Monday, October 13, 2014

Small Potatoes and Industrial Food Economics

I decided to write about this subject because of a New York Times opinion piece that came out in August titled, "Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers".  While it may have hit some of us a little close to home, with its photo of three straw-hat-plaid-shirt-wearing lads, bending to pick up rocks in a dry dusty field, it made some good points.  The author, himself a young farmer, argued that for all the hullabaloo of the foodie movement, small-scale farmers are just not making ends meet.  Taking a look at the statistics, he might be right.  US median farm income in 2012 was negative $1,453.  This article got my parents concerned.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, over 75 percent of all farms in the US had annual sales of less than $50,000 ("small farms"), but together they produced only 3 percent of the total value of agricultural products sold.  In contrast, less than half of one percent of farms had agricultural sales of more than $5,000,000 ("big farms"), but these few farms produced 32 percent of the total value of all agricultural products sold.  Farms with sales of $1,000,000 or more -- 4 percent of all farms -- produced 66 percent of the total value.

So there are a few big farms out there, making most of the money, and there are a lot of little farms out there, barely making anything.  And the gap is widening.  Between 2007 and 2012, the number of "mid-sized farms" has steadily declined, while large farms (over 1,000 acres) and small farms (under 10 acres) didn't change.

If you look up "Economies of Scale" on Wikipedia, you'll see a simple graph explaining that as quantity of production increases, cost of each unit decreases.  This principle, with the help of US farm policies over the years, has led to bigger and bigger farm operations in this country.  Big farms just make sense (economically).

A quick walk through the produce section of a Rochester, NY grocery store illustrates how vegetables from all over the country, even from all over the world, find themselves on our local shelves.  And you can bet that most of these don't come from small farms.  Supermarkets rely on producers that can offer quantity and consistency.  HUGE quantity.  And year-round growing consistency.  Cal-Organic grows organic produce on more than 28,000 acres; Earthbound Organics, 50,000 acres.   Earthbound's slogan is "Scaling Organic for Consumers Everywhere."  And certainly, having this many acres converted to chemical-free production is a great thing, as is the benefit of making more organic food available to more people.  But lets look at some of the other realities of big and small.

In the early 1970s, the US Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, famously promoted the mantra "Get Big or Get Out" to farmers across the country.  The policy shifts that he helped set in motion coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.  The agribusiness lobby today is nearly $60 million a year, with the interests of agricultural corporations highly represented.  Thus US policies stay kind to big farms, because big farms can afford to hire big lobbyists and lawyers. 

(Side note: if you're wondering about subsidies, the US gives out about $14 billion a year to farmers who grow things like corn, wheat, and soybeans, but nothing to "specialty crops," otherwise known as fruits and vegetables.  Yep, that's $14 billion of taxpayers' dollars going mainly to help make cheap factory meat, soda pop, and processed foods that make us sick.  This helps the pharmaceutical industry thrive but not so much our local vegetable growers.)
But things could be changing.  Our current Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, in a very recent NY Times article, spoke about his plans to "revitalize the rural economy," by supporting local and regional food distribution systems with $52 million from the USDA.  "Small and medium-sized operations end up helping to generate more employment than commercial operations because of their different distribution systems and their local natures," Vilsack said.  "If you can connect local produce with markets that are local, money gets rolled around in the local community more directly compared to commercial agriculture where products get shipped in large quantities somewhere else, helping the economy there." 

Tom Vilsack brings up two good points about the small farm vs. large farm debate:  employment & local economy.  Almost three quarters of all agricultural workers in this country are not US citizens; half are unauthorized immigrants.  Small local farms often employ local residents instead of migrants, keeping them around for longer and taking better care of them because they depend on them (and they might be neighbors!) 

