We were able to start working in our field last week, allowing us to get a head start on all of the early season field work. We’ve prepped the new section of our field, seeded our first rounds of outdoor carrots and salad mixes, and set ourselves up to hit the ground running with our first round of transplants that will go out at the end of the week. The weather, always a concern, has us slightly on edge. It’s chilly, damp, and windy. The truth is, though, that at this time of year, when we know we’re about to be extremely busy, we tend to start overthinking everything in our anticipation. So, we know that by this weekend we’ll have lots of brassicas and beets in the ground, they’ll all do just fine, and by the last Saturday in May we’ll be ready to harvest a wide variety for our first markets.
Taking a step away from the granular details of our farm, I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change. This isn’t just millennial angst - this is what’s on the minds of farmers around the country and around the world. Pick a weather event and a record has probably been set for it recently - heat, drought, rainfall, you name it. The flooding in the midwest has been all over the news - livestock drowning and topsoil washed away. Our mentors and friends in Vermont - the owners of Evening Song Farm - first started their farm on the bank of a river. That farm was on a 500 year floodplain - which roughly means that every year that area has a 1 in 500 chance of flooding at a certain point - and within a short time of them farming that land, hurricane Irene tore into the Northeastern US, and that river flooded and carved out their fields, destroying their farm (to read about their story and how they moved forward, head over to their website).
They’re now farming on land at a higher elevation in the same small Vermont village, and this Spring they’ve seen their old farm, again, completely flooded. This is one example among many of what we’re told are once or twice in a millennia events that are happening with alarming frequency. In a recent newsletter, Kara, co-owner of Evening Song Farm, wrote that we as a culture are continuing to fail to, “discuss climate change as the 5-alarm fire that it is for the planet,” and she’s planning to use her newsletter to address the observable ways that the environment around Evening Song is changing as the global climate changes.
I hope to do the same. Having only lived in Chatham for a year, it’s hard to know if I’ll see these changes myself right away, but I plan to discuss the issue generally. It’s hard to confront a problem that we don’t, as individuals have a lot of control over. Sure, we can switch to LEDs and buy more fuel efficient vehicles - but the plastic on those LEDs is still petroleum based (not to mention the coal that’s burned to supply the electricity), and fuel efficiency still implies fuel that, ultimately, we need to leave in the ground.
What we need are not individual choices to slowly change, but systemic changes. Despite the immense amount of farmers markets throughout the country, we do not have a localized food system. There’s been an idea in US agriculture for decades that we can feed the world. As outlined in Eric Holt-Giménez’s In These Times piece, “The Solution is Agroecology,” overproduction of food by US agribusinesses drives food prices so low that small farmers are driven out of business - not just US small farmers, but farmers around the world - and those small farmers join the ranks of the poor and the hungry. Food prices go down, meaning that giant farms have to produce even more food in order to maintain profitability (and pay down their often enormous debts). Overproduction gives rise to the need for chemical inputs that destroy soil microbiology. Land is used to exhaustion and topsoil erodes. And topsoil holds an immense amount of carbon, so erosion is no small issue.
The need for a localized food system couldn’t be clearer. It’s hard to imagine it happening. It’s hard to imagine people starting to farm in the numbers required by the problem we face, especially when the average age of US farmers is somewhere around 60, and while food production goes up every year, the number of people producing that food goes down.
The agriculture system we currently have in the US has only been around for a few generations - but we don’t have another few generations to change it, we have this one, right now. Part of the reason I’m writing about this is because I’m passionate about it, and I believe that, as Kara says, we as farmers have a responsibility to talk about how climate issues affect us. Part of it, for sure, is flailing around, wishing I knew more about all of this, wanting to somehow solve something, knowing that individually no one will solve it. And so I’m going to talk about it. And I’m hoping others will also talk about it. And maybe the more people talk about it, the more will be done to address it.