The Lexicon of Sustainability

No matter how educated we are in various areas of sustainability, it’s easy to sometimes get stuck in the terminology of it all, especially since so much good stuff is going on. This is why, in the spring of 2009, Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton hired researchers and assembled The Lexicon of Sustainability, featuring terms from different areas of sustainability — from air to water, manufacturing to conservation, food to farming, energy to architecture and health to spirituality.

NATIVE AMERICAN TRADITIONS: Running Squirrel is a native Cherokee who carries tribal knowledge passed down from his ancestors. Foraging helps connect him to these lost traditions, to sustainable lessons first learned in his childhood.

NATIVE AMERICAN TRADITIONS: Running Squirrel is a native Cherokee who carries tribal knowledge passed down from his ancestors. Foraging helps connect him to these lost traditions, to sustainable lessons first learned in his childhood.

GROWING POWER: In Milwaukee, Will Allen uses a novel approach to create integrated food systems for local communities. He produces multiple food sources, including fish and produce, by ingeniously mixing a variety of farming practices, ranging from vermiculture to aquaponics. His “Growing Power” model provides a measurable level of food security for his community and has been adopted by food activists around the country.

GROWING POWER: In Milwaukee, Will Allen uses a novel approach to create integrated food systems for local communities. He produces multiple food sources, including fish and produce, by ingeniously mixing a variety of farming practices, ranging from vermiculture to aquaponics. His “Growing Power” model provides a measurable level of food security for his community and has been adopted by food activists around the country.

A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL AGRICULTURAL PRINCIPLES: Instead of feeding their animals a diet of grain, farmers like Don Gilardi of Red Hill Farm are turning their animals back onto the land and offering them a diet of grass and alfalfa. The results are richer flavored products, whether it be for cheese, milk, or meat.

A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL AGRICULTURAL PRINCIPLES: Instead of feeding their animals a diet of grain, farmers like Don Gilardi of Red Hill Farm are turning their animals back onto the land and offering them a diet of grass and alfalfa. The results are richer flavored products, whether it be for cheese, milk, or meat.

The initial idea was to publish these terms in a book along with selected photographs by Gayeton. However, the Lexicon quickly grew to over one thousand entries. In many cases these terms were submitted by the individuals or organizations which had coined or best represented what a term meant.

FOR HEALTHY SOIL WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE SOIL FOOD WEB: In parts of the world where human impact has been massive and unremitting, especially in the case of over-reliance on petrochemical-based pesticides and fertilizers, we are losing many needed and necessary species of micro-organisms, putting our soilʼs health at great risk. According to Dr. Elaine Ingham, the food we grow needs to contain balanced nutrition.

FOR HEALTHY SOIL WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE SOIL FOOD WEB: In parts of the world where human impact has been massive and unremitting, especially in the case of over-reliance on petrochemical-based pesticides and fertilizers, we are losing many needed and necessary species of micro-organisms, putting our soilʼs health at great risk. According to Dr. Elaine Ingham, the food we grow needs to contain balanced nutrition.

FOOD IS CULTURE: Continued access to traditional foods plays a vital role in maintaining cultural traditions and insuring the stability of family units among immigrant women. Kitchen Incubators like La Cocina in San Franciscoʼs Mission District offer the means to create new food businesses that strengthen these communities.

FOOD IS CULTURE: Continued access to traditional foods plays a vital role in maintaining cultural traditions and insuring the stability of family units among immigrant women. Kitchen Incubators like La Cocina in San Franciscoʼs Mission District offer the means to create new food businesses that strengthen these communities.

KEYSTONE SPECIES: Our oceans are overfished; what species remain are under increased pressure from global fisheries. Paul Johnson proposes that consumers change their habits and “eat down the food chain”.  Instead of eating large fish like tuna, swordfish and salmon, consumers should consider keystone species like herring, sardines and squid, which exist in greater supply and have less accumulated mercury than larger fish.

KEYSTONE SPECIES: Our oceans are overfished; what species remain are under increased pressure from global fisheries. Paul Johnson proposes that consumers change their habits and “eat down the food chain”. Instead of eating large fish like tuna, swordfish and salmon, consumers should consider keystone species like herring, sardines and squid, which exist in greater supply and have less accumulated mercury than larger fish.

Since the team had gathered so much information, they decided to rethink the project and expand the initial book idea to include short films, an online social network, and a traveling photography show illustrating the terms from the thirteen different areas of sustainability.