Working on a small farm could be more appealing to locals, because of the diversity of tasks, chance to understand the bigger picture, satisfaction in feeding their local community, and potential for management responsibilities.  Working on a large farm is likely to be repetitive, specialized, more similar to factory work, and disconnected from the end product and customer.  So larger farms import their workers, who then export our money.  Pay a crew of Mexican workers and they will send the money home to Mexico; pay a crew of local kids, and they spend the money locally.  Small farms really do help revitalize the local economy, albeit in their small-potato ways.

Mud Creek Farm
Earthbound Farms
It seems like the food production industry's natural drive toward higher production, the "Industrial Growth" model that our economic system seems to inevitably follow, often leaves out the local.  Global trade has allowed for multi-national corporations to thrive, for big businesses to benefit, while small farmers all over the world are forced by economic conditions to "Get Out."

But the thing that a 28,000 acre farm misses, and consistently tries to convince customers through marketing campaigns, is the heart and soul.  The human.  The place.

People who work the land they call "home," care about how it is treated.  They may have had grandparents who put everything they had into the farm, into the family, into the community.  They may have grandchildren who will depend on the health of the land, who will breathe the air and drink the water.  A large farm might have a difficult time caring about more than just bottom line, but care comes easy when it's your own backyard. 

Betsy (MCF 2013 crew) is a third-generation on her land, living on a country road bearing her family's name.
Environmentally responsible management is one of the values that small farms offer, a value that doesn't often end up translating into grocery store prices.  Yet it is vital for the future of our soil, water, and ecosystems.

Big farms often have a traditional corporate labor structure, with CEOs and professional managers who rarely step foot in a field.  These people make decisions which get passed down through the hierarchy of people in charge, to folks actually working on the ground.  Farmworkers are given tasks to carry out as fast as possible, with little understanding of the bigger picture, or concern for anything other than keeping their jobs.  Where is the care in this kind of structure?  The executive may claim benevolent motives, a spirit of goodness toward the land, the people, the health of the customer, but at the end of the day, the big house where they live is probably far from the fields that grow their profits.  Bottom line is bottom line.  Big farms are big business, run by people in suits and not Carharts.

Small-scale farmers live in the communities they feed.  They are held accountable in a real way for any negative actions that might harm the community, whether that's mismanagement of the land, people, or product.  Knowing your local farmer establishes a trust-based relationship with the people providing your daily bread.

Small farms can protect diversity of crop varieties, which is important as we move into uncertain climate times.  Large farms often streamline their operations by selecting a few proven varieties with high yield, but more local farm operations can help preserve genetics adapted specifically to certain regions.

Local farms often produce food that tastes better and has higher nutritional content, due to the fact that it's not shipped across the country and moved through distributors' warehouses.  Efficiency often sacrifices quality for the sake of quantity -- are we just trying to survive or do we actually want to thrive?  Is our ultimate goal to be able to eat cheaply, or to feel healthy?

And, last but not least, small farms give urban and suburban dwellers the chance to connect to the land, to our rich agricultural history.  They offer a place for kids to learn about the miracle of turning dirt into food with just a tiny seed.  And to understand everything that goes into that process, learning patience in the natural pace of the seasons, nurturing in the caring hands of the planter and harvester, interdependency with the sun, the rain, the living ecosystem, and gratitude for the planet which sustains them, three meals a day.

Maybe it's time to redefine our food system in terms of values beyond the economic principles that drive us toward more and more efficiency.  Values of a life-sustaining civilization based on love, care, and connection to a place we call home.  And connection to each other.

So, in answer to the dilemma of small farm viability, a Saturday Evening Post article puts it well: 
"This is how organic family farms will survive: by bypassing long supply chains and dealing instead with the people who eat their food."
Farmer Jim Riddle says: "It's a personal relationship: 'If you buy from me, I'll be here tomorrow.  I'll be here next year.  I'll respond to your needs.  We're in this together.'"

(Harvesting small potatoes at Mud Creek Farm)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

No Farmer, No Food - Personal Sustainability for Body, Mind, and Soul

This blog entry is about personal stuff.  Because at the center of every food-growing operation, there's a person, without whom none of the crops would be produced.  If this person thrives, is healthy in their body, mind, and soul, then the larger farm body can thrive as well, and continue to feed us the delicious food we all depend on.

