During Climate Action Week this September, CSA farmers around the Washington DC region devoted our newsletter writing to the topic of climate change. Since our livelihoods are based on natural systems, this is an especially important topic for us as farmers. We see the need for action NOW on climate change. The following writing is some of what we sent to our CSA members to share our views on the crisis.
“Whether we or our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do” -Wendell Berry
I read the other day that koala bears are in danger of becoming extinct due to global warming and habitat loss. Now, I've never seen a koala in the wild, but this really shook me to the core because I—and I'm sure many of you-- want to raise children in a world where koalas exist. I never imagined I would raise my children in a world where the Amazon, the honest lungs of the world, can be burning due to cheap beef production, and people ignore it. I never imagined that by 2040 the Arctic may have no ice and I'll have to tell my grandkids about a mystic creature called the polar bear. I never imagined a plastic island the size of Texas can be floating in the ocean, suffocating sea life, and people still feel like they need a plastic straw. I never believed people could ignore science and scoff in the face of evidence that our planet is truly in trouble. Climate change is real and as a farmer and a Momma, I am scared.
As farmers, we are in a unique position to feel the effects of climate change acutely and daily. It rained 300% more than average last year and for many it may feel like a lot of rainy days, but for us it means lost crops, muddy fields, out of control weeds and soggy pastures. We have had a 30 day drought this fall and for many, it feels like a string of sunny days, but for us it means out of control pests, constant irrigation and bitter lettuce. Storms are more extreme and frequent, dry spells are longer, and the heat is more intense. If you have ever doubted climate change, just ask a farmer. This has all happened in my lifetime.
On our little sustainable farm we worry about what all this means for our livelihood and our future as it is simply becoming harder to farm. I understand more than ever why people spray pesticides and herbicides when I have to watch crops be destroyed by armyworms due to the drought, or lose carrots to weeds because it is simply too wet to get in the fields. I have to remind myself that our style of farming does have an impact on climate change-- we are able to reduce our carbon footprint in many ways-- from reducing tillage, to grazing animals, to using cover crops- practices that sequester atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter. Our little farm allows all of us to reduce our food waste, our packaging waste and our emissions by supporting truly local food. While these seem like small things in the face of an overwhelming problem, we have the power to encourage others to do the same, too. And then they can encourage others and on and on...
It sometimes keeps me awake at night thinking about the world my children will inherit. We all often say we would do anything for our children and it is time for all of us to truly live this principle. Bring a reusable bag. Buy in bulk. Support your local organic farmer. Stop buying stuff. Fix things. Write your Congress. VOTE. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act has just been introduced in the House with bipartisan support. This bill, while maybe just one small step, is at least a step in the right direction and will force more conversations about how to enact climate action. This Bill includes a Carbon Fee that will create a market-driven demand for cleaner energy and force us all to think about our actions and consumption habits. Consider voicing your support. Tell Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton we support this Bill. This week we will have postcards at CSA pickup to make it easier to do just that. Let's make sure our children can see koala bears.
This past week was Climate Action Week, bookended by walkouts, protests, and attempts to disrupt “business as usual” of the people in DC whose decisions inflame our global crisis. The United Nations climate scientists, the IPCC, released another dire report and, at the UN climate summit, world leaders again urged action to little effect. Here at home, we CSA farmers are coordinating this week to focus our newsletters on the topic of climate change.
I have always, it seems, been at least peripherally aware of climate change. I remember hearing in elementary school that the earth was warming—the sort of factoid someone might share at a party. We learned about the greenhouse effect and how CO2 reflects sunlight back to earth. “An Inconvenient Truth” came out and it became clear that global warming was an important issue that should be taken seriously, but only in the “Glad somebody is protesting to save the whales, but it's not something I pay much attention to” sort of way. I remember passing through a museum exhibit on “The Sixth Extinction” about how humans were causing the disappearance of the very animals that are part of our cultural history. It felt sad to know that the next generation might grow up in a world that looks quite different, but it didn't feel like this would disrupt the global ecosystems upon which humans depend—as is likely.
