Flooding fields: an argument against eating locally?

June 21, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

By: Anna Stevenson (Farm manager and Summer ’07)

It’s been cold and rainy for quite some time now, and on Thursday we started getting worried about the river.  I went down to look at the field around 2 — it was high, higher than I’d ever seen, but still about 2 feet below the banks.  Dark, brown, quickly moving water, surging down the channel.  Mesmerizing to look at.  Difficult to believe that this flowing source of life could turn so destructive.  But maybe…it wouldn’t rise any higher?PICT0300

By evening, though, the water had risen to within 6″ of the banks.  Where we usually scramble down four or five feet or so to hop in the river, you could practically step right in.  So we assembled a crew, and moved the irrigation pump (which perches on the edge of the river) and the row cover from the fields, because if the field flooded the fabric would clothesline all the plants in its path, and collected stray buckets and plastic chairs that could float away if the river spilled over its banks and accross the field.

And then…that was it.  There wasn’t any thing else we could do.  We harvested a little, in case we couldn’t get down there the next day to harvest for Shabbat. And looking out at our field, I saw:

  • a field with fledgling peppers, just starting to flower
  • a field with 4″ zucchinis and tiny yellow nubbins of summer squash just starting to bud outPICT0305
  • a field that we have hoed with vigor and with joy, gleefully reducing the weed seed bank and dust mulching the brown dirt to keep moisture in
  • a field that we’ve been thinking about all winter, that we’ve been tilling all spring, a field where the Adamahniks have gotten dirty in and fallen in love with plants in and felt strong and powerful and awestruck and inspired
  • a field that just a day before, gave forth a harvest of our first CSA share…kale, scallions, tatsoi, garlic scapes, kholrabi and rainbow chard…whose time for feeding people had finally come
  • a field that might, in a dark and stormy night of unseasonal June rains, get washed away.

I realized that I hadn’t fully grasped the severity of climate change — if it means more extreme weather events that destroy our food, or prevent us from growing it as we now know how, we have a serious problem.  And how could we appreciate that, unless we can see firsthand the effects of a flood on a field, could be in the position of helplessness in the face of the power of nature?

I realized how grateful I was for CSA, because our shareholders are willing to take the risks of farming with us.  For so many farmers, a flooded field means no income.  And why should the farmers take the biggest fall, for a freak of nature that is not their fault? It’s not like we did anything wrong.  This isn’t a case of malpractice.  Crops (and by extension, farmers, families, communities) destroyed by floods or droughts just isn’t fair.  It’s really really upsetting, and scary to think about as it (nearly) happened to us.

Ironically, it’s a great argument for NOT eating locally.  It’s a triumph of our food system — if it floods somewhere, we don’t all starve, because we can eat food from somewhere else.  I think this is a good thing, I don’t think people should starve.  But I do think we still need to pay attention.  In the case of flooding, there may not be anything we can do.  It may simply be a lot of rain.  But it might also be a question of development, watersheds, run off, erosion, changes to the natural world that we can influence, or, more broadly, a question of global warming, something we can and must work to minimize.  Extreme weather events affect our ability to feed ourselves.  At some point, we won’t be able to just get food from somewhere else.

So far, the river hasn’t flooded, though there are parts of the field under water simply from all the rain.  Roots suffocate when water on the surface of the soil prevents them from access to air.  How much damage we sustain will depend on how long that water stays on the field.  But we’ll recover, we’ll move forward.  The sun will come out and dry up all the rain and the eensy weensy farmers will pick up their hoes, and return to the land with gratitude and respect.

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