Being a full-time farmer, especially a CSA farmer, involves stepping into a role, taking on a title with which you identify yourself to the public.  Some farmers prefer to do less direct marketing, wholesaling their products so they can stay in the fields most of the time.  But even then, I bet if you asked anyone who knew them, they would describe them by their occupation.  Farming is a "lifestyle" more than a job.

People don't get into farming for the money.  In days past, reasons might have included family pressure, or just plain survival.  But now, mostly, we do it for the love. 

We love to watch things grow.  To work outside.  To work with our hands.  To nourish our communities.  To be around plants and animals.  To feel natural, to feel alive.  To be our own bosses.  To be a part of the miracle of dirt into food.

But all of these lovely things come at a cost.  We open up our soul wallets eagerly to spend what we have:  our time and our able bodies.  If all works out well, we are rewarded by the diverse joys that farming brings, as well as the creature comforts that we feel we need to survive.

Sometimes things don't work out too well, mostly due to time management and financial issues.  When there's not enough money coming in, farmers will often do what they do best: work harder.  And then all sorts of other problems can arise -- from injured backs to suffering relationships.  Just in the few years that I've been farming, I've seen what happens when time and money issues push people to their limits: sickness, injury, divorce, suicide, and just plain burn-out. 

The viability of the local organic food movement depends on us preventing farmer burn-out.

I was curious to hear from some farmers in the area after this cold, wet, summer -- how were they feeling on a personal level?  Was everything feeling balanced?  What would they wish for if they had a magic wand and could have three wishes?  I put a shout-out on a local farmer list-serve and got some response.

Having more time for non-farming activities ranked highly for many farmers.  Time to spend with loved ones, family, social life, time for yoga and stretching, for relaxing.  Figuring out how to manage a "day off" a week... bringing us to another common wish:  more good help.  Hiring experienced farm workers requires paying them more, and hiring inexperienced farm workers requires spending more time teaching them, or suffering consequences of inefficient work and mistakes.  Sometimes farmers can't even find anyone willing to do the work.  It's easy to see why farming families often had many children.

One farmer, a friend in the Hudson Valley, wished that she had someone to cook her meals from the food she grew, so she didn't subsist on potato chips and grilled cheese.  I guess that's the traditional role a "farmer's wife" played, besides keeping the house and raising the kids.  At the French farm I worked on, the farmer's 93-year-old mother cooked us all our meals.

Now that fewer of us are growing up on multi-generational family farms, we need some other kind of creative structures in place to meet our needs.

What can we do to keep small farmers healthy and happy?

Well, firstly, we can pay them whatever they need to get for their products.  Often we see prices at farmers markets that seem a little steep.  $6 for that pint of berries?!!  But now that I've been farming for a while, I understand -- that's just what it costs to grow the stuff.  Plain and simple.  Our food buying senses are skewed because of global trade, industrial farms, subsidies (more next week on this!)  I promise you, the farmer is not getting rich off you.

What if we really can't afford to financially support farmers the way we wish?  We can help create policy change.  The National Young Farmers Coalition is working on student loan forgiveness for beginning farmers, farmland affordability, training, and many other awesome reforms.  Get involved, spread the word.  Lots of opportunity for positive change.

And maybe cook a little extra food and bring it to a hungry farmer sometime.

Well, I promised the personal stuff in this blog, so I might as well hint a bit at my own struggles.  I have been looking for a partner to make a family with.  When you are working all the time in a rural area, it's hard to meet someone!  Farmers don't often go out to the bar on Friday nights, don't have a lot of time to socialize, go on dates, etc.  And meeting someone who doesn't mind the muddy-boot lifestyle is another thing too.

We all want sustainable love lives.  We all want family lives.  We all want food.  Time to remember what's at the center of all this:  a healthy human being.  Now I must end this rambling blog entry and go to the Rochester Zen Center to meditate with friends (join us!

