We live in a consumeristic society! We have the technology to extract and produce. We have the desire to buy and buy and buy some more. We love new things (at least in the short-term), and we save our pennies for the next best product. We accumulate a lot of “STUFF.”
Whether this is driven from hopes of “things” bringing happiness, an emphasis on material status symbols, or because we no longer have the skills to be creative with our own hands, I’m unsure. I think it depends on the situation, the person, and the messages around us.
What I am sure about is that our family has been just as much a part of this system (guilty!), and we are starting to realize the negative implications on ourselves and our planet. The good news is that there are alternative ways, and it’s beyond time to start thinking about the seventh generation.
Cleaning up other people’s garbage
As we embark on our new farming journey, we have spent MANY hours, days, weeks, and now months cleaning up other people’s junk from our land with no real end in sight! Not just items that are old and unsalvageable, but garbage (literally – garbage!).
Disintegrating plastic, scrap metal, rubber tires, frayed ropes, food wrappers, shot gun shells, PVC pipes, broken down tarps, old TVs – the list goes on! My photos don’t fully capture our findings. We expected to deal with rusted out infrastructure, broken stock water tubs, and even “shoty” electrical work. But, GARBAGE PITS? We weren’t ready for that.
It’s disheartening — we overproduce, we over-consume, and then we send both our trash and our unwanted goods “AWAY” (out of sight out of mind, buried in the earth or stacked in the landfill).
One may argue that we just didn’t know the consequences our actions would have until recent years. Maybe so, but then why is it that the Native Americans who came well before us seemed to understand it well?
We will yield to our neighbors — even our animal neighbors — the same right as we claim to inhabit the land. But we now have to deal with another breed of people. They were few and weak when our forefathers first met them and now they are many and greedy. They choose to till the soil. Love of possessions is a disease with them. They would make rules to suit themselves. They have a religion which they follow when it suits them. They degrade the landscape with their building and their waste. They compel the natural earth to produce excessively and when it fails, they force it to take medicine to produce more. This is an evil.Sitting Bull… on Mother Earth — At Powder River Council, 1877
Stewards of the land
We moved onto a piece of farmland to become better stewards of the land – to grow a diversity of foods and follow practices that ultimately give back to the soil, rather than just take from it, or kill the living organisms within it.
But, before we can truly dig into our long-term goals, we need to deal with the years of neglect this property has endured. (We currently feel like we are farming garbage rather than gearing up to produce better food).
As we sift through old burn piles of metal and plastic, sort through piles left behind that contain materials that shouldn’t be burned, and manage new piles of organic materials that are more appropriate to burn and use for biochar and soil health… we are certainly learning valuable tidbits.
What gets repurposed by us? What gets reused by someone else? What is a hazard to keep and where can it go to be less hazardous? Some decisions have been easy, but many have been really tough.
We, too, are faced with the dilemmas of throwing things “away”! With the demolition of structures that we can’t effectively save, and trash cans full of plastic bags, tin foil, and old shingles we’ve been pulling out of the earth, some of the junk we have to deal with is going to the landfill. Ugh.
With gloves on my hands, combing through building perimeters picking up garbage, I am constantly reminding myself that from here on out our job is to make much more intentional choices. We can’t entirely reverse what’s been done, but we can make different decisions from here on out.
Different decisions including selecting more sustainable materials, refusing things we simply don’t need, and choosing to fix and mend rather than always buying new.
Lead paint and asbestos
Understanding the dangers of less eco-friendly materials was not on the forefront of many minds a hundred years ago.
The existing structures on the lower part of the farm were built in the late 1940s – prime time for the use of lead-based paint and asbestos! With some early assessment and testing we learned that sure enough we are dealing with both – making remodeling and updating on any level that much more challenging.
I was hoping to reuse some of the old built-in cabinets that still work beautifully, use old windows for nostalgic décor, and repurpose old wood siding for eclectic new builds. But salvaging these originals comes with added risk. Salvaging safely isn’t easy.
Scrapping or sandblasting the old paint runs the risk of releasing lead containing particulate matter into the air, which is dangerous for anyone to breathe — especially kids.
As we fill dumpster after dumpster there is a degree of guilt. We, too, are just sending old materials “away” for someone else on some other piece of land to deal with. A conundrum we are working through while balancing progress and conscientious choices.
Treasures amongst the junk
As I paint a picture of negativity (not my goal), we have also found many treasures that will be cherished as we bring life back to this farmland.
A pink bathtub! You better believe this treasure from the old ranch hands home will be used on the farm in some way!
A landline phone cubby (could be converted into a smartphone drop box), floral cabinet knobs, and an old-school pencil sharpener.
Our oldest son has been hard at work refurbishing old tools found on the farm. He restored this hatchet head (below) and carved a new wooden handle for it…
… and his “BEFORE” and “AFTER” restoration of this Stanley planer is pretty impressive.
Uncovering nature’s natural beauty
Not only have we found manmade treasures, but we’ve been gifted with uncovering nature’s natural beauty as we clean up.
The intricate patterns of uprooted trees.
A geode discovered (by our 11-year-old) near a covert next to our driveway!
Animal skeletons that would tell stories if they could speak.
The weathered life rings of a fallen tree.
The sun’s setting rays peeking through a tall ponderosa pine.
Bio- and phyto-remediation
The silver lining in all of this cleanup is that we will be learning how to use plants, fungus and animals to hopefully help us regenerate the earth and detoxify the soil.
Bioremediation is “the use of either naturally occurring or deliberately introduced microorganisms or other forms of life to consume and break down environmental pollutants, in order to clean up a polluted site.” (Oxford Languages)
Phytoremediation “involves the use of living plants and their related micro organisms to remove contaminants from the environment or to degrade contaminants to a lesser toxic form” (permaculturenews.org).
By introducing certain plants and fungus around the areas where we have been removing garbage and toxic materials, we can naturally pull excess pollutants out of the soils and rebalance the life that should be there.
Even in our initial cleanup phase we are benefiting from our animal friends already. As we open up our makeshift barnyard for the pigs and chickens to roam, they are helping to uncover more garbage to pick up. Their pecking and rooting turn the soil and exposes odds and ends that need to be dealt with.
Teamwork that we are thrilled to be a part of.
Not many people would rank garbage cleanup at the top of their desirable job list, but surprisingly, it’s felt incredibly purposeful, rewarding, and an important part of finding a deeper respect for Mother Nature.
We are in this together!