Being the Change: How 3 Porch Farm Takes Responsibility

A guest post from The Seed and Plate

Steve O’Shea takes his environmental footprint seriously. Alongside his wife Mandy, he owns and runs 3 Porch Farm, an organic flower and fruit farm in Comer, Georgia. From the outside, their life seems glamorous. The couple embodies a lifestyle that’s frequently romanticized — a simple life, living off the land. But farming is strenuous, demanding work that requires tireless attention and effort. And following USDA organic guidelines doesn’t make it easier. Instead, it adds costs and complications, all in the name of conscientiously stewarding the environment — not because it’s easy or lucrative, but because it’s what they believe is right. Their products are beautiful, and they’ve grown a substantial following in Athens, Atlanta and the Southeast at large — and still, they make approximately $4 an hour, with much of their limited income being sown back into their operation (literally).  

But at this juncture in his life, O’Shea has no room for excuses. He began studying the environment and climate change nearly twenty years ago and feels increasingly motivated by what he learned. “I was not only humbled but somewhat terrified by the information I studied and am sad to say that all the climate projections were not only accurate, but what seemed like the most ‘drastic’ models of what would happen in the last two decades have been met or surpassed by reality,” O’Shea says.

He’s right: the last three years have been the hottest consecutive years on record, flooding reached record highs in the U.S. in 2016, the ocean is warming and rising and the occurrence of catastrophic weather incidents is rapidly increasing. All of this poses a radical threat to our health, safety and global stability. 

Farmers see this firsthand.

“As the climate changes further and drought becomes more frequent followed by heavy storms that erode soil and damage or destroy crops, we are on the front line of those impacted,” he says. “More importantly though, as weather systems continue their tendency towards extreme and erratic conditions, crop losses become more common and the world's population of 7 billion and rising will struggle to meet their (our) food needs. Scarcity equals high prices, equals famine and panic, equals conflict. Without unified action from not only governments, but each individual citizen at the daily level, we'll wind up exactly where we are aiming.”

For the O’Sheas, organic farming is the way they can combat global warming and be a force for good. “What started out as pure fear in my early 20s has now morphed into a sense of personal responsibility,” O’Shea says. “This farm isn't an occupation to me. This farm is our contribution to the world.”

At 3 Porch Farm, the O’Sheas go well beyond the call of avoiding chemicals and invigorating soil health. They’re also focused on their energy consumption and corresponding outputs. Inevitably, farms require significant amounts of energy between their infrastructure, use of equipment and vehicles for transport. The O’Sheas use solar power to run all of the facilities on their farm and they currently have three vehicles powered by spent vegetable oil (and O’Shea plans to convert a large delivery van to run on vegetable oil this winter). Aside from this, they’re conscientious of what many of us would consider the little things like turning off lights, turning off the heat or air conditioning when they leave the house and supporting local, sustainable businesses. 

 

“I think farmers and all citizens really, need to focus on the whole as much as possible.  Doing one positive thing like recycling, composting, or gardening is good, but if we aren't looking at the sum total of our impacts than we aren't getting the full picture,” he says. “Of course, life is demanding and there are limits on what any one person can do, but the danger is in the desire to shine a spotlight on our positive contributions while neglecting to acknowledge the repercussions of the vast majority of our actions. They all count whether we choose to look at them or not.”

O’Shea is a vocal advocate of these practices, and he doesn’t consider a meager farming income to be a sufficient reason not to make these changes. Instead, they’ve sought out resources to make it happen. “I don't think we can stop at organic production and call it good. The USDA currently offers a generous grant for rural farms to install renewable energy systems. The federal tax credit is still up for grabs too. Between the two, more than half of your renewable energy system is paid for in short order. We have used both programs twice.”

And though farming is clearly a passion for O’Shea, he admits that it isn’t what he always wanted to do, or even what he’d do if not for feelings of moral obligation. “I've discovered that living in line with my worldview is far more important to me and my sense of well being, than pursuing a more immediately enjoyable craft, or one that pays well. I've happily made that trade and am quite glad to have done so. Creating and sustaining this farm checks off every other box on my personal values list.”