A poem I wrote at the monastery:

I will learn
to practice loving without being loved
or expecting anything in return.

It could be easy
if I can generate a sense of inner love
a fountain of unlimited love
within myself which flows and flows
reassuring me
with all the confidence born up from
Mother Earth's solid body
her hands holding me up
at all moments.

Whether I'm standing, sitting, lying, jumping,
she is propelling me forward toward my

To blossom under the sun
in this big green world.

Yes, the wind can be cold, and the brambles sharp.

But I will continue the practice
to feel the healing honey of inner joy
inner reassurance.

And it will ripple out into the world.
And it will allow me to love
and listen compassionately to all,
even those who hurt me.

To nurture.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Next Generation of Farmers & Land Accessibility

Ruth, like most of the farmers in Western NY here, had a heck of a summer that didn't ever really feel like summer, and some of her crops struggled for it.  She also stepped up to the daunting task of setting up a 300+ member CSA farm from scratch on a raw piece of land.  Land which had been growing weeds for ten years.  Besides all the work of setting up the infrastructure to run that kind of operation (water, electric, roads, parking lot, greenhouse, sheds, walk-in cooler, fencing), she carved ten acres of 200-foot-long garden beds out of a hilly clay-loam.  And then had to grow the vegetables.  Looking at the produce she and the crew are putting on the tables, I consider her a bit of a miracle worker, and a darn good farmer.

I wish that she hadn't had to move the whole farm this year.  But so it goes, especially when you're farming in Victor, NY, the most rapidly developing suburb of Rochester.  I have seen a lot of prime agricultural soil turn into housing developments just in the few years that I farmed here.  In 2008, when I first found the land to rent from an organic-friendly 84-yr-old farmer, the land adjacent to his still looked like a hay field on google maps.  When I started plowing, it looked like this:

No chance for this young farmer to expand production into that field.  The land around the corner, that I passed every morning and evening on my way from home to work, also succumbed to the bulldozer, turning into this in a mere six months:

I would push back tears as I drove by, as week by week I watched the big equipment first push the trees into big piles, then scrape the rich topsoil off and haul it away, then roll out the roads and utilities, then the construction crews put up those cookie-cutter houses.  I know people have to live somewhere.  And people like to live in the country.  But if you build houses all over the fields, does it still feel like the country? 


I could go on and on with these stories.  I've cried while speaking in front of the town planning board on more than one occasion.  The place I used to U-Pick Pumpkins from as a kid turned into the subdivision below.  There is still a huge pile of topsoil sitting there next to the road, the soul of past and future ghost pumpkins, the lifeless mineral remains of a place that was once a growing jungle of vines.  Holding its screened-topsoil-for-sale sign like a strange and desperate hitch-hiker.  I guess in these fast times, everyone is moving around, even the ground itself.  And what does this new community of houses feel like to its new human inhabitants?  Does it miss the faint smell of sweet squash, the footsteps of friends wandering and enjoying the color and ripeness of another autumn's abundance?

When I first drove by that field-pushed-into-mountain pile, and the trucks and machinery doing their "thing" on my old U-Pick pumpkin patch, I didn't cry, I yelled.  It felt personal.

But then, of course, the most personal happened --  we got the boot off our land too.  It went the way a lot of nice fields, especially those close to cities, go:
  1. The farmer gets old, as all of us do.
  2. The farmer's kids don't want to farm, as many of us don't.
  3. The farmer's kids need the money to pay for things like medical bills, as all of us do when we get old and ill.
  4. The farmer never made any money because he was competing with today's global market of industrial-produced food (more on this later).
  5. Developers will happily pay top dollar for the farmer's land, because they make a lot of money selling houses to people who want to live in the country.
  6. Anyone who might be around wanting to farm the land can't pay anywhere near what the developers can pay, so the young landless agrarians move on.
So we moved on, further out of town where the subdivisions haven't sprung up yet.  Pushed to the fringes, the outskirts, where we do the dirty work of turning soil into food, year after year. 

