesting potatoes and other root vegetables with a crew of high school students, accompanied by moans and groans rather than squeals and appeals. By the time they are teenagers, most kids are experts at curbing their enthusiasm. But despite their best efforts to feign disdain, you can still tell they think it’s pretty cool to pull up a big, fat carrot out of the ground–especially if they sprinkled in one of the tiny seeds to plant the row.

What raises our spirits and is good for our own bodies is also good for our planet’s environment. Making plans to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables (and less beef) is a great first step to putting sustainable food on the menu. As you think about what your family eats each week, how about making Mondays meat-free?

Our backyard chickens are another big hit with the under-five crowd. We rented out our apartment over the summer, which overlooks our henhouse. One of our young guests became enamored with our flock; I’m pretty sure I could have charged admission so that she could sit next to the run to watch our girls cluck and peck. But their most exciting performance is the amazing appearing egg trick–open the laying box, and every so often, you’ll find breakfast. How cool is that!

Growing an organic kitchen garden or raising a flock of egglaying hens might be a great next step for you on your personal pathway to sustainable food, or you might be ready for something that requires a little less commitment, like attending a local farmers market. Wherever you are on your journey to sustainability, here are a few guideposts.


One way to ensure you’re eating sustainable food is to prepare a meal from ingredients you could imagine growing, raising, or catching yourself. In my case, that is a wide range of fruits and vegetables that grow in New England’s climate, eggs that my backyard chickens lay for us, and finfish and shellfish that we can catch or harvest from our local waters and beaches. Not that I actually grow, raise, or harvest anything close to all the food we eat–but I at least have a very good idea of how it is grown, raised, and harvested.

If you choose to eat more than grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and mushrooms, your more sustainable choices include fish and fowl. Once you start eating mammals, especially ones not slaughtered by you or someone you know, then you really need to step carefully to ensure that you’re on a pathway to a sustainable diet.

This might be a step too far for many, but I highly recommend visiting a slaughterhouse (in person or via a documentary) to see if you can stomach the way your food is treated. If you’ve grown up fishing or hunting (or around neighbors who fish and hunt), you’ve probably already thought about humane ways to kill an animal you intend to eat. There are wise and prudent ways to manage wildlife and livestock so that reasonable amounts of meat can be part of a sustainable diet.

For anyone committed to putting sustainable food on the menu, the good news is that we have plenty of delicious choices for how to grow and raise food that delights the child in all of us.

For expert-level advice to become superbly sustainable, visit SustainablePractice.life, where you can subscribe to receive a free action guide by email every Sunday. Fred Horch is principal advisor with Sustainable Practice.

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