LEARNING FROM NATURE: Penny Livingston devotes herself to sustainable land use principles based on observing and learning from the efficiency and balance inherent in natural systems. The results are increased food production, the conservation of resources, and the re-integration of built environments (farms, homes, even towns) into their natural environment.

LEARNING FROM NATURE: Penny Livingston devotes herself to sustainable land use principles based on observing and learning from the efficiency and balance inherent in natural systems. The results are increased food production, the conservation of resources, and the re-integration of built environments (farms, homes, even towns) into their natural environment.

HOW AGRICULTURE CONTRIBUTES TO CLIMATE CHANGE: The single largest source of pollution in the State of California is methane from cows. At Albert Strausʼs family dairy in Marshall, California, a methane digester traps methane before it can enter the atmosphere, breaking it down into solids and liquid fuel that can be used to provide enough electrical power to run the entire dairy operation.

HOW AGRICULTURE CONTRIBUTES TO CLIMATE CHANGE: The single largest source of pollution in the State of California is methane from cows. At Albert Strausʼs family dairy in Marshall, California, a methane digester traps methane before it can enter the atmosphere, breaking it down into solids and liquid fuel that can be used to provide enough electrical power to run the entire dairy operation.

COMMUNITIES INVEST IN THEIR LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS: Consumers can buy shares to support local farms like Anne Cureʼs in Boulder, Colorado. In return they receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. Such arrangements connect consumers with the people who grow their food while strengthening local food systems.

COMMUNITIES INVEST IN THEIR LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS: Consumers can buy shares to support local farms like Anne Cureʼs in Boulder, Colorado. In return they receive weekly boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. Such arrangements connect consumers with the people who grow their food while strengthening local food systems.

The video series, which will consist of 24 video shorts, each for a different definition, will run as an interstitial series of online webisodes and will later be combined into a half hour series for television. Over at the online community, members can easily add new terms to the lexicon using a wiki-like interface, as well as debate existing definitions, or sign up to receive daily blasts of new lexicon entries.

GRASS FARMER: IN HARMONY WITH THE LAND: A Virginia farmer named Joel Salatin shares his vision for a more sustainable agriculture. His well-considered pasture management practices prevent overgrazing and minimize the use of additional feed. How? By utilizing cattle rotation, carbon sequestration and natural fertilization of pasture land.

GRASS FARMER: IN HARMONY WITH THE LAND: A Virginia farmer named Joel Salatin shares his vision for a more sustainable agriculture. His well-considered pasture management practices prevent overgrazing and minimize the use of additional feed. How? By utilizing cattle rotation, carbon sequestration and natural fertilization of pasture land.

RETRAINING... AS AN ORGANIC FARMER: As workforces shift and people move out of long held job positions and re-enter the job market, the option of becoming a farmer has emerged as a viable option. Organizations around the country—like ALBA in Salinas, California—provide the necessary tools to prepare these “Green Collar” workers.

RETRAINING… AS AN ORGANIC FARMER: As workforces shift and people move out of long held job positions and re-enter the job market, the option of becoming a farmer has emerged as a viable option. Organizations around the country—like ALBA in Salinas, California—provide the necessary tools to prepare these “Green Collar” workers.

INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE = MONOCULTURE. SMALL FARMS = BIODIVERSITY: Small, organic farms like Rick Knollʼs eliminate their reliance on petrochemical based fertilizers and pesticides. The results are fewer pollutants, less environmental degradation, and cleaner air.  Cover cropping and other soil fertilization principles also allow sequester carbon and keep topsoil—which is carbon heavy—from being lost into the atmosphere, which also contributes to climate change.

INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE = MONOCULTURE. SMALL FARMS = BIODIVERSITY: Small, organic farms like Rick Knollʼs eliminate their reliance on petrochemical based fertilizers and pesticides. The results are fewer pollutants, less environmental degradation, and cleaner air. Cover cropping and other soil fertilization principles also allow sequester carbon and keep topsoil—which is carbon heavy—from being lost into the atmosphere, which also contributes to climate change.

The traveling photography show features gorgeous photographs with hand-written text that explains each concept thoroughly and gives examples of people who are contributing to the particular sustainable cause. The Lexicon of Sustainability project is currently seeking 100 students, teachers, farmers, librarians, gardeners and food activists to curate the Pop-Up photography exhibits across the U.S. Each curator will host two shows in their local communities, spurring dialog about how people can have a positive impact on their local food systems. At the end of each exhibit, the gorgeous works of art will be donated to local schools.