And there are a lot of us young and landless.  The National Young Farmers Coalition's vision is "a country where young people who are willing to work, get trained and take a little risk can support themselves and their families in farming."  When they did a survey a few years ago of 1,000 beginning farmers, land access came up as the No. 2 challenge, number one not having enough financial capital.

The good folks at Agrarian Trust, a newly formed non-profit project aimed at tackling the challenge of connecting young farmers with land, says it quite well:

"Farmland Access remains a keystone issue for the next generation of farmers in the country and for farming as a whole.  In historical terms, the ‘agricultural use value’ and ‘real-estate value’  have never been more polarized. In other words, the value that you can earn from production on the land is far below the value of the land in the marketplace. As a consequence financing of land adds to the the high capital needs of a start-up farm business ( restoring barn, cooling, greenhouses, fencing, pasture upgrades, equipment etc) along with inevitable life and operations costs: healthcare, gasoline, housing. In a cheap-food economy earning enough to pay for these four costs : 1.) land, 2.) infrastructure, 3.) working capital, 4.) living expenses presents a major challenge for new farm operators. Add on to this high perishability, high labor costs, un-predictable weather and a perishable product, you can see why it takes a brave soul to enter agricultural entrepreneurship."

Yet this movement is not lacking brave souls.  They are training up in internships all over the country, working for nothing or nearly nothing, even with mountains of college debt.  They are living off wild rabbits and potatoes, savoring the dirt under their fingernails, and the pride of contributing something meaningful and real to their communities.  They are learning how to take care of the land, while taking of each other too.  What is lacking is a good system in place to help these eager apprentices take the next step of having their own farms that provide them with a meaningful livelihood and financial stability.

The reality is, even though an explosion of young energy is entering the agricultural arena, still farmers 65 and older outnumber farmers 35 and younger by a factor of 6:1 (USDA census)!  

American Farmland Trust reports that NY State has been losing the equivalent of one farm every 3 1/2 days.  Just in my lifetime living in this state, a half a million acres of farmland turned into subdivisions, strip malls, big box stores, and scattered development.  And a lot more farmland is about to change hands in the next few decades as older farmers retire.  This is a crucial time for us to decide what we want, if we care about our food security and local economies.  Is it worth saving that phenomenon of the "family farm" that created our quaint all-American villages, or is this just nostalgia from the past?  

The future of agribusiness seems to be heading toward mega-sized farms with mega-sized tractors, DNA-scrambled seeds controlled by the same mega-corporations who sell the chemicals, and farmers who rarely have to touch the ground they grow on.  The freight train of technology is a hard one to stop.  If we want something different, we're all going to have to speak up.

New York City has a "Foodshed Conservation Plan" which tallies up the surrounding farmland, decides which land is most critical to save, how much it will cost to protect it from development, and what are the steps to save it.  They are concerned about feeding 8.3 million people, in the context of the grand changes that might have to happen when we reduce our carbon footprint (ie. less trucks bringing food from across the country).  It kind of makes sense to keep some good soil nearby.

If NYC has one of these plans, why not Rochester?  We have over 1 million people in the Greater Rochester Area, and I bet most of these folks eat food.

The Genesee Land Trust is an awesome local resource, with a mission of protecting natural areas for wildlife and people to enjoy, and farmland too.  They are doing a lot to make sure there's still some green left in the county, and they would be doing more if they had the funds.  Investing in our local open-space is a wonderful gift for the future residents of the area.  

I have a bumper sticker from on my car that says "No Farms, No Food."  As much as I dislike using a double negative, and would rather say something like "small local organic farms yay!", I think it's about time the local food movement realizes that we have to get serious.  If we don't protect our local soil somehow, then local farmers will go elsewhere. 


This would truly be a loss.

We have some of the best agricultural soil in the world.  Even the Seneca people knew it was good corn growing ground, and they farmed it for probably longer than us European invaders.  What would they say if they saw what we were doing to these fields?