A few years ago, when the Paris Accords were being negotiated to try to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we heard a lot about what that 2-degree warmer world would be like: oceans rising and coastlines receding, hotter summers and heavier rains, and climate refugees putting stress on international stability... but nothing that seemed particularly dire (even though the science says it will be absolutely dire). Even if everything comes to pass I figured I can deal with more rain by controlling the plants' climate with hoophouses, transition mostly to solar power, and sure it'll be hotter but 2 degrees doesn't really sound like very much.
All along, I just assumed everything would be okay in the nick of time. To believe otherwise was to believe that, even though we have all the information we need, the technology to turn this around, and enough time left to avert disaster... in the end we will not do so. Surely we couldn't possibly continue to sit back and just allow it to happen.
But that is what is happening. It does look like we as humans will get our comeuppance in a 2-degree warmer world, the result of our self-centered inaction. And I agree that, while all those changes sounds uncertain, and different, and a little scary, they doesn't sound unmanageable. It's not terrifying. What IS terrifying is the trajectory of that warming. What nobody made a big deal about, in the discussion of whether we could keep temperatures from warming 2 degrees, was that as long as we do nothing, the warming will continue on the same steep trajectory indefinitely—from 2 degrees, to 3, to now nearly 4 degrees projected warming by the end of the century unless we dramatically change course. I didn't understand how huge these small numbers are until googling to find out that during the last ice age, the world was only about 4.5 degrees colder than today. If earth is such a fragile equilibrium that a few degrees colder meant mile-high glaciers over New England, I can't imagine it would be no big deal to go 3 or 4 degrees in the other direction.
We may not know exactly when disaster will come, but it is certain that the global temperature graph's terrifyingly steep rise does lead to certain disaster. And so, seeing no global action, I too am beginning to take action in my own life rather than trust that everything will work out in the end. Part of that is to join other CSA farmers in writing about this topic this week. More concretely, the farm has endorsed the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act as a business, and my farm-neighbors and I are working to get our Loudoun congressional representative to cosponsor it. The bill puts a fee on carbon at the source then gives the proceeds to households, letting market forces do the work of reducing carbon emissions. It's the best method, endorsed by thousands of economists. Those of you picking up shares in Jennifer Wexton's district will receive a postcard that I hope you will write a quick note on and drop in the mail to her. No matter how small our own personal carbon footprint it's going to take government action to get us out of this mess. Our voices, combined with the voices of CSA folks from other farmers, can be enough to make a real difference.
As you know, we OFTEN talk about the weather because it so affects the day to day operations of our farm. Because of this daily obsession with the weather, we notice patterns others would probably miss.
The pattern that is the most indicative of climate change to us is the increase in the crazy weather records that constantly seem to be broken. Climate change has many impacts, but when we keep reading about "highest rainfall event EVER" and "most 90 degree days this month EVER" and "year with most precipitation EVER" and "strongest hurricane EVER," we can see how our world is changing right before our eyes.
Exactly a year ago in our market email newsletter, we were lamenting the lack of sun, cool temps, and too much rain. This past September was the exact opposite: one of the warmest on record for the region and virtually no rain at all here on Dicot Farm. While we've been better able to manage the farm this year (since flooded and wet fields really limited us last year), the impacts of too dry and too hot can be seen in the loss of some young fall transplants whose roots just couldn't get enough water, the use of a LOT of water as we are constantly irrigating from our well, and exhausted, hot and grumpy farmers.
So, what to do? These patterns are scary. We sometimes are so overwhelmed by this that we just want to give up, but mostly we want to persevere and figure out how to make our farm work by helping sequester carbon and slow down climate change. Some ways we currently do that are by taking some fields out of production to grow cover crops that build up the organic matter (carbon!) in the soil, adding compost (carbon!) to our soil, and choosing hand labor over machine work to minimize our use of tractors & fossil fuels. Plus, we're constantly looking for other ways to minimize our impact on the earth and climate.
So, what can YOU do? First, you are doing a great thing by being a part of our CSA and eating veggies. Eating more plant-based foods is overall the most important step to minimize some of the food system's most negative impacts. To learn about more food-based changes you can make, check out this article, and for other changes you can make, this page has a lot of helpful tips and tools!
Before I was a farmer, I was an activist. In college, I spent school breaks traveling to protests, and when I first moved to DC back in 2009, you could find me at a meeting or a lecture or a training most nights of the week.