 

In the wake of the recent election, there’s more cause for all of us to take individual responsibility for the environment. The incoming administration threatens to derail the EPA and to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, which would undermine all hope that our federal government will promote vital environmental protections. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with a man whose life’s purpose revolves around sustainability.

“With virtually every other world leader and 97% of all climate scientists on the planet in agreement that humans activities are aggressively changing the earth's weather patterns in a way that will lead to greater global instability within the next 10 to 20 years (think Miami underwater in 2030), it is an absolute shame that our government is pledging to block efforts to prevent things from getting out of hand,” he says. “This is not a political issue and no other country on earth is treating it as such. Natural disasters, starvation, unparalleled extinctions, mass migrations and increased military conflicts don't care who you vote for. It's not political. It's about sustaining our life support system so we can all live another day to have our petty self-centered arguments.”

It’s obvious that O’Shea isn’t alone in these sentiments. But the danger is that he’s among the few who will actually take action. To so many of us, taking responsibility for the greater good feels too ambitious. We sit around and wait for the world to change or for policies to change and then maybe we’ll fall in line. All the while, the world is in an undeniably precarious environmental state. Climate change is real. It is already taking a toll on weather patterns and crop production — a frightening reality in the face of a growing world population. 

 

O’Shea offers us a sobering call to action: “Many of us tend to complain about the state of the earth and the looming threat of climate change and we like to point fingers at this political party or that nefarious corporation, all the while we neglect to take stock in our own ability to have an impact and the cumulative effect that billions of individuals can have to make change now. Our criticism of others bears little merit if we don't apply those same standards to our own lives. Our stated values don't matter if we don't act on them and live by them. Be the change, don't just talk about what needs to change.”

To be clear: you don’t have to drop what you’re doing and become an organic farmer to be a part of positive change. Instead, you can evaluate how every element of your life impacts the environment — whether you’re contributing to waste or conservation, whether you’re being cognizant … “There's a hundred things we can all do every day to reduce carbon consumption if we are mindful of our impacts,” he says. O’Shea recommends beginning with the following:

  • Solar on the roof if you are a homeowner and an electric vehicle or hybrid vehicle are some of the most impactful things you can do.  
  • Insulate and seal your home.  
  • Turn the lights off when you leave a room.  
  • Turn the heat a few degrees cooler and put on a sweatshirt or blanket and snuggle.  
  • Turn A.C. and heat off when you aren't home.  
  • Walk or bike short distances instead of driving.  
  • Inflate your tires to increase mileage.  
  • Switch your light bulbs to compact fluorescents or better yet, LED's.  
  • Hang your clothes out to dry.  
  • Cut down on beef and dairy and make sure to buy grass fed local products when you can.  Shop at farmers markets or join a CSA to get your groceries from within 50 miles instead of the 2000 mile average.  
  • Support restaurants that do the same.  
  • Use the toaster oven instead of the big oven for smaller items.  
  • Choose Energy Star appliances.  
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  
  • Filter your drinking water instead of buying disposable bottles. 
  • Advocate for renewable energy.  
  • Speak up to elected officials and your power provider.  
  • Plant some trees.  
  • Buy carbon offsets for your air travel. 
  • Attach an aftermarket bidet to your toilet to minimize paper waste, logging and milling.  
  • Buy local flowers instead of roses imported from Ecuador. 

“There are no good excuses to not take immediate action,” O’Shea says. “If you are a conservative, then it's time to conserve. If you are a creationist, then it's time to respect God's creation. If you are a leftist, then for crying out loud, put your money where your mouth is. If we don't actually step up, extend ourselves further into positive actions that benefit the greater good and not just our own personal interests, then we are the problem. If you hurt and fear, do something good. If you are happy with the election, then help make America great and protect it from instability. We need everyone on this and we need you immediately.”

 

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