What would you say to a young person who actually wanted to labor in the fields all day to produce food for a living to feed her community, but couldn't do it because the land wasn't there?  

Yes, I've heard it said before: there is plenty of land out there.  It's true.  Out there.  But for the next generation of farmers, living and working close to a city is often important, not only for marketing their produce, but for social life as well.  (Stay tuned for next week's essay:  “No Farmer, No Food -- Personal Sustainability of the Body, Mind, & Soul.")

By the way,
 I am looking for 10+ well-drained tillable acres, within 20 miles of Rochester.  If anyone knows of a lead, pass it on!  Honeoye Falls area looking most enticing right now.  Can't wait to get my hands in the dirt again.  Thank you!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How We Eat the Climate

If I had been farming this year, I might not have had the chance to stay quite as up-to-date with all the stuff going on in the world news right now.  I might not know that scientists say we are hinging on the edge of ecological disaster, that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rose faster this year than they have for the past 30 years, and that if we continue burning fossil fuels like we are now, we cross a few tipping points that set the good earth on a sure path of destruction.  The UN scientists are using words like "cataclysmic consequences."

I might not have heard that the ice caps really are melting, and the oceans really are rising.  Faster than we thought.

I would certainly not have heard it direct from the mouth of another woman farmer on the other side of the globe, whose family for generations has cultivated a dry, terraced, olive grove in the Mediterranean, planted in medieval times.  Her biggest worry?  Climate change.  It wasn’t a very dry summer for her trees.  More on this later.

If I had been farming this year, I might not have skills of dealing with the overwhelming despair I feel when I hear these things.  I might not have learned how to meditate, how to be gentle with myself, how to generate joy, happiness, and compassion to help take care of my other, more difficult, feelings.  More on this later too.

I would have experienced the climate in a much more intimate way:  every day in the muddy fields.

I met up with Ruth to get a download on how the season went -- she gave me a two-page list of all the challenges she faced, from learning the particularities of new fields to too much rain.  I stopped by the farm in early September, to find everyone bundled up in sweatshirts and wool hats.  Usually we'd have been sweating out in the fields, picking tomatoes frantically in their peak of production.

While I secretly rejoice in choosing this season to take a year off farming, my heart goes out to Ruth and all the other farmers in the region who had to deal with some "extreme weather events" and a very un-summery summer.  

To begin with, the coldest winter in 20 years was very very slow to let up, and the ground stayed frozen well into April.  This delayed everything on the farm.  Pushing back the plowing dates means pushing back the planting dates, which in turn pushes back harvest dates.  It also means losing critical time in the spring to deal with weeds.

This summer we also had twice the average rainfall expected for the region!  Wet fields mean no chance to get a cultivating tractor in, so the weeds get tall enough that you have to pull them out by hand:  on the scale of more than five acres, this is a nightmare!  What Ruth might not have been aware of as well is that the weeds could be growing even better due to the higher carbon dioxide in the air.

Several articles alerted me to the dire situation of incredibly soggy Western NY fields (Read them here: D & C and TWC News), and a few weeks ago the Attorney General of the State declared that all this extra rain is in fact a symptom of climate change.  The press release states "the need to focus on greater resiliency planning and response measures for our infrastructure, neighborhoods and landscape in order to promote a safer and more sustainable New York."  I assume that farms fall into all three categories, as their presence in our region's infrastructure and physical landscape provides neighborhoods with food security, if done well.  

Resiliency planning is built into the basic organic farming model.  CSA farmers plant hundreds of different varieties of vegetables, so that when extreme weather hits, usually something will do well, even if other crops fail.  Diversity is really the key when you are gambling with such uncertainty.  Farmers practicing sustainable growing also create more resilient soil, through practices like cover cropping, adding compost, and avoiding chemicals which destroy the living soil ecosystem.  The healthier the soil is, the better it can withstand drought and flooding.

