Marc Santos (left) and Jessa Madosky (right), the owners of Sustainability on the Side.
The longer I have been cooking, the deeper my interest has been in discovering where & how our food is sourced. Where is our food sourced from? Who’s producing it? What types of mechanisms are being used? Are the food cultivation methods ethical & sustainable? These are the type of questions I am curious about. As someone who is also an Urban Planner, I am especially curious about the how land use and locality connect with the food that is on our plates. For these reasons, I am proud to introduce the first feature of Farm to Spork, a new series where I highlight the players involved in the food systems process.
In this debut of Farm to Spork, I would like to introduce you to Jessa Madosky and Marc Santos. Jessa Madosky is an Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Tampa. Marc Santos is a graduate student pursuing his Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of South Florida. Aside from their work in research & academia, these two are the owners & founders of Sustainability on the Side. From managing a homestead operation to creating jewelry from ecofriendly material, Sustainability on the Side is a Central Florida-based business that puts environmental stewardship at the center of its mission.
Some very happy chickens.
The minute I met Jessa and Marc, I knew that I wanted to get to know this couple on a deeper level. I recently had the opportunity to interview this duo. Before our interview, I took a tour of their incredible five+ acre homestead, located in Lithia, Florida. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the practice, according to Raymond & Toner (2015), homesteading is defined as “Doing the most we can with what we have in an attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible. Growing as much food – produce and meat – on a little parcel of property is just one such example.”
At first glance, the giant solar roof panels and rain barrels serve as noticeable features of the compound. When walking around the front yard, your primary instinct may be to notice the vast array of shrubbery found along the front. On our walk, I learned that the various shrubs and plantings growing about were actually a part of a connected food forest that Jessa and Marc have been in the process of developing. This couple has been growing over 60 different varieties of produce and herbs, including cranberry hibiscus, sweet potatoes, beautyberry, lemon grass, bananas, jasmine, and finger limes. The food forest is interesting, in that it has a blend of native and foreign crops-all of which are grown utilizing sustainable and organic methods.
Beauty Berry plant from the food forest
Touring the backyard was another delight. I was introduced to more plants, including a loofah and coffee plant. I was also introduced to their animals. This couple owns over 30 chickens, one duck, three horses, four goats, one pheasant (and three very happy dogs! J). The duck and chickens are utilized for their egg-laying abilities while the goats are utilized for their milk. All of the livestock are raised in a free-range manner.
**To learn more about the delicious brunch recipe I made using their duck eggs, check ouy my recipe blog post, here**
Once we sat down to eat dinner, it was time to chat about Sustainability on the Side. Below is an annotated version of my interview with Jessa and Marc.
*Note: This interview has been annotated and lightly edited, for clarification purposes.
(Funky Spork) Tell me about yourselves:
Jessa:I’m an assistant Professor who teaches Environmental Science at the University of Tampa (UT) in the Biology Department. I have a PhD in Conservation Biology, and study animal behavior in conservation – how conservation can impact animal behavior and how animal behavior should be taken into account when doing conservation work. I’m the past president of the North American Society for Conservation Biology, an organization I am still active with. I also do a lot of equity and inclusion work in conservation, and am currently working on a National Science Foundation grant for low-income students. I’m a teaching professor with an interest in incorporating active learning and community engagement within my curriculum. I also do service learning with my students at local farms. This is something that my students have really enjoyed. In addition to teaching, I also make & sell sustainable eco-friendly jewelry, goat-milk soap, and sell Norwex sustainable products. In terms of my role in the homestead, I’m focused on the animal side and growing veggies.
Marc:I’m a First Generation American of Portuguese descent, and originally grew up in New Jersey. I’m currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of South Florida. I am specifically studying orca conservation, examining the relationships between different stakeholders involved in either conservation or tourism of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, located in the Puget Sound area of Washington. My undergraduate background was in Urban Planning. I’m interested in helping people navigate the different policies pertaining to Environmental Science.
When it comes to the homestead operation, I come at it with a sense of appreciation for traditional methods and materials, striving to use hand tools and natural preservatives like shellac where I can for example. I aspire to up-cycle when I can, for example, when I used old studs in our walls and lichen-laden fencing boards to construct our master bathroom vanity. I also make wax canvas accessories such as book covers and coats, try to replicate Japanese wood burning techniques and joinery methods for home-improvement projects, and use a combination of livestock and scythe-work for lawn maintenance. I do a lot of construction and enjoy creative problem-solving for our homestead.
Funky Spork: What is Sustainability on the Side?
Marc: I see Sustainability on the Side [further referred to as SotS] on a couple levels. On the surface level, SotS is the jewelry Jessa makes and sells via Etsy, the SotS website, and local markets. SotS also comprises of the Norowex sustainable cleaning products sold, and our blogging platform. The overall spirit of SotS is to try to get people to see and support lifestyles that encourage accessible sustainability methods and the promotion of ecological footprint awareness to the general public.
