Interview with Sustainable Earth president Steve Bonney 

Steve Bonney is the president of Sustainable Earth, a not for profit corporation founded in 1991 with a mission to support and advocate for small farms, small farming systems and local food systems. On Saturday, June 26, Sustainable Earth will put on the Sustainable Living Fair at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Vendors, exhibitors and speakers at the Sustainable Living Fair will be able to offer a wealth of information on a wide variety of subjects including: plant and herb growing, rain barrels, green roofs, wind power, plant identification, insect identification, solar food drying, solar cooking, preserving foods, nutrition and healing, bio-diversity, the benefits of raw milk, mushroom growing, alternative veterinary techniques and much more.

NUVO: Can you talk about the history of Sustainable Earth?

Bonney: We started out before there was a lot of activity on farmers markets. Farmers were having a tough time trying to sell into the conventional market at wholesale prices. We did several things to help that around the state. One of the things we did was to start an annual Small Farm Conference, and we put that on for about 15 years. Small farmers were so busy trying to make a living that they weren't making much progress in terms of sustainability of their own farm. As the president of this organization, I knew we had to advance things -- that is how the farm conference evolved. For two years, we called it the Food, Farm and Energy Gathering. Still emphasizing food, but really reaching out more to the issues of consumers, such as finding food that is organic or chemical free. Now this year a full transition has been made to a more holistic approach, calling this the Sustainable Living Fair. It really addresses all the issues that families and communities encounter. We haven't really changed our mission, we are still supporting community food systems with food that comes from small farms and we'll continue that. There is a large component of that in the Sustainable Living Fair. You know food and health go hand in hand and we can't really get away from that.

NUVO: Has Sustainable Earth and the fair received more attention from the green movement and things like the slow foods movement?

Bonney: It has, it's been a circular spiral up. We felt like we took early leadership in those issues. But as these other organizations come on board, they are able to re-frame the arguments and are able to reach more people locally so that trend has certainly helped the whole issue a lot. It's certainly helped our mission, because at one point we were pretty lonely.

NUVO: What will the setup be like at this year's fair in terms of vendors, exhibitors and speakers?

Bonney: It's a new design. And we are trying to stay away from the old rigidity of lining tables up and putting pipe and drapes up and making it seem like a more industrial show. We'll have an indoor trade show. We also have a setup for outdoor vendors, and we want people to be outdoors, so we'll have indoor exhibitors and outdoors exhibitors, and demonstrations in both places. And we'll be serving chemical free food from local farms and that will be outdoors. And organic ice cream that Trader's Point Creamery will be doing. It will be a fair setting, where there is a lot of stuff going on. There will be animals there. There will be displays on solar food dryers, and rain barrels, and things that people can either purchase or that they can do themselves in a less expensive fashion.

NUVO: Jerry Brunetti is giving two speeches, can you talk about what he brings to the fair?

Bonney: He has a very clear understanding of the connections on the food chain, of the relations between the health of soils, the health of animals, the health of crops and the health of people. That is something he has been way ahead of the pack on. Understanding that if there is an animal disease problem it can be attributed to a mineral deficiency or a chemical imbalance in the soil. He is extremely capable of explaining that to an audience. The second thing he will be talking about has to do with cancer, nutrition and healing.

NUVO: A lot of the focus of the fair is on food production and the benefits of local, less processed food. Are you hoping to encourage a return to small farms and local foods?

Bonney: That has always been our main focus, to find a farmer, go visit that farmer, buy from them, go out on that farm and see how that farmer is raising foods and suggest to them what kind of foods you would prefer. We are seeing a lot more research about the content of our food, the additives and chemicals in our food systems. There is research that connects that with poor health. We want to be a contrast to that food system. I've always called it a parallel food system, not an alternative food system. We need to develop chemical free food from small farms from local sources. That's building a food source people can rely on. And that is how you affect the other market, you change the market through competition. We want to offer people the ability to take charge of their food system. 

NUVO: In recent years there has been a rise in businesses interested in sustainable living and "green." Do you find some are pretenders?

Bonney: I think there is a superficial level. The word "green" to me conveys a superficiality because I see what people say about that and I don't see a lot of actual backup for it. The term "greenwashing" -- everybody wants to appear to be a "green" business. I don't even like the term because it has no meaning. Green is a color; green is not really an action. To me it's more of a commitment to be sustainable than it is to be "green" because it makes you think about what is going to be here tomorrow, what can we rely on? People use the word "green building" and that term just means energy efficiency. That's all it is, super insulation, or triple glass, but the fact is that there are a lot of other issues with "green building," like where did those materials come from, the lumber, where is it from?

NUVO: Overall what experience do you want visitors to take away from the fair?

Bonney: I want people to see the whole spectrum of elements of sustainability that they can incorporate into their lifestyle. I want them to leave with the excitement to do some things, the motivation and the information that is required to actually implement some of these practices in their lifestyle. Once you break through that barrier of helplessness, and start saying "here are a number of things I can do, beyond setting all of my recyclables out on the curb," people start feeling good about that and empowered they can then get out of this denial that we are in. We have to commit more self reliance to the subject.

For more information about the Sustainable Living Fair go to The fair will take place at the Marion County Fairgrounds on Saturday, June 26 and will last from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is ten dollars, children under 12 are free.


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