A recent joy in my life is writing features for a monthly magazine distributed throughout northern New Mexico. Most of Local Flavor‘s articles center on food. Other contributors offer restaurant reviews and culinary advice. My newfound specialty is sustainable agriculture and the preservation of community identity.
In the last few months, I’ve written about Wal-Mart’s entry into the organic produce business; the New Mexico apple industry; how the cultivation of lavender has saved a failing economy; and conservation easements in a village near my hometown.
Sustainable agriculture means finding suitable crops for a particular area that provide a living for local farmers and result in good products for consumers. The idea is to waste as few resources as possible for maximum gain — all the while respecting and replenishing the earth from which the crops grow. It’s "Think globally, act locally" in action.
When I look at the publishing industry monolith, I marvel at its contradictions. Mammoth corporations gobble up big houses while smaller publishers inch toward renown. Writers feel powerless as a group and display astounding individual optimism.
Where’s the center in all this flux — editors leaving, contracts dumped, writers abandoned, the pull of copycatting vs. the desire for originality?
Where’s the most accurate snapshot of our industry?
Where’s the truth in the paradoxical information we get and propagate?
In college, I read Small is Beautiful by E.M. Schumacher. In it, the learned economist questioned the most fundmental assumptions of his field and eschewed many well accepted concepts including: centralization makes industry more efficent and everything is about money.
I’d forgotten the book’s profound affect on my youthful idealism for almost thirty years. Then I started talking to micro-farmers and other growers, to government leaders struggling to maintain the souls of their communities in the face of development, to architects and urban planners.
We writers now live with tremendous conflict. We rush to promote, to find commercial recognition, to network and work meaningfully. We want to make a living at our craft. We fizzle and burn out. Our creativity is affected by all this frenzy.
Part of the beauty of focusing on sustainable agriculture is its emphasis on long-term and continued success. It considers the entire operation — nourishing the ground, planting, harvesting crops, collecting seeds for the future, getting products to market quickly and closeby.
It’s a quiet, but powerful, way to frame one’s approach to the world . . .
I’ve been chided for some of my posts that are critical about the current norms in the publishing industry. Yet, I remain hopeful that if enough of us respect ourselves — and enough of our readers do, too — we might change a few of the truly dehumanizing aspects of this business.
I believe we writers could learn from the concept of sustainability. At the very least, it might remind us to stop and breathe deeply,
to take the time to meet with — and support — the people who matter,
to nurture a creative space and the calm within it to work.
All of these small affirmations will feed our hearts as well as our careers . . . and will help us to find our own truths in the middle of the maelstrom.