All that activist-ing led me here, to my farm and my life now, which is not not being an activist, but it's different from the kind of action happening last week and this week, with this youth-led climate strike.
As a farmer, I'm here to tell you: climate change is here, it's real, and it scares me. It's not just individual weather events, but the way the weather whiplashes between extremes: for example, last year was the wettest one on record, this year is hot and very dry. As soon as we begin developing strategies for one set of conditions, another one comes along.
I didn't get into farming because I thought it would be easy. I did get into farming because I wanted to do something necessary, and I think growing food the way we do is becoming both harder and more necessary. In some sense, I see my choice to keep farming as an ongoing form of protest, with my whole life, a set of actions toward a healthier, more just world.
And I see the global climate movement actions happening now as part of the same movement. These youth are so damn inspiring, and what they're doing couldn't be more important.
So although Sara, Maddie, and I are working in the fields instead of walking out, we're with the young people who are protesting. We're not alone: there's a group of area farmers who, like us, can't join the protest in the streets, and we've agreed to reach out to our CSA members to let us know how and why this climate strike and climate movement is important to us.
For more, you might check out this recent Kojo Show about how climate change impacts farms in our region.
Recently, a co-worker asked how climate change has had an impact on our farm. I put together a few notes for him, and thought you might like to see them, too. It's nothing you haven't experienced yourself, as a member of our farm. Viscerally, you all feel the change that happens to our crops when weather takes a turn for the extreme.
Our highest yields come from moderate, predictable weather.
This year, we had that moderate weather (alternating small amounts of rain with sunshine on a weekly basis) for the first half of the year, and as a result, our May through August yields have been our highest ever. Weather makes a difference!
Presently,we are in a drought. We haven't had soaking rain since July, and most days have reached above 90 degrees. Our soils are parched and the vegetable crops, hay fields and pastures have stopped growing. (We got 1/8" rain yesterday, which was a wonderful blessing, but not enough to soak the ground.)
Animal pests have gotten desperate. Deer rip into 8-foot tall fences to reach the sweet potatoes. Groundhogs burrow into riskier places, such as inside our high tunnel and in the middle of the tomato field.
Last year was the wettest year on record for our region. The water-logged soils inhibited plant growth and in some fields killed off the crops completely. We had our lowest yield of vegetables to date.
As a grower, if I can't predict whether we will have moderate rain, constant rain, or zero rain, then I can't plant efficiently. I have to plant for all possibilities and spend a lot of time managing crises. This means for the same CSA business, I have to invest much more in fencing, animal control, irrigation systems and digging wells. I have to plant water-loving crops and drought-tolerant crops. I have to plant crops that take advantage of a warm spring and crops that thrive in cold weather. So now I can presume that at any given time, half of my crops won't thrive. For the same acreage and labor, I need to assume I will get half of the yield, and therefore, half of the income.
Because we are a CSA, we have members who invest in the season up front, and share the risks of the weather with us. The loss of income is not immediate. But over time, our member retention is lower when our product declines several years in a row. We can no longer sell as many CSA shares, and we can't raise our prices to keep up with the rising cost of supplies and labor.
It's go-time, my friends. The efforts you are making to change this terrible tide away from climate chaos are important. Let's all do even MORE. Are we going to push for innovative policy, such as the carbon fee and dividend? Yes. Are we going to get creative about reducing our own energy use? Yes. Are we going to rally and yell and march and write? Yes! Are we going to stick together, friends, and hold tight toallour neighbors through thick and thin? YES!
It's ironic to look back at this time last year, when our fall broccoli and cauliflower were drowning in the endless rain, and compare it to today's browning and shriveling pastures and tree leaves. As of September 19, we were considered merely "abnormally dry" rather than in official drought, but with no rain in the foreseeable forecast, the designation is inevitable. At a time when we should be finding balance in our work as the light and dark balance at the equinox, the heat and dry weather have our crops and animals stressed and needing around the clock extra care. We are grateful every day for the deep, sweet well that the original owner of Montevideo had the foresight to dig almost 200 years ago, and for the hands that dug it.
