andoverThe lines between town life and country life are often blurry in England. Large cities like London or Birmingham excluded, to some degree town life is country life, and those who live and work in the small villages that dot the green and verdant land of that little island often do not feel as if they live in a town, even if they can hear their neighbor’s toilet flushing in the pre-dawn hours and the local pub is only a hop, skip and an unsteady jump down the road.

Consequently, things that we as Americans compartmentalize as either “country” or “city” (and never the two shall meet) exist in harmony with one another in many of these small towns and villages –­­­ and never is this truer than in the garden. The smallest suburban plot has room for vegetables and often a few laying hens to supply a family with fresh eggs.

Compost piles are fairly standard. Gardening and food preservation are not considered expensive hobbies, but a necessity for many; and people are encouraged not only to cultivate their own land, but to work an allotment (or community garden) if space is available, where individual plots can supplement a family’s fresh food intake.

cabbageMost importantly, if you choose not to grow your own vegetables, keep a couple of chickens, compost your bank statements and generally live your suburban life in a non-suburban way, it is more than likely that you will not frown upon your neighbor who does – nor indeed try and slap a zoning restriction upon him; and this cultural acceptance of the tenets of sustainability makes this particular American’s heart sing and her little feet do merry dances.

Were you to knock on my door in the middle of the afternoon and be invited in to sit with me for a chat over a dark cup of coffee at my kitchen table, you would soon discover that I feel very strongly about the need for a greater awareness of sustainability in each and every home in America – and particularly in suburban America. And I don’t mean ‘sustainability’ in that inch-deep way that is so popular right now.

As you sipped your coffee and tried to get a word in edgewise, subjects like “composting,” “urban chickens,” and “food preservation” might drift over the plank boards and with any luck make you think about things a little bit differently.

My words might surprise you. I am not a classic hippie. My piercings number two, and are rarely daring. I have no less than three pairs of pressed wool trousers hanging in my closet and if I hunted around for awhile I probably could find an incriminating photo of me at a white-tie ball in my early twenties. I am a bit of a dichotomy I’m afraid – and I’m constantly looking around for examples of people not only living within their means, but living beneath them.

applesTime and time again, such people not only seem to have a profound respect for where their food comes from, but for the part that they themselves can play in bringing it to the table. Eating locally shouldn’t merely be a fad promoted by macchiato-sipping marketers in far off cities that we all follow until a talk show host tells us what the next cool trend will be.

It shouldn’t be a matter of picking up an organic packet of sensitive coffee beans packed cleverly in rustic twine – and by doing so, think we’re contributing something profound to the environment. It should be deeper than that – a natural way of approaching your life in a very unnatural world – and it can start in your very own garden.

My brief time in England has only reinforced my desire to share this awareness with others and to promote simpler living and sustainability in little ways to people who have never thought this way before. From one side of my kitchen table I have seen both those who feel called to this way of life, and those who stare back at me with glazed eyes as one hand fingers an extensive collection of keychain grocery cards.

I understand. In a world of fast food, instant microwave meals and family dinners that take place in four-wheeled dining rooms, I might very well be an anachronism.

But there is also a teensy, tiny possibility that I might be talking sense.