Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time to talk about this drought

Time to get serious for a moment. For those of you who read this blog and live in North Carolina, which is where my farm is located, you are already experiencing the extreme drought conditions here in our state. We are not the only state affected, but this is where I live and so this is what I want to talk about.

As farmers, we know that we will always have to consider any possibility in regard to growing anything. Insects, weather, disease, predation by animals are only a few of the obstacles we face. Because we are dedicated (and certified) to the principles of organic farming, we face more than conventional farmers. Organic farmers and conventional farmers often disagree, sometimes vehemently. There is one point neither can argue, however, and that is that plants and animals have to have water to live, so there is a solidarity between the two factions when it comes to the drought.

I have personally spoken to older farmers (in their 70-80's) who can't remember it ever being this dry for this long and some of them have farmed their whole lives. The local TV weathermen have stated over and over that we have broken yet another record, for heat, for lack of rain. Recently, I have heard mention that this was a "100 year" drought but I read that it has actually been closer to 200 years since we had a year this extreme.

At this point, we are down over a foot of rainfall and we have a couple of months of this year left, so who knows where we will end up for the year. Dire predictions point to a continuation of drought conditions and record high temperatures through 2008 and possible even 2009. They don't know for sure because records weren't kept much past 200 years ago and so can only guess as to whether this is a one time phenomenon or a natural weather cycle. I am sure that it could be studied more easily if logging hadn't decimated NC's old growth forests back in the 30-40's (the rings of trees are generally used to study weather patterns).

While I totally believe that we are in a global environmental crisis and that global warming is real and that we need to FIX IT NOW!!, I am not at all convinced that this is not a completely normal weather pattern for the planet. How can a 200-300 year period of records come close to answering questions about a planet that is billions of years old? Humans tend to be so arrogant about their little blink of an eye on Mother Earth that we can't put into perspective that we are one of the newer species walking the planet. With all of our technology and education, our politics and armies, our philosophy and authority, in the end Nature still holds the trump card.

But, I got off the subject of the drought. Let me return. On a personal level, the drought has affected every waking (and some sleeping) moments of my life for the past 2 months. Because we grow food crops which we market to the public, every day that it doesn't rain, we lose money. The money we make during the growing season has to sustain us and the Farm, through the rest of the year. Farming doesn't just shut down when growing season slows down (we grow food year round, just not all for market), there is still much to be done around the Farm. There is never a real slack time of year at the Farm and the money we have put aside will go toward not just daily living expenses. Maintenence and updates on fences, buildings, etc. that had to be let go during the busier times, soil prep, cover crops, setting up winter beds and greenhouse space are a few of things that have to be done when less growing is going on. The chickens still have to be fed and watered. Tractors and equipment have to be winterized. Long term storage crops such as winter squash and sweet potatoes have to be monitored for deterioration and culled and sorted. There is something to do every single day so a farmer's life doesn't slow down all that much once growing season does.

Being a good farmer means you try hard to stay connected to the natural order of things. Not all farmers are good farmers because some farmers are not really farmers at all. They work for huge corporations who operate giant farms, so the American public can continue have that 99 cent cheeseburger at McMeaty's, which is probably going to kill them (the people who eat at McMeaty's) before global warming ever will, so nobody really cares much about that (global warming, that is). These guys are actually more like factory workers. They are just trying to take home a paycheck to feed the family, like everybody else, so it is not their fault that they are raping, plundering and pillaging the land and water. They are like the crew on a pirate ship. The Corporation is the pirate captain and they are just doing what they have to so that they don't get marooned (get passed over for promotions),have to walk the plank (get fired) or be keel hauled (laid off 6 months before they can collect their pensions). But, I got off the subject again.....

Here are some things a good farmer does:

  • A good farmer is always aware of his/her source of water and manages it accordingly.
  • A good farmer is not wasteful of his/her most precious resource and doesn't need to be told that a little dirt on the car is not a big deal.
  • A good farmer plans and uses conservation without government officials having to tell him to do so.
  • A good farmer doesn't get golf. (You can figure that one out for yourself).
  • A good farmer doesn't waste good dirt on grass and so he doesn't complain about his grass being brown.
  • A good farmer thinks about how his use of water from his well will affect the well down the road and so is ever mindful that this is his neighbors' plight also.

Not having an abundance of water puts stress on everything, from crops and livestock to the farmers themselves. So many aspects of farm life are connected to whether or not enough water can be provided for some use that it is a constant challenge, particularly during a drought. Since we can't change the weather, we must be willing to bend to it. If we are flexible when we bend, we will snap back. If we are not, we will break.