This week we'll be harvesting sweet potatoes, preparing beds for our final plantings of the year on October 1, continuing to move our animals around the ever-sparser pastures, and doing every single rain dance we know. We will keep putting apple cider vinegar in the animals' water to help them be resilient in this unseasonable weather. We'll move our little trailer into the pig pasture to feed them in there so that they are used to it when it's time to load them up. And we'll keep watering, every day, almost every hour. We'll try to clear some beds to seed cover crop, although it's very difficult to plant when there's next to no moisture in the soil. And we will support the climate strikers who know the truth that has been creeping up on us slowly over the past decade: things are changing. The weather here is becoming warmer, wetter, and wilder, as they said on the Kojo Nnamdi show on NPR last week. Our farmers will need to learn resiliency and diversification and will need to be supported by government and consumers if we are going to survive -- not with subsidies or changing the location of the USDA headquarters, but with powerful, innovative research into farming methods that can weather, and in some cases even ameliorate, climate change. I'm not often political in this newsletter, but we can not afford to be silent on this issue, the most important one of our time. We need one million acres of agriculture in Maryland using agricultural practices that combat climate change over the next decade. We need deep-seated systemic change in our government and our economy, AND we need individuals to make decisions that are right for their households that will also make a difference in this fight of our lifetimes. You CAN make a difference. It is not too late. You won't see us protesting downtown because our crops and animals need tending, but we believe in this cause more than almost any other, and we urge you to believe in it too. We thank you for supporting agriculture that tries its hardest to make that difference.
Though seasons may change, and even the names of the farms we work, weather is the constant companion of all growers. Weather is fickle. Weather can be friend, or foe, or both in the same day. Most all, of she is inescapable. The sum of all her many faces, the pattern she creates, is climate. Generally, the climate in our region is considered “humid sub-tropical”. Farmers around here will also tell you that on a USDA Zone Map, we’re currently designated as 6b, because our average annual extreme minimum temperature doesn’t go below 0 and -5 degrees. What does all that really mean? We can grow peppers and eggplants like champions, but our spring broccoli might flower from heat exposure, and there will never be locally grown citrus fruit in your CSA.
As the world-wide climate grows warmer, the weather we see here at home affects our farm in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. Last summer, the rain seemed endless. Inch after inch filled rain gauges as our tractors sat idle next to fields that never dried enough to cultivate. Watermelons burst and disease spread through greenhouses. Some days, we harvested more mud than veggies. This year has been a strange reversal, one of hustling irrigation pumps and hoses as weeks go by with no rain accumulation. The “real feel” temperatures reached into the 120s. Dry soil crumbled underneath our boots like moon dust. When it did rain, it rained in a deluge, without warning. This variability, the wild swing from dry to wet, is a symptom of the changing climate; it’s a symptom that farmers dread.
Surviving unpredictable change requires adaptability. Its here that small, diversified farming operations like our own have a competitive edge over larger commercial ag enterprises. Farms that grow only one or two crops, in mass quantities, are more prone to negative climate impacts because all their crops have the same climate vulnerabilities. Many of the sustainable farming practices we hold dear, like reduced tillage, crop rotation and cover cropping, and pasture forage for livestock, help shield us from the damaging effects of weather. In the long run, they also reduce our own carbon emissions and help us to help the ecosystem we farm within.
By filling your kitchens with foods from Willowsford Farm and those like us, you choose to support our small part in addressing climate change. You also make it possible, through risk-sharing business models like CSA, for us to continue prioritizing the health and well-being of the land in our community instead of just its productive value.Youare the ultimate drivers of positive change in the face of increasing climate uncertainty!
This week, as the United Nations in New York City hosts Climate Week and debates courses of action to combat climate change, we pause in our work to thank all of you. Because change starts at home, and small ripples go far. Thank you for minimizing the carbon emissions created by transporting your food, for joining us in a celebration of what grows each different season, for voting with your dollars in favor of organic farming. As our CSA grows each year, we ride a wave of hope and awe inspired by our Farm-ily. Change is coming; let’s keep working together to make the changes in our community positive ones.
“We have met the enemy... and he is us”
by Dario, visiting from Italy
These words are from a poster made by the American illustrator Walt Kelly. He was the author of "Pogo", a comic strip that had as characters a bunch of little animals living in a swamp. In the poster, Pogo the possum says this simple but meaningful sentence referring to a polluted forest, full of trash and waste. That illustration was made almost fifty years ago, in 1970.
