by Will Harlan on December 27, 2011
He’s not a tree hugger; in fact, he cuts them down regularly. Nor is he a vegetarian. He doesn’t belong to the Sierra Club or any environmental group. He’s never seen An Inconvenient Truth or read any books by Michael Pollan, though he knows a lot about climate and where his food comes from.
I’ve met a lot of inspiring environmental activists protecting the planet and its people. I have spent time with the Occupy crowd, tree-sitters, and activists who have chained themselves to bulldozers to prevent coal companies from blowing up mountains. The courage of these activists is as impressive as that of gonzo paddlers plunging off waterfalls. But in their everyday lives—where most of our environmental impact takes place—none have as much integrity as my neighbor, Bill Banks.
My family and I live a half-mile up the gravel road from Bill. We live on an off-grid organic farm, with solar panels on the roof of our green-built house. Yet even our solar-powered sustainability doesn’t measure up to Bill’s closeness to the land.
Bill Banks is an Appalachian farmer. He has spent almost 50 years in the same small house that he and his family built. He grows most of his own food—corn, beans, squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, brussels sprouts—using heirloom seeds that his family and friends have passed down for generations. Most of his food is grown organically, although he doesn’t call it that.
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