The term “social sustainability” has recently entered my lexicon. Over the past two years, I’ve been kicking around this term as part of a Vermont SARE professional development training for UVM Extension educators.
The topic emerged from discussions with colleagues about the whole meaning of the three-legged stool of sustainable agriculture. It seems like we’re often pretty clear about two of the legs—profitability and protection of our natural environment. But what about that third leg, i.e., quality of life or what I call the third “P”…as in People?
The “Social Sustainability on the Farm” training is helping us (Extension educators and other agricultural service providers) better understand the dimensions of social sustainability—entrepreneurship, farm succession, community integration, quality of life, and equity—and how we might incorporate insights gained into our work with farmers.
The best part of this training project has been the approach—we are learning how social issues affect farm families from the farmers themselves. Getting out on farms and hearing from Vermont farm families as our training instructors has been amazing; I feel really, really lucky to live in a place with such smart, articulate, and generous farmers!!
Lessons learned to date have included the importance of communication and mutual respect, the value and valuing of community, good labor and neighbor relationships, values-based goal setting, and taking time to enjoy family / having fun!
For me, it has also been incredibly inspiring to connect with the amazing women who have hosted us on their farms. These farmers/moms/wives/daughters are exceptional business, family, and community leaders. I have greatly appreciated the wisdom they’ve shared with us.