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Changes in society must start at home
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Ours is a society obsessed with convenient buzzwords, and for good reason. Think of the convenience; consider the ability to lump entire social movements, political ideologies and religious views into one or two words. Heck, I'm a busy guy - I don't have time to go out and learn about something, when I can just dismiss it in a fragmentary huff.

Let's talk about American society's buzzword No. 1 - "Going Green." Realize the money and effort that has been invested in advertising, marketing and campaigning, all on the notion of "going green." If you can smartly use the term, it is a literary golden goose. Why, I as a dairy farmer could come up with some spurious statement like, "In these challenging times, we must put the state of the environment ahead of our own self-interests. This is why I am pursuing a new green initiative, out here on the farm."

You automatically assume that I am investing in a manure digester, or a wind turbine, but in reality I just bought a new John Deere forage chopper. One then must ask the question, what does it really mean? Should we maybe be able to define a term, before accepting it as common knowledge?

You see, "going green" can mean something totally different, depending on who is using the term. One of my relief milkers proudly talks about the next pickup truck he is going to own, preferably jacked up, loud exhaust and chipped diesel engine. I joke, since he is in high school, maybe he should get something a little more fuel efficient, and therefore affordable and responsible. His instant response is that he plans on using the truck to "go green." There is a diesel fuel additive that makes a vehicle spit out green exhaust, which he will use every time he passes a Prius. Well, I still learn something new everyday.

You may or may not know it, but there is a similar buzzword floating around the agricultural industry. The term "Sustainable Farming," just like "going green," has permeated our vocabulary. In fact, what prompted this article was a flyer I received in the mail. The flyer was an advertisement for a robotic milking setup. Featured were glossy photos of happy cows, integrated computer readouts and an economic forecast of profitability for your farm. On the top of the flyer was a logo, which read "Sustainable Dairy Farming."

Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against robotic dairy farming. I've actually heard wonderful things about robotic milkers, from the farmers that use them. I just have to ask, if the power goes out, is the robotic milker still sustainable?

I have always believed that issues and movements must first be solved at home, at the grassroots level, before they can be tackled at the national and international level. If people want to talk about sustainability, there is an interesting feature of farming that typically goes unmentioned. You see, a typical household will have at least one junk drawer, a place where odds and ends accumulate without rhyme or reason. A typical farm will have at least one junk building - an entire shop, garage, or machine shed filled with odds and ends, typically scavenged over the course of generations. My farm is no different, but trust me - the machine shed is not the type of place you would ever go on a first date.

Bear in mind, the paraphernalia that clutters my machine shed is not "garbage," in the typical sense. Everything there is stuff that is perfectly good, I just don't have an immediate use for. Let me use a couple examples, maybe this will clarify:

I recently needed a 25-foot swinging corral gate, to separate cattle. The only problem is, that you cannot buy a 25-foot swinging corral gate. So, I built one. Using a welder, my brain, and various scrap iron from the machine shed, I now have a Frankenstein gate, courtesy of a frame from an old silo unloader, steel bars that used to be stanchions, cattle panel from a calf barn, cable from a silo reel, angle-iron from a discarded side rake, all mounted together on a hardened steel shaft that came out of a baler. And, it works.

Additionally, my dad and I just built a series of bi-fold windbreaks to protect my girlies from the winter chill. They were constructed out of wood stock salvaged from a bull shed, hinges saved from a barn restoration, and hung using silo rod that was just sitting in the shed, begging to be used. And, they work.

To me, this is sustainable. I'd even go so far as to call it green, since nothing on the farm gets thrown away unnecessarily. That which is thrown away, is sold to a salvage yard, melted down, and ultimately reused. Now, if only the stuff in my machine shed was categorized and organized, but I doubt it is possible to live long enough to see that happen.

So, now that we've explored some terms, let's close by going green. Like I said, the secret to solving worldwide problems starts right here, at home. If we want to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, don't leave your car idling in the parking lot. If we want to reduce our energy consumption, turn lights off that are not being used. Solving these problems does not require massive legislation on emission standards or light bulbs.

Besides, the next time you purchase a pack of energy-efficient CFL bulbs, just remember that in order for them to be affordable, they had to first be manufactured in a country that shrugs environmental regulations and human rights, and then shipped to the United States via a container vessel that burns 40,000 gallons of fuel per day. Even at this point, they have yet to be trucked from the port to a distribution center, and then your store.