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Alison Detjens | Why there’s more to agriculture than money

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World file photo/Don Seabrook For growers, making the most money is not the best goal.

We need to challenge our thinking about how our society and the world work by considering a concept called triple bottom line.

Here are some ideas on how to start thinking about the collective in our society. No, I am not a socialist or a communist. I am simply interested in being as kind and respectful to other humans and our natural resources while still being able to accomplish economic goals. Making the most money is not always the best goal, especially if our environment and communal health are harmed in the process.

Operating on the traditional bottom line — input minus cost equals profit — does not serve a large majority of the population and fails to take into consideration environmental and social concerns into economic growth.

Introducing the concept of a triple bottom line attempts to examine our actions with a more balanced perspective. Simply put, the triple bottom line describes the interweaving of social responsibility, conscious use of environmental resources and economic viability.

I would argue that we can all agree that we need this planet to continue to survive. Continuing on the path we have been travelling — disregarding social and environmental impacts of our actions — is reckless, destructive and ultimately will result in failure.

The food we eat is the sum of so much more than the apple. In order to grow food, you need land, water and fuel (petroleum is used to run tractors, deliver food across the world and is the base of many fertilizers). According to a 2012 report by the National Defense Council, 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. The loss in this large amount of food wasted is not solely economic, although that uneaten food makes costs about $165 billion annually, there are environmental costs as well. Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of freshwater used in the United States, and yearly, 25 percent of that water is wasted along with the food.

We are lucky in Chelan County where we get cheap energy from our hydropower systems, and even in “bad years” we have lots and lots of water to help keep this energy production going and feeding our farms, orchards and homes.

It is easy to think we can keep creating what we need, but what happens when the water we rely on to create the cheap energy we count on starts to go away? Perhaps the Columbia drying up is hard to fathom; but we have not had to endure years of drought as in California. The State Water Project in California, which has historically provided most of the water for agriculture in the Central Valley, recently announced it will deliver no water to homes or farms this summer.

In truly keeping with the “think globally, act locally” theme:

  • How can Wenatchee businesses work toward embracing socially and ecologically minded business practices?
  • What is the role of the consumer?
  • Our everyday lives can have an element of triple bottom line — how is what I am doing impacting those around me and the environment I live in?
  • What kind of practices am I engaged in that help or harm?

We are all part of the same community; in striving to be better to each other and to the environment we rely on, we need to start looking at a different model.

Alison Detjens manages the gardens and greenhouses at Wenatchee Valley College. She can be reached at