When I was a primary school student my dad and I started a far too ambitious organic garden at home. I didn’t appreciate the lessons that time would teach me, until I looked back and saw how it shaped my choices going forward. Going out, watching the tiny specks of seeds spout into tiny specks of leaves I learned to take pride in recognising the different types of vegetable by leaves alone. That pride grew slowly with the seasons as our garden grew and my understanding and appreciation for nature deepened. I was learning to love life on land (SDG 15). I learned to cherish the ladybirds I found munching aphids, my mini helpers. I learned where to walk to avoid disturbing the ants’ nest in the back of the garden. I learned patience and respect for the time and effort that goes into the food on my plate.

I never lost that love, but as I got older, I lost that tangible connection to the living planet around me. Our modern lives are so busy, it’s easy to feel distant from the cycles of nature. We live in a mentality of growth and demand ever-more from a planet that has very clear limits. We need to learn to respect those limits and live within them. The concept of sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12) needs to be more than a title we put on the things we make and the food we grow. We need to live and breathe it.

To produce sustainably is not to suffer loss or be diminished as I think people sometimes fear. We are currently digging the ground from beneath our feet to pile it in front of us and call it progress. That is not sustainable, nor would I call it progress. If we can step back from how we currently produce and consume, we will notice the abundance of paths to sustainability that surround us. I saw one of those paths when I was working on my project in Ecuador.

Working on the farm in Quito, I was transported back to my childhood garden and the importance of local, sustainable food. Growing organic vegetables and harvesting water to drip-irrigate them later, the women on the farm were doing something essential. They were making space for nature. They were growing a thriving farm within the bounds of what the soil and the climate could support. By selling the food minutes after it was picked at the farm gate, they were building a local community, and community is what we need in the times we’re in and the future we’re facing.

Partnership for achieving our shared goals (SGD 17) is essential in building communities that can co-operate and function in a time of climate and political change. At a small level, I saw this in action at the farm. One morning with the sun beaming down on us, myself and one of the ladies from the farm took our wheelbarrows and rolled them through the neighbourhood to the local carpentry shop. There we filled our reused chicken feed bags to the brim with sawdust to use for the guinea pig pens. In a cycle of true sustainable production, we have to look to these local solutions. If we want to build a circular economy that can sustain and replenish itself, we need to stop looking at the story of stuff as one that runs in only one direction. The only way for SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) to be in any way sustainable, is if we make what we produce and consume part of a circular economy that can sustain itself without needing continued extraction of finite materials, and continued destruction of finite habitats. We need to look at the world in the same way nature does, as a cycle. As more than just ‘resources’ but as small fragments of a great whole. Because that is how the planet works, as a closed loop system. If we want to truly be sustainable, we need to do the same.

My journey has taught me that everything is connected. Being on this project in Ecuador taught me a great deal about life on land (SDG 15), life under water (SDG 14), climate action (SDG 13) and sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12) but it also taught me to see that all the SDGs are connected, as we all are, in a cycle of learning and growing.

This may seem like a rambling way to make a point about building sustainable systems of production but bear with me. Just like a circle, I’ll come back to where I started. With a connection to the earth and a lesson in living with other species rather than in opposition to them. If you’re a parent, share the world out there with your children, because there could be so much life outside our concrete walls if we are willing to welcome it. Our biosphere is in trouble and we need to act to help it. Go to your local wildlife reserves and see what’s there. Look up and listen to the spring songs of birds. You don’t have to be a parent or a teacher to share your knowledge and passion for the world. And by letting others see what an incredible place we live in, you are helping foster the respect for the planet that we need in these troubled times. And that is what I call a quality education (SDG 4).

So, I suppose my point would be; start something, anything. Grow a garden, plant flowers for the pollinators that give you food, leave the dandelions growing in your lawn (Who doesn’t love a splash of yellow on a grey day). You don’t know where that garden might lead you. It could plant a passion in your heart that grows into a story that stretches across oceans. It could change your world.

So, go out and do it.

About Author
Name: Aoife Hughes
Volunteer Sending Agency: EIL Ireland
Award: Silver
SDG: 12