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Spring 2004

COVER STORIES: BACK TO THE LAND...STILL

 
   
Philip Cook, A61
A maple syrup enterprise provides an opportunity to explore “eco-efficiencies”

Back to Back to the Land...Still

When Phil Cook graduated from Tufts in 1961, he began a serendipitous journey that led to a remote corner of northeastern Minnesota. Today, he and his family live in a densely wooded “unincorporated area” from which he commutes to Duluth for his job as senior research chemist at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He also taps some 2,400 maple trees on 80 acres, selling nearly 650 gallons annually of Superior Highland Sugarbush Maple Syrup. He admits that syrup season consumes a lot of his vacation time and “just about breaks even on costs,” but the hard work is worth it. “It’s like a religion,” he says.

Through this humble endeavor, he’s also learned a lot about the economics of sustainability. In the business world, sustainability is about eco-efficiencies: doing more with less, reducing waste, finding “green” solutions with no or little environmental impact. “One of the reasons I took up sugaring was that it became increasingly important for me to understand the economics of small businesses,” he says. “I wanted to appreciate their struggle.” On a larger level, he’s also troubled by an American economy that wrestles with a dependence on fossil fuel. “I am interested in finding out what is truly sustainable—how we can create a different economy based on realistic use of resources,” says Cook, whose home is heated by wood from his property and electric powered by solar energy. “This is the most supreme problem we have today. But I’m optimistic that we have the human capability to collectively start moving toward new plans before we hit a crisis we can’t overcome.”

Still, he watches with growing concern as development pressures threaten to cut up much of nearby remote areas into ten-acre parcels for recreation homes. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “My life here has become a harmonious integration of family, profession, and nature. But I want future generations to continue to enjoy what we have today. If that is to happen, we must recognize that the use of the non-renewable resources of this planet require sustainable intelligence. Hopefully that intelligence will also include an everlasting appreciation of the natural world as best we can preserve it.”