Sustainable Songstress Sue West’s Rural Revival

I’m not sure what to call this musical genre: green bluegrass? Low carbon country? Whatever it is, I love it, and I think a lot of other people would embrace Wisconsin singer Sue West’s green-tinged, gospel-flavored folk music, too; it’s an authentic, timeless kind of music that hugs you back. As one fan wrote in an open note to Sue on CD Baby: “Listening to your music is like being rocked by strong arms.”

No doubt West’s own arms are pretty strong, since she makes her living as a sustainable farmer. When she’s not busy picking her guitar you might find her picking berries, particularly the wild ones for which her website, Wild Fruit Folk Music, is named, as is her first CD, Wild Fruit, of which she wrote:

I enjoy writing and recording songs about life here in rural Wisconsin. You may know me as the "Egg Lady." Life on the Rush River with my hens and my dawgs is full of poetic moments. I have captured many of them in the songs that I share through my performing and my cds. If you have any curiosity at all about what fills the thoughts of your local organic egg producer, look no further.

West’s a stellar example of a locally oriented eco-entrepreneur/artist, making a living by sharing the fruits of her labor, literally and figuratively. Her website offers such sustainably produced products as homemade beeswax hand balm and her own home-roasted coffee made from certified organic, fair trade Mexican Altura Chiapas. She sells the coffee “handground…in re-used recyclable bioplastic produce containers,” or, if you prefer to grind your own, the “whole bean is sold in homemade cloth bags made from "rescued" shirts.”

She’s just as eager to share her horticultural knowledge as she is her music and farm products; as a certified Master Gardener, part of her mission “is to learn about plants and to teach people what I have learned. As I research the big topic of native plants and permaculture, I will share my learning here.”

Somehow, in addition to doing her farm chores, making her balms and coffee, studying permaculture, and writing/performing her music and poetry, West also finds the time to cook, and to write about that, too:

As I worked in the kitchen tonight, I mused over the many newly-taught micro-decisions one faces when attempting to live green. Do I grab the easy canister of herbs from goodness-knows-where, or take time to go in the other room with scissors to tackle the rosemary shrub? Do I boil up some Kr*ft mac-n-cheese, or start peeling potatoes? Burger for protein, or some slower-cooking lamb grown by a neighbor?

Grandly, we think globally, act locally, but now, simply but powerfully, we cook at home. This choice can really rack up some good karma fast. We decide where and what to buy, how to make it, what should be done with the refuse of our feast, what the serving size will be, and with whom we shall share the bounty. If we eat out, we look for chefs that are making the same kinds of decisions, with the same concerns.

I’ve never been to Wisconsin, don’t know that I’ll ever have a chance to go, but thanks to Sue West and her determination to share the “peace, joy, and healing” that she finds “in nature and in my own sustainable farming efforts,” I can be transported to a rural community with whom this diehard New Yorker has more in common than conventional wisdom might suggest. And after all, who’s more in need of a soothing sustainable soundtrack than us harried city dwellers? Not to mention the beeswax balm; my hands are perpetually chapped from all the wringing.

Originally posted on