While you can plan for just about anything, the worst drought in 100 years is something that just cannot be predicted. Yet, we have still been very lucky. Even without the ability to water the crops, from the middle of July on, there has been something being produced in the gardens all season long, even though the late summer/fall harvests were smaller than in past years.
There has never been the need for us to go the the expense of putting in a new well before because the rainfall and our planting methods, soil condition, etc. has always been sufficient for a very productive season. Next year, however, the drought is expected to continue and possibly even into 2009. For that reason, we will have to take on the financial burden of putting in a well and irrigation system if we are to continue to run the Farm.
Putting in a well means we will have to tighten the belt yet another notch (I personally am running out of notches) and make the best of it. That is the nature of farming. A farmer doesn't have the luxury of feeling secure or complacent about much of anything, especially when he/she is an organic farmer. You just have to accept things, deal with them best you can and move on. There is nothing that we would rather do, though, so we will continue to make every effort possible to continue to make this work.
The drought has been a humbling experience for a lot of people in this region, because it has shown us that we simply cannot take our resources for granted anymore. Environmentalists and ecologists have been making dire predictions about these types of things for years and years, but until it finally hits close to home, it is easy not to pay much attention.
AT THE FARM
The Farmer, in particular, has worked so very hard this year to keep things on track. Adverse conditions, while not something one desires, must be looked on by us as a learning experience. Because of the extreme conditions of this summer and fall, we have had to completely rethink how we do some things. Some of these changes will enable us to better manage our resources and give us the ability to still continue to work the Farm with just the two of us.
We can't afford outside labor and need to have things at a level we can maintain with just our 2 strong backs and 4 willing hands. And while we love to have volunteers come to work at the Farm, the majority of them just can't make enough of a time commitment to reduce our workload. Mostly our volunteers/apprentices/interns are here for the learning experience and we love having the opportunity to share our knowledge and passion with them. Part of the good stewardship of an organic farmer is to pass the torch onto the next generation and that is something we take very seriously.
Our farm products are marketed through a CSA (See "What the heck is a CSA?" posted 10.10.07). Because the spirit and structure of a CSA means that everyone shares in both the bounty and the risk of a farm we are not the only ones who have all been affected by this year's extreme weather conditions. Record cold, a record heatwave, a record drought...we had it all this year. Our CSA members have been given a close up view into the day to day trials of being a farmer.
It has meant a great deal to us to have had so many words of encouragement and support throughout the past several months from our memberfriends. If anything positive has come from this situation, it has given us all the time to stop and appreciate just what it takes to get our food to the plate and to be more aware of the fragility of all of our food sources.
This year has also been an eye-opener for Americans about the dangers of imported and non-local foods, with food safety issues cropping up on almost a weekly basis. It only takes one catastrophic event to affect our food supply, no matter what the source. Belonging to CSA has gives you access to one of the safest food supplies available (unless you are growing it yourself). Even our handling methods are geared toward food safety (it is a requirement of our certification).
Next year, we are going to go back to making home deliveries. After making a study of the logistics of this plan, it is actually more environmentally friendly for us to drive 100 miles per week to deliver than to have many people driving to one location to pick up their produce. (I calculated the number of miles that our customers drive and it is considerably less for me to do the driving.) We have a small gas sipper that will be used for this purpose and so we will stand by our commitment to Mother Earth.
THE NEW AGE OF POULTRY
Next year, we will be producing our own eggs for our CSA. As I have mentioned on several occasions, we already have about 50 chickens that we have for our own usage and making a transition to a larger laying flock is just a matter of renovating the chicken house, obtaining the chickens and setting up nest boxes for them, etc. which will be one of our projects for the winter months.
This project is very exciting for us for many reasons, not the least of which is that we will be attempting, over the next 2-3 years, to establish a breeding flock of two critically endangered breeds. As defined by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy Critical means: Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the United States, with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and globally endangered. This has been a goal that we have had in our long range plans since we started and we are finally ready to make this happen. Anyone who participates in our CSA in the future will be a key part of this project.
Bringing a livestock breed back to the role for which it was originally intended is necessary to ensure that the breeds are truly viable again and so stabilize their status. The work of the ALBC and small breeders have rescued many breeds of livestock from near extinction. We strongly believe that these animals are part of our history (human history...not just American history) and should be respected and appreciated for the role that they have played in that history. Preservation of our past can certainly help to shape our future, if we are willing to learn from that past.