The Swedish girl Greta Thunberg, whose speech at UN congress in 2019 has raised a new, strong concern about ecological issues, keeps saying that we, as humanity, have very little time to make changes. This thought is surely powerful, and it has raised, in lots of people in different countries the will to act. Nevertheless, it has also brought a certain fear among people of my generation: the future has never been so scary. Fear is comprehensible and also justified, but I don't think that it is the right attitude towards this gigantic problem we are facing.
Last May, I and other friends went to Carrara, which is a small city in the northern part of Tuscany famous for the marble that is extracted from the mountains nearby. Every year, on occasion of the Labour Day, the citizens of Carrara organize a march that travels across the streets of the town. During that day, it was denounced the terrible working conditions of the miners - still a lot of people keep dying inside the caves. What also touched me that day was the state of the mountains from where the marble is extracted: they were incredibly consumed.
Over consumption of natural resources, and over production of goods in general, are surely one of the main causes of climate changing. Here in U.S., for example, I've seen a truly exaggerated presence of cars. These are question that can be solved only by politics. In Italy, since high school, I was involved in politics and I have been part of political groups and collectives. Sometimes it has been kind of depressing to see that people, especially the younger ones, were not that much interested in re-thinking the way we stay and live with each other. But, even if I don't really like this centralization around one single person, especially one so young, Greta Thunberg has been able to make a lot of people concerned about these crucial questions, and in the last year new political groups have born (the one called Extinction Rebellion is one of the most interesting) and I see that political parties, in Italy and in Europe, started to talk about climate changing as the central topic of our days. Now, fear is not what we need: we need instead to be a bit angry, but more important we have to find the courage to make decisions.
“We have met the enemy and he is us” doesn't mean that we are all equally responsible for climate changing, nor that everyone has the same amount of power to make things better. But the problem that we are dealing with now involves individually everyone around the world, and solutions have to be searched together, with the consciousness that they won't be perfect and that they won't keep everyone satisfied.
The fact that I was able to stay here for a couple of months - and I want to say thank you to Hana and Jon for their kindness and hospitality; that I had the opportunity to meet people with culture and backgrounds different than the ones I use to be with; to share with them our thoughts about climate changing and to see how similar our fears and concerns are, gave me the impression that the world has truly been made smaller, and that this new situation of global connection can really help us to save it and make it fairer.
From an Aspiring Young Farmer
When I consider the climate crisis, the question of accessing usable farmland is huge in my mind. I’m originally from the northeast coast of Florida and my family reminds me often that the growing season is quite a bit longer down south, and it never snows- compelling reasons, in their minds, for me to try farming down there. But the worsening storms, high flood risks, and intense heat are factors of obviously monumental importance for a farm business, and when I’m trying to think about what my potential cooperative farming operation could look like several decades from now...Florida seems like the opposite of a safe environment.
Farms will continue being places of refuge and resilience for so many people. There’s no perfect farm location, and that always has been and would be true without the existence of extreme climate change, but it seems like young farmers in my age range, and especially the generation behind me too, are going to face all the usual issues of land access and the unpredictability of weather, in addition to some never-before-seen intensity. I’m not just thinking about the exorbitant price of land, proximity to marketing outlets, available infrastructure, viability of the soil, etc. I’m also thinking about what particular characteristics of the farms of the DMV area will make them more or less vulnerable to volatile weather patterns. And it feels overwhelming to try to predict that. We know that climate crisis is manifesting for farmers in extreme ways that differ by region, floods in some places, drought in others, probably fungal and disease pressure could explode in humid regions, the list goes on. I know there’s no way to handpick the least-affected zone of the country, and that would be one cold and insincere way to choose where to put down my life’s roots anyway.
I feel absolutely tied and committed to this place now, so I don’t mean to write from a totally dark place. I feel confident knowing that farmers can (and are!) cultivating relationships that are strong and we will rely both on our place-based and far-reaching communities for support. At this point, it’s certain that we will experience the symptoms of a warming climate, and yet farms will continue being places of refuge, resilience, and survival for many.
