Stewardship is everyone’s responsibility

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 University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture and engineering colleges.

He was speaking to them because he was the recipient of an 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, 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 realize 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 also wants bankers, bridge builders, electrical engineers, mechanics, policy makers, store clerks, hairdressers, construction workers, chief executive officers and janitors to think about stewardship.

And remember, it means “planning to responsibly manage our 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.

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.

We get the concept, but since less than two percent of Canadians are primary producers, how can the 98 percent of us who are cab drivers, doctors, secretaries, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers be stewards? I hope you have some answers. Even after much hard thought, my answers aren’t very original.

I need to walk the walk, in the big and little things I do. Certainly I can reduce, reuse and recycle more at home and in my work, but beyond that?

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 either insist they are sustainable or refuse to support them.

I can insist on this in my home. Let 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. I can blog, you can e-mail, 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.

Mary Buhr is dean of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan. This is an edited version of Buhr’s post at www.agwest.sk.ca/blog.