URBAN BEE KEEPERS: The honey from Ballard Bees doesnʼt come from hives set in remote fields or orchards but in urban backyards right in the middle of downtown Seattle. Elliotʼs mother sees her backyard hive as an opportunity to both educate her children and contribute in her own way to the security of her local food system.

URBAN BEE KEEPERS: The honey from Ballard Bees doesnʼt come from hives set in remote fields or orchards but in urban backyards right in the middle of downtown Seattle. Elliotʼs mother sees her backyard hive as an opportunity to both educate her children and contribute in her own way to the security of her local food system.

A WELL-MANAGED FARM  HAS NOTHING TO HIDE: States across the country are now proposing legislation to make the taking of pictures or video of farms or food production facilities illegal. Robby Kenner, director of the documentary film, “Food Inc.”, feels that consumers have a right to know how their food is produced.

A WELL-MANAGED FARM HAS NOTHING TO HIDE: States across the country are now proposing legislation to make the taking of pictures or video of farms or food production facilities illegal. Robby Kenner, director of the documentary film, “Food Inc.”, feels that consumers have a right to know how their food is produced.

BEING LOCAL: DISTANCE MATTERS: Concepts like “Food Miles” and “Carbon Foot Prints” make people think about what they eat and where it comes from. Becoming more connected with a local food system strengthens a community. It keeps money in a local economy and connects local food producers and consumers. “Food Miles” offer consumers a straightforward way to see how their buying choices can contribute to climate change.

BEING LOCAL: DISTANCE MATTERS: Concepts like “Food Miles” and “Carbon Foot Prints” make people think about what they eat and where it comes from. Becoming more connected with a local food system strengthens a community. It keeps money in a local economy and connects local food producers and consumers. “Food Miles” offer consumers a straightforward way to see how their buying choices can contribute to climate change.

MORE SUSTAINABLE WHEAT: Planting annual wheat each year requires increased amounts of agricultural inputs (water, pesticides, fertilizers, and machinery). At the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, Wes Jackson is developing perennial wheat crops that reduce the use of petrochemical-based products while providing year around ground cover. This reduces erosion and the loss of valuable topsoil, all vital in combating climate change.

MORE SUSTAINABLE WHEAT: Planting annual wheat each year requires increased amounts of agricultural inputs (water, pesticides, fertilizers, and machinery). At the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, Wes Jackson is developing perennial wheat crops that reduce the use of petrochemical-based products while providing year around ground cover. This reduces erosion and the loss of valuable topsoil, all vital in combating climate change.

IN A DOWNTOWN VACANT LOT: Novella Carpenter, author of “Farm City”, contends that people living in cities are not likely to have a direct connection to a local farmer. One solution? To grow food in the urban areas where almost half the people in this country live. Novella converted a vacant lot next door to her Oakland, California apartment into a thriving garden that feeds her family and neighbors.

IN A DOWNTOWN VACANT LOT: Novella Carpenter, author of “Farm City”, contends that people living in cities are not likely to have a direct connection to a local farmer. One solution? To grow food in the urban areas where almost half the people in this country live. Novella converted a vacant lot next door to her Oakland, California apartment into a thriving garden that feeds her family and neighbors.

SLOW MONEY: As speculators keep driving the price of available farmland higher, new farmers like Kasey and Jeff from Lonesome Whistle Farm in Eugene, Oregon are priced out of the market. Socially responsible "slow money" investors help small farmers buy farmland... keeping food local and affordable.

SLOW MONEY: As speculators keep driving the price of available farmland higher, new farmers like Kasey and Jeff from Lonesome Whistle Farm in Eugene, Oregon are priced out of the market. Socially responsible “slow money” investors help small farmers buy farmland… keeping food local and affordable.

To learn more about the project, and to find out how you can be involved, visit the project website or get in touch with them at words@thelexicon.org.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
4 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Love the post Johanna, there is a cafe in Petaluma CA. that has some similar photos, probably by the same artist.

  2. That is a really good picture of my father (Running Squirrel). We appreciate you including him in your wonderful article, with all these amazing people.

  3. Johanna, love these photos. was thinking of buying the collection. do you know the artist?

  4. David, I would recommend getting in touch with the founders at words@thelexicon.org to find out.

    Best /Johanna.

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