Report from the Climate March
I had a fantastic day at the 2019 Youth Climate March. There was such a feeling of unity among the protesters. We walked from Marshall Park to the Capitol. The signs were evocative, with frequently searing messages. We arrived at our destination, taking up about 2/3 of the enormous lawn in front of the Capitol.
The first speeches were tellingly by young Native Americans, speaking of their deep knowledge of the earth and of their deep scars from the genocide brought on them by the Europeans, and of the systemic racism that continues to be a significant reality for all peoples of color in America. There was much discussion of our need to see the intersectional nature of the problem, how we must address all those relevant issues at the same time or we will not succeed in making this a livable and just planet. And so there was much support for a Green New Deal.
There was a theme of Uniting Behind the Science, echoing what Greta Thunberg said to Congress this week, when she solemnly turned over, in place of her own testimony, the 2018 dire UN Report on the Climate--"I want you not to listen to me, but the Science." Over and over and over it was emphasized that it is absolutely imperative that we see this as an emergency -- like our house is on fire, which it is.
The youth who led this March are, seemingly, going to be one very decisive factor in our successful battle against this approaching potential cataclysm. They were tremendously inspirational, wonderfully motivational, painful in their recognition of just what might be lost, angry at the adults their inability to see this reality but, perceiving the gravity of the situation--completely determined to lead the world to a transformation.
Climate Change from a CSA Customer’s Point of View
So, it was a very hot Spring and Summer. In fact, the hottest year so far, breaking last year’s record. We talk about climate change, but how does that affect us on a very basic level? Let’s talk about food.
We all love our CSA and I, for one, have been a PVF CSA member for years. I think of the CSA as a gift to my senses every week. I love the colors, the textures, the smells and, of course, the taste of those delicious veggies.
There are things that I look forward to every year. Strawberries in May that are succulent and so sweet that they are addictive. I have been known to eat several quarts a week when Heinz used to sell his delicious strawberries by the case. After two years of extremely wet weather and crop failures, I no longer have the pleasure of gorging myself on his strawberries because he no longer grows them.
One of the highlights of my summer is always those beautiful PVF tomatoes. Juicy, sweet and so tasty. So many tomatoes that I would can or freeze them to have the smell and taste of summer in the winter. What happened when it was so hot this year? Shorter tomato season, and disappointment for me, and especially for PVF, I am sure.
Spinach, normally filling the CSA room in May with that bright leafy green color. This year? Too much heat and flooding rain. Again, shorter season, less spinach. Supermarket spinach grown by huge agriculture corporations just doesn’t taste the same.
See a pattern here? This is what climate change looks like. Less food, shorter growing season, and a change in what can be grown.
It is predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change that our agriculture will less abundant by 10% to 15% in the near future. That amount is frightening to me; just think about what it means for already food-insecure people in our community and beyond.
Climate change is here. We need to change our behaviors in dramatic ways if we are to slow it down. I for one, want my strawberries back, my tomatoes, spinach and other seasonal vegetables in abundance and for as many weeks as possible. Let’s take action and do something about it now.
Notes from the Underground
by Isabel and Megan
Have you ever been at a farmers market in May and seen a stand full of tomatoes? Though they’re not technically in season this early in the year, this modern marvel is a result of using tunnels. These are above ground structures similar to a greenhouse that allow crops to grow in soil while staying protected from outside conditions.
Tunnels have become increasingly popular in modern farming. Even farmers who are not trying to artificially grow crops through winter using exploitative means have employed them as a means of defense.
Climate change has rendered weather patterns erratic and unpredictable. Most crops have a short and specific season when they thrive . Beyond temperature, tunnels can protect from hail, pests, disease, snow, and buckets of rain, which all have come and decimated the plants in our fields that are left unprotected.
Within the last few years, PVF has added about 7 tunnels to the landscape of our two farms.. We’ve even discussed not growing heirlooms next season because the conditions are so inhospitable even with the tunnels.
Tunnels are a way of adapting to our predicament. They make us slightly less vulnerable to the fickle whim of a changing climate. In reality, however, this is a symptomatic approach. Real action is needed to prevent this chaotic weather from derailing generations old farmer practices. We’re in uncharted territory, where our hard fought knowledge of growing in a region is less dependable, and we cannot rely on technologies as a solution.