THE BLOG
08/27/2014 04:18 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2014

A Field Guide to Sustainabillies

A few years ago I started using the term sustainabilly to refer to any person who was doing something old timey that made a contribution to their personal or community sustainability initiatives. By old timey, I mean that the sustainabilly is involved with activities that are associated with the past. Because many past practices are far better for the environment than the modern, the sustainabilly should be celebrated in our age of excess.

Most of us know a sustainabilly. The urban pickle canner, the suburban farmer, the home brewer, and the off-the-grid craftsman come to mind. However, I am finding that the term sustainabilly needs a bit of refinement in our modern age of specialization. So to that end, I thought I would attempt to further classify the sustainabilly to capture the range of activities one can find them undertaking and to provide field guide descriptions for identifying them.

The Back-to-the-Land Sustainabilly. This type of sustainabilly is returning (or staying) in the rural heartland. They are seeking to transform agriculture from a polluting and GMO-driven corporate system into a more natural system in harmony with their local ecology. How to spot a Back-to-the-Land Sustainabilly? They will have copies of books by Joel Salatin or Forrest Pritchard. They are likely raising grass fed beef or something artisanal while wearing cowboy hats, boots, and flannel.

The Ball Jar Sustainabilly. Canning, pickling, and preserving are common activities that define the Ball Jar Sustainabilly. You'll find a Ball Jar Sustainabilly making sausage, beer, jams, bread and butter pickles, and even artisanal bitters for cocktails. They will also preserve fruits and vegetables from their large bountiful gardens or from local farms or farmers' markets. They can be identified in the field by the crates of produce in their car or truck and by the steam escaping from their kitchen windows from canning baths.

The Coffee Shop Sustainabilly. While it may not seem like this type of sustainabilly does very much, they actually are doing quite a lot on their laptops. They are purchasing carbon credits for their flights, signing petitions, and organizing sustainability events in their community. They no longer have a carbon footprint and instead focus on living sustainably in dense urban communities. In the field they are recognized by three markers: they have a laptop in a hemp messenger bag, a reusable 350.org coffee mug filled with free trade organic coffee, and irony. They are commonly found in hip gentrifying areas like Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Portland. While the Coffee Shop Sustainabilly doesn't fully fit the "old timey" approach associated with most sustainabillies, the fact that they live in dense, urban communities not too different from the Lower East Side of 1920's New York make them suitable for inclusion. Plus, they have similar clothing, shaving, and bathing habits of the past. The Coffee Shop Sustainabilly is different from the related Hipster in that Sustainabillies are not full of ennui.

The CSA Sustainabilly. Urban and suburban farming is in. Many sustainabillies are participating with community sponsored agriculture (CSA). Some become members, and others volunteer or work on the farms. Others organize gospel breakfasts, bluegrass nights, or potluck dinners on the grounds. The CSA Sustainabilly can be identified by dirt under the nails, a refrigerator full of oak leaf lettuce, and a well-used Vitamix.

The Handy Sustainabilly. Some of us are very good at tinkering with things. The Handy Sustainabilly is quite good at converting engines to burn with used cooking oil and at installing home-made solar energy systems. Their homes are very energy efficient and they have apps on their phone that monitor the energy (probably very little) used on most appliances. The Handy Sustainabilly tends to hoard electronic equipment for parts and thinks that recycling is just giving away good usable materials. They can be identified by their tool belts, solder gun, and numerous power generating windmills made out of salvaged materials sticking out of their windows.

The Crafty Sustainabilly. Known for their use of organic cotton and hand-dyed locally spun yarns, the Crafty Sustainabilly can make anything for use in the home. They most likely grew the hemp that they wove into a fabric that they dyed with nuts and flowers to make their curtains. They often support themselves through their Etsy shop. They can be identified in the field by their hand knit socks and hats made with wool from Daisy, a sheep that lives with the family.

The Kitchen Sustainabilly. You know a Kitchen Sustainabilly if you've ever eaten a stuffed pumpkin or had muskrat stew for Thanksgiving. The Kitchen Sustainabilly knows how to cook large and hearty healthy meals using locally sourced food. There are a number of sub varieties of the Kitchen Sustainability. Some may focus on hunting and cooking local game or gathered vegetables, while others may focus on vegan GMO free foods raised in their organic garden. Their common denominator is that they are intentionally bucking the traditional American diet of processed foods. The Kitchen Sustainabilly can be identified in the field by having either a gun rack in their truck or by having a kombucha crock in their kitchen.

The Off-the-Grid Sustainabilly. This is the kind of sustainabilly that has given up on modern society and lives simply off the grid. They may live in an intentional community of like-minded sustainabillies or live solo with their partner and/or dog. Some Off-the-Grid Sustainabillies live migratory lives by woofing or by touring in Phish cover bands. Others live in a van down by the river. They tend to lean Libertarian and can be identified by their need to talk about how great their life is without TV.

Am I missing any other kind of sustainabilly? If so, please leave a comment.