Jessa:In general, SotS is our attempt at helping people become more sustainable, even when you have a full-time job or doing other things full-time. It’s our attempt to share how to become more sustainable. This is an important aspect to factor, because we launched SotS while having full-time jobs, and SotS was on the side where we had to do this in our free time.
Funky Spork-How long have you both been engaging in this venture?
Jessa: It’s been an ongoing process for both of us. My mom is a huge gardener, and both of my parents are big into the outdoors. While my mother was growing flowers, I was interested in growing food. I was accustomed to spending family vacations going camping, and spending time in the outdoors. My parents told me that when I was young, while on family hikes, I would stop every few feet to look at a tree or a caterpillar. It dramatically slowed down our hikes, but now my parents are happy that my fascination of plants and animals turned into a full-time career.I’ve always been into animal behavior and the environment, and in college, it became an epiphany that I could do environmental work as a career, beyond medical veterinary work, an early career option that I considered. Between undergrad and grad, I was an AmeriCorps volunteer for Heifer International, and became involved in their demonstration farms which taught people about the connection between global poverty, food insecurity, and the work the charity does to provide sustainable food sources.I started a garden in New Orleans and later Marc and I got our first two chickens (I’d had a horse for years). When we later moved to Georgia, we acquired a goat (for milking), and then eventually acquired more chickens.
Funky Spork- Is it safe to assume that you had the livestock before you began this particular homestead?
Jessa: Yes. We moved here (to Florida) from North Carolina with two dogs, two cats, at least one dozen chickens, a horse, and four goats. We also brought a lot of our house plants.
Marc: Yes, it was a challenge when we decided to bring many of our livestock and plants when we moved to our current homestead. Florida, being a state with a large chunk of its economy centered on agriculture, has strict statues that required us to have our goats tagged or microchipped and our chickens to be tagged and inspected by the Dept. of Ag. from our home state (then North Carolina), in addition to the normal Coggins required for our horses. In our case it was well worth of moving with the animals we already invested ourselves in.
The Funky Spork-What sustainable methods are you using in your homestead?
Marc and Jessa: When it comes to energy consumption, we have a 5 kilowatt solar panel system on our barn, which took nearly three quarters of our energy consumption off a petroleum base. Then we invested in a plug-in electric hybrid. We also invested in a high-end high efficiency AC and Energy Star refrigeration unit-two of the highest types of high energy consumption household appliances, and LED light bulbs to reduce electricity use.
Marc:We try to make as many homemade products as often as we can. I enjoy coffee a lot. So I purchase green coffee beans sourced from an organic, fair-trade cooperative in Honduras, and home-roast the coffee beans. Jessa makes our soaps, with goat milk and organic or sustainable ingredients. Since we are on a septic system, where likely some water leaks underground and eventually makes it way into the gulf, we have to be very careful with what types of products are being drained into our waterways. Even with our construction projects, we think about the full life cycle – thinking about the origin of the product, how that product impacts our ecology, and then what happens after the product has been used. It’s a philosophy reminiscent of Life Cycle Analysis but applied to our daily lives.
Jessa:We have switched to cleaning in a way that is free from the utilization of toxic chemicals. We use Norwex sustainable cleaning products for household cleaning and use ecofriendly and biodegradable personal care products. While we are not certified as Organic, we grow using organic methods. As a Behavioral Ecologist, I’m trained to think about how our ecosystems work with the intersections between both living and non-living things. With this in mind, permaculture is one of the ways in which we think about how to create landscaping that’s ecologically beneficial, a practice that we use. Our front pasture that we toured is a permaculture food forest. We also plant many native plants that serve as pollinators. We also have a medicinal and culinary garden, where we grow medicinal plants, and culinary herbs. We also do a lot of hyper-local food: We grow a lot of our own produce and consume the eggs and milk from our livestock. A lot of the food grown that is not consumed by us may be consumed by something else, such as butterflies, bees, and birds.
The Funky Spork- So one of the themes that’s stuck to me throughout the course of this interview is thatone of your goals is to show that sustainability can be attainable for anybody. Since The Funky Spork is a food-centered blog, what are three practical pieces of advice that the everyday person can apply to their lives?
Marc and Jessa: Advice #1) Form relationships with other people and begin talking to others about the importance of sustainability. We know our neighbors, and we have set up an informal bartering system, where we may trade our eggs for other items. You can be intentional about trying to source things from your local community.
Advice #2) Celebrate different cultures out there that know what the hell they are doing with these different foods. For example, take the Moringa plant, where we knew it as a super food where you eat the leaves. We had a get together with some colleagues, and one of the colleagues from Nepal and explained that in their country, the young seed pods of the Moringa plant are what’s cooked and eaten, or used as a water filtration-system once the seed pods are old.
Advice #3) Start somewhere. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are lots of different ways to be sustainable.So find one that sounds interesting to you, and do it! Once that becomes part of your routine, do another one.
The goat Marc is petting is Andromeda…the brown horse is Opae
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