Who Cares?

Posted on July 13, 2012

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by Mary Buhr

Ron De Pauw was blunt on June 8 when he said “Stewardship, stewardship, stewardship: if you are sitting there not giving a rat’s ass about anything – at least care about stewardship.”

Ron was speaking to the 2012 graduating class of students from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, and the College of Engineering; he was speaking to them because he was the recipient of a honourary degree in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to agriculture and the world’s food supply – and he wanted these young university graduates who live in a world of tweeting, hybrid vehicles and global crisis to care about the old-fashioned concept of stewardship.

He gave online dictionary and Wikipedia definitions, including “an ethic of responsible planning and management of resources” and “a responsibility to take care of something belonging to somebody else.”

Stewardship is a concept that we in agriculture – and many other disciplines – like to claim for ourselves. I’ve always said that we in agriculture, particularly our farmers and primary producers, are committed to stewardship, to caring for the land that gives us everything. Of course we’ve made mistakes, little ones and big ones, and have recognised our errors sometimes early and sometimes way later than we should have. But the concept of being stewards of precious limited resources was always absolutely integral to our understanding of agriculture.

What Ron’s words made me realise, is how limited that thinking is. He was challenging, not just these bright and flexible young people, but all of us, no matter what age and stage of life we are at. And, perhaps even more critically, he was not just expecting the farmers and primary producers to commit to being stewards; he wants the bankers, the bridge builders, the electrical engineers, the mechanics, the policy makers, the grocery store clerks, the hairdressers, the construction workers, the CEOs and the janitors – every single one of us, in all we do in our day jobs, on and off our job sites – to think about stewardship. And remember, it means “planning to responsibly manage our resources.”

I just re-read that last sentence and realised that, without thinking, my brain snuck in the word “our” in front of resources. But resources are not “our” resources. As stewards we have a responsibility to take care of something belonging to somebody else. We are living on borrowed land, using borrowed water – borrowing from our grandchildren, and from the other co-inhabitants of this world. I don’t know about you, but I get annoyed when my kids borrow the kitchen scissors or my keys or my car and either don’t put it back where they got it or return it in a mess or broken. So don’t our grandkids have a right to expect Grandma and Grandpa not to mess up their home?

The Aboriginal concept of being caretakers of Mother Earth involves using resources today in such a way and to such an extent that future generations are not put in peril. While I always thought I understood that, I hear it differently now, thanks to Ron.

So okay, we ‘get’ the concept, but since less than two per cent of Canadians are primary producers, how can the 98 per cent of us who are cab drivers, doctors, secretaries, lawyers, lab technicians, teachers, waiters, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers be stewards? I hope you have some answers; even after much hard thought my answers aren’t very original, so although I’ll share them, yours must be better and I’d love to hear them. I need to ‘walk the walk’ – in the big and little things I do. Certainly I can reduce, re-use and recycle more at home and in my work – but beyond that? What can I do? I’ve looked at the opportunities in my job, and I figure I can think about the long-term impact of the new programs I support, and insist they are sustainable or refuse to support them. I can insist my home lets the grass be green or brown as the weather dictates, and use windows and sweaters before air conditioners and furnaces. I can talk to everyone I know – and here is where Saskatchewan truly can make a difference, because people here are so interconnected it’s crazy! So, if your neighbour or your sister’s cousin’s brother-in-law is an MLA, or a radio personality, or writes for the local community paper, or is a teacher or coaches soccer - tell them about stewardship! I can blog, you can email, she can tweet – talk the talk and walk the walk until we’ve all heard the word. We can honour our parents and ancestors by living in the shadow of our descendants.

The answer to who cares? I can only say: I care. Thank you Ron, for reminding me. Stewardship!  

Dr. Mary Buhr
is Dean of the College of Agriculture & Bioresources at the U of S