Supporting Sustainability – In Business and At Home

For Dave Lea, sustainability is about more than recycling. It’s about community; it’s about the future; and it’s about common sense.

That’s how Dave and his wife Renny run their business, Sweetie Pies. They put sustainability in practical terms, so people can relate.

Dave and Renny Lea of Fish Creek aim to live a sustainable lifestyle both at their home and their business Sweetie Pies. Photo by Len Villano.

“In order to have a good business plan you need to have raw materials and a planet on which to build your business,” Dave said.

Nothing shows how key sustainability is to Sweetie Pies better than the life of a cherry that goes into one of their pies.

The cherries are local, from Hyline Orchards in Fish Creek. The juice drained from the cherries is saved and taken back to Hyline, where it’s used to make other products like cider and jellies. Then, the Leas take the pits home and dry them in the sun, eventually putting them back in the Sweetie Pies pellet furnace to heat the building.

Sustainability also reigns at the Lea home, a farmhouse tucked behind downtown Fish Creek. They dream of turning their backyard into a permaculture garden, or one filled with perennial plants that will take care of themselves. They already collect water in rain barrels for dry spells and want to plant along the routes where water runs to the nearby creek.

And they plan to do it all without disturbing the wildflowers that cover the land.

The Leas home uses passive solar technology. The sun enters through the windows only during winter months due to the roof overhang, and it warms the concrete and stone floor, radiating that heat throughout the night. Photo by Len Villano.

“Our basic project is to incorporate the natural beauty of our little plot of land with productivity in a way that doesn’t interfere with either one very much, and in a way that doesn’t require working the land the way a normal farm does,” Dave said.

Reducing human impact on the Earth is an important aspect of the sustainability movement, which Dave said differs from the environmental movement. The environmental movement focuses on the destruction of the Earth and attempting to preserve the planet so it looks like humans were never here.

“The sustainability movement realizes that that’s not really possible, that human beings are an intrinsic part of the natural world, and our encroachment is like the ants building an anthill,” Dave said. “We need some sort of shelter, and we need to feed ourselves, and we have other activities.”

Dave describes our sustainability crisis like a “canyon” graph. Picture two lines – one representing the Earth’s natural resources and the other representing human population and consumption. As resources become more polluted and scarce, that line slopes down. As human consumption and population grows, that line slopes up.

If the trends continue, eventually those lines will meet, and there won’t be enough resources to sustain our consumption.

“There are limits to the way we encroach on the environment that can’t be overshot, or else we’ll be in trouble,” Dave said.

While the Leas use a pellet stove to burn dried cherry pits at Sweetie Pies, Dave chops firewood in their backyard for wood burning stoves at home. Photo by Len Villano.

The sustainability movement aims to keep that from happening. The focus is directed at leveling out those lines by preserving natural resources and reducing consumption, so there’s enough for the future.

Dave is chairperson of Sustain Door, a group that tries to promote sustainability throughout Door County. The group hosts educational sessions, hosts an annual highway cleanup on a portion of Highway 57 and puts on an annual Sustainability Fair.

The Leas believe Door County is already on track to becoming a sustainable place, no matter how many solar panels or windmills power the peninsula. We’ve already got strong communities, and that’s the first step.

“Every little town has an identity; and, one of the most important things is for local communities to retain a sense of place and a sense of community and a sense of cooperation, so people can help themselves when difficulties strike,” Dave said.

But we shouldn’t wait for difficulties and disasters, Renny said. We should try to prepare our community to become self sufficient before a crisis.

“You don’t need to go through catastrophe in order to have a better life at the end or in order to make real meaningful changes,” Renny said. “It doesn’t have to be that way, but so often it happens that way because people don’t want to accommodate their lifestyles.”