The extra moisture this summer also brought more disease into the fields -- tomatoes were decimated again by Late Blight, the serious fungus that brought about the Irish Potato Famine, and the poor basil got Downy Mildew, a relatively new disease occurance.  Fungi LOVE wet weather.  And they hate sunshine-- on a good sunny day, UV rays will destroy the fungal spores and slow the spread of the disease.  Not like we had too many sunny days this summer...

Farmers make a living from working with natural systems-- soil, water, seeds -- and all of these systems are dependent on the ever-changing and unpredictable weather, which, as we know, is becoming more and more unpredictable.

Remember last spring?  We also had too much rain, early on in the season.  Luckily, it warmed up enough for us later in the summer.  This year, Ruth had less of a break.  She educated me on "growing degree days," which is a fancy farmer word for calculating the rate that plants grow based on the ambient temperature they experience.  And, yep, it was a cold summer.  The growing degree days were even down 25% from the average this season in some areas, delaying the ability of the crop to mature for harvest!

The climate scientists also talk about more heat waves and droughts, and in the five years that I've farmed in the area, I have experienced these firsthand as well.  Working in the heat is not fun.  Neither is breathing in dust blowing off your fields after five weeks of no rain.  These occupational hazards are probably some of the big reasons the reasons people give up farming.  Oh, yeah, and it doesn't make any money.  But if we all stopped farming, who would grow the food? 

We'll have to figure it out somehow, and adapt our growing techniques and choice of crops to the changes happening.  The EPA is even going so far to suggest that by the end of the century, "Large portions of the region may become unsuitable for growing some fruit varieties and some crops, such as apples, blueberries, grain, and soybeans.”  It's obvious we are facing a whole new world out there.  

Farmers are the first to feel the effects of climate change, because they work outside every day, and their whole livelihood depends on the weather.  But as consumers, if we look deeply, we can see that three times a day, we eat the climate.

(Insert David Bowie song)
“Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes, Don't want to be a richer man, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes,
Turn and face the strange Ch-ch-changes, Just gonna have to be a different man"

As a modern humans in today's society, we could live our whole lives indoors, in our climate-controlled houses and cars, giving us an illusion of protection from the changes happening outside our windows.  When we step outside, we have no control over things like the temperature, whether the lights are on or not, and what falls from the sky.

This is why so many farmers are moving indoors themselves to grow their crops -- hoop-houses, high tunnels, low tunnels, greenhouses, hydroponics…  I understand all the logic behind it.  Controlled environments are easier, more comfortable, more predictable.  And for a farmer's bottom line, it can make all the difference.  But I believe this is a step in the wrong direction.
I want to live in a world where I can be outside.  I want to feel the sun on my skin, the breeze in my hair, see a hawk circling over a field.  I want to walk the weedy edges in my boots and see jack rabbits bolt to the woods.  I want to look up into the clouds to feel the first raindrops on my face, and stick my hands down into the rich moist loam to say “thank you” for the nourishment of another season.  I want to see the determined bees and hummingbirds take their nourishment from flowers, while they simultaneously ensure the flowers’ continuation, and provide me with such joy.  

I want to ensure the continuation of the things that nourish me.

Step outside for a break after reading this.  What does the climate feel like to you right now?  How do things smell, how does the air feel on your skin?  Can you hear birds or crickets?  Look up into a tree.  An old tree has seen a lot of seasons in its time, maybe more than you have.  What will it see in the coming years, and will it be ready?

Are you ready? 

Supporting local farmers who are using sustainable growing practices, who are committed to taking care of the soil, who are looking for more ways to be resilient in the face of climate change, is one of the things we can do to ensure a hopeful future.  It's going to be a wild ride, but together we can build a more resilient community and learn to adapt to the crazy changes together.

(And I almost forgot: Stay tuned for stories about my adventures with an olive farmer in the Mediterranean, and my discovery of a Zen Buddhist monastery in the Catskills, in a future blog entry!  It's good to be back.)