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Sustainability’s Dirty Little Secret

October 1st, 2005 by dk

However you feel about the Urban Growth Boundary, that dotted line allows city folk and country folk to live and work near each other. There’s lots of talk about sustainability these days, but sustainability is nothing new to our farmers next door. We can learn from them today.

Some crops drain the soil of nutrients, requiring complementary plantings or strategic rotation over time. Crops may give quick cash, but require the land to go fallow afterwards. Other crops grow stronger and more distinctive with each harvest. Poplars grow fast and die young. Grape vines gain character as they age.

Every farmer knows the soil is his or her partner. “Take care of your dirt, and your dirt will take care of you.”

Our cityscape is no different. We can plant the hottest cash crop business, knowing the fat years will be followed inevitably by lean ones. Complementary businesses planted on the same plot can fend off economic pestilence and extend each other’s productive lives. Different sorts of businesses can nurture the economic soil better with each new generation. These lessons can be applied to urban planning of course, but more immediately they apply to planning our own families.

Even if you don’t garden, chances are good you’re planting a crop here that you hope will be sustainable: your children. Are we tending to our economic soil so that our children will be able to raise their families here, and the families of their children after that?

Is public safety adequate to protect our children from harm? Are our schools equipping them for whatever challenges await? Are we creating enough jobs to put them to work when the time comes? Will wages keep pace with housing costs so their futures here can be secure? Are we investing so our children will be inspired to invest in this place’s future when it’s their turn?

Unless we ask these questions, any sustainable economy we build will be for other people’s children. That’s the dirty little secret any farmer will tell you.


Don Kahle for a decade published Comic News, which became America’s only free weekly humor magazine. Even now we can’t explain how he did it and he can’t explain why. His latest musings are at and he welcomes your comments at

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