From this 2017 interview with Wes Jackson in Modern Farmer:
If you are working on something you can finish in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.
The whole interview is a good read. I started gardening during the pandemic (mostly native plants and some edible annuals), so the concepts Jackson describes (trying to shift our agricultural practices from annuals to perennials) feel more tangible to me than they would have otherwise. I added Jackson’s 1994 book, Becoming Native to This Place, to my reading list.
I first came across this quote while listening to the January episode of Obi Kaufmann and Greg Sarris’s podcast, Place & Purpose, where they had this exchange:
Sarris: And you know, I don’t want to be on my deathbed and have the next generation say to me, “Well, there’s all these problems. What did you do about it?” And be there, and say, “Nothing.” I want to say, “At least I tried.”
Kaufmann: Oh, that’s so inspiring to me, my friend. You know, what was that, what was that thing that, I just read this wonderful thing. Oh! Wes Jackson of The Land Institute says, “If you’re working on something that you plan on finishing in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”
Sarris: And what an ego to think that you’re going to fix something! You know, it’s very freeing, by the way, to realize, “I don’t have to finish this,” or, “I can’t.” It’s very freeing. You’re just kind of like, “Wow, I can give this up!” You know? “Listen Greg, you’re not going to get an A+ on this one, alright? You’re not going to have a million seller. You’re going to have something that will be connected to something else that, if it’s successful and good